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Oh, God. Why does Clinton refuse to run on the Democratic Party platform? And against pro-Citizens United justices?

The Clinton campaign today made a key concession about its analysis of the fundamentals of the race. This concession was made almost in passing, as an afterthought, in a statement released late last night by Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri:

“One upside to Hillary Clinton’s break from the trail was having time to sharpen the final argument she will present to voters in these closing weeks.  So when she rejoins the trail tomorrow, Hillary Clinton will deliver the second in a series of speeches laying out her aspirational vision for the country: that we are “Stronger Together.” Tomorrow’s remarks will focus on what has been at the core of who Hillary Clinton is as a person and the mission of her campaign — how we lift up our children and families and make sure that every child has the chance to live up to their God given potential.

“Our campaign readily admits that running against a candidate as controversial as Donald Trump means it is harder to be heard on what you aspire for the country’s future and it is incumbent on us to work harder to make sure voters hear that vision.”  [Boldface in original.]

Hillary Clinton’s campaign just admitted she has a real problem, Greg Sargent, yesterday morning

 

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Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen Gets It Right About the Clinton Foundation (in my opinion)

Back when I worked for the claims department of a major insurance company, I got stuff. Some of the stuff consisted of tickets to Broadway shows and sporting events, and sometimes I got bottles of booze, Canadian Club being a popular choice for some reason. These items were tendered to me by auto appraisers, repair shops and other firms, large and small, that wanted the business my company could offer. Corrupt souls that they were, they offered these items as bribes. Pristine young man that I was, I accepted them as gifts. I was, in my own modest way, Hillary Clinton before her time.

The pattern established by the vaunted Cohen of Claims is similar to the one later copied by Clinton of Chappaqua. You may note that when it came to these matters — these matters being the acceptance of ethically dubious gifts — Hillary Clinton was lots of quid and little quo. The mountains of money that came into the Clinton Foundation, some of it offered by otherwise heartless men, apparently got the donors nothing. They came from parts of the world where a man’s bribe is his word, and yet money offered in New York to the foundation did not open a door in Washington at the State Department.

Clinton Foundation alchemy — turning bribes into gifts, Richard Cohen, Washington Post, today

Cohen’s column today triggers memories for me.  My father, too, turned bribes into gifts.

As a journalist for a major local newspaper, he and his colleagues were inundated with gifts of the sort that Cohen was as an auto insurance claims adjuster.  Free passes to movies, to the annual auto show (fun), boat show (also fun), flower show (pretty), big-deal movie premiers (very occasionally; this was not NYC), and the latest hit play touring after (or before) its Broadway run.  Glamorous cocktail parties called “press parties”.   (Clothes, especially ones for fancy gatherings, were expensive, and my mother would always have two “dressy” dresses, both of them that “went with” black heels (also expensive back then) that she would alternate, depending on who she thought would be attending the particular event or gathering.

During the winter holiday season, the doorbell was ringing often.  There were bottles of French designer perfumes and colognes for my mother, bottles of high-priced alcohol (my mother would just call them “bottles,” as in, “It’s a ‘bottle,’ from so-and-so,” usually said with a sigh; “so-and-so” being a “press agent,” these days known as people in “public relations”).  Our living room was filled with poinsettia plants; we were Jewish, but enjoyed the colorful displays.  The tops of my parents’ bedroom dressers looked like a perfume counter at Saks; almost all the bottles remained in their unopened boxes, for years.  The basement had a mini upscale liquor section, the bottles unopened, also for years.  And years.

One night when I was 10, my father came home gingerly carrying a lovely roughly-200-year-old Japanese woodcut that he’d been sent by the someone at the public relations office at the local art museum.  The museum was having a special exhibit of antique Japanese art, and my father’s newspaper had run a lengthy picture-filled article about it in the Arts section before the exhibit opened.  The exhibit was one of the most successful in memory, and my father had played a role in the article’s prominence and length in the Arts section.  The museum’s PR person sent my father the woodcut, along with a note of appreciation, attributing the popularity of the exhibit largely to that article.  The paper’s art editor, George, himself an artist and art collector, and a close friend of my father’s, had chosen the pictures for the article, and wrote the article.  My father asked him if he could place a value on the woodcut.  He did, and my father paid the museum for it.

My father not long before had asked him if he could find an affordable large painting for the main wall, behind the couch, in our living room, and George suggested instead that my parents by a set of Japanese woodcuts from the same era that would look nice with the museum woodcut that would be on another wall.  George found a set of four that told a story, and framed them in narrow, plain wood frames that he covered with rice paper he died a light blue, with natural-colored rice paper matting.  They were beautiful, and, I’m quite sure, the most valuable things my parents ever had in their home.

That was my father’s foray into quid pro quo—an antique Japanese woodcut he received as a gift and then paid for.  My father, George, and a few others at the paper had received free passes for two to the exhibit before it opened, along with a lengthy press release about the upcoming exhibit.

In an addendum to this recent post of mine here at AB, I wrote:

For me this general election campaign has been an exercise in frustration and dismay at the failure of Clinton and her campaign to apprise the public of critically important things about Trump that they don’t already know.  Like Trump’s monetary motive for his coziness with Putin, and his methods of financing his real estate empire that included bank fraud and partnerships with corrupt foreigners.  Things that make the Clintons’ self-dealing and misrepresentations to the public look utterly inconsequential by comparison.

And like what billionaire is backing Trump financially and calling the campaign shots, and would be calling the shots in a Trump administration.  And what those shots would be.

Whatever favors Clinton did as Secretary of State for Clinton Foundation donors, they were trivial in that they had nothing to do with making or changing government policy, it appears.  And the Clintons’ rapacious money mongering didn’t defraud banks or individuals.  And while it served their personal financial interests well, their foundation did have the effect of actually doing some real good on fairly widespread scale.  The Clintons, in other words, aren’t sociopaths.  Trump is.

Finally—finally—now, Clinton is angry enough about Trump’s statements about Clinton Foundation/State Department connection that she’s willing to depart from her campaign’s strategy of telling the public what they already know about Trump, but nothing else, because informing voters about the stuff they don’t know would require a slightly complex discussion.  Telling people what they already know is quick and easy and soundbite-y.  So it’s what her highly paid consultants and top campaign staff advise.

But in a stark, sudden and surprising departure, Clinton is about to begin educating the public about something somewhat complex, something that requires that she tell them things about Trump that they don’t already know.  She’s about to explain the alt-right, apparently in some actual depth, and illustrate that Trump is the alt-right’s candidate because he himself is alt-right.

So is his billionaire.  The public has no idea he has one, much less what the billionaire’s specific agenda is.  And if Clinton finally is ready to tell the public that, yes, Trump has his very own billionaire supporting his campaign with many millions of dollars, she will get some help from John McCainwho obviously reads Angry Bear even if Clinton and her campaign folks don’t.  Although, of course, it’s more accurate to describe the relationship as one in which the billionaire has his very own presidential nominee.

The post was titled “Trump suggests to undocumented immigrants that they quickly pool their savings and use the funds to buy real estate in extremely leveraged deals* in order to avoid paying back taxes (or income taxes at all) once they become legal residents during a Trump administration.  And Eric Trump agrees!

And a few days earlier, in a post titled “Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel vs. Robert Mercer and Rebeka Mercer (i.e., the meaning of TRUE CHANGE)”, I wrote:

Amid the widespread media focus last on the Trump campaign’s shakeup that ended Paul Manafort’s reign there (such as it was) and brought in Breitbart alum Steve Bannon as campaign CEO (interesting title, but whatever) and elevated Trump pollster Kellyann Conway to campaign manager, a critical aspect of this, though reported in-depth by the New York Times and a couple of other major news outlets, has, clearly, not made it mainstream: that Trump’s actual current puppeteers are the father-daughter duo of Robert Mercer and Rebeka Mercer.  And who they are.

So let me introduce them to y’all, by borrowing heavily from an in-depth article by Nicholas Confessore titled “How One Family’s Deep Pockets Helped Reshape Donald Trump’s Campaign,” published in last Friday’s New York Times:

What followed that colon detailed enough about Robert and Rebeka Mercer to disabuse the reader of any conception that a Trump administration would be pro-blue-collar worker and, to borrow from Bernie Sanders, anti-the-billionaire class.   A purpose of the post was to express dismay that neither the Clinton campaign, nor the DNC, nor most of the mainstream news media had deigned to try to educate the public about who is financially propping up the Trump campaign, and what they hope to accomplish in a Trump administration.

Another purpose was to try in my tiny-readership way to illustrate the absurdity of Trump’s claimed equivalency of his billionaires’ financial backing of his candidacy and the fundraising assistance to Clinton from Hollywood multimillionaire progressives like Timberlane and Biel and other extremely wealthy people whose financial interests are counter to their support of Clinton and of progressive down-ballot candidates, especially for the Senate and House.

Clinton wants to see the demise of Citizens United, and presumably her Supreme Court nominees do, too.  Trump has promised Supreme Court nominees in the mold of Antonin Scalia.  Progressive Democratic members of Congress will attempt to enact new, sweeping campaign-finance-reform legislation.  Clinton will sign it if it makes it that far.  Trump would veto it, and Republican members of Congress will do whatever they can to thwart it.

This media focus on Clinton Foundation donors, while certainly legitimate, seems to hold a monopoly on news media dissection of presidential-campaign financial backing.  Why?

Seriously.  Why?

Cohen writes in that column:

“The fact remains that Hillary Clinton never took action as Secretary of State because of donations to the Clinton Foundation,” said Josh Schwerin, a Clinton campaign spokesman. Apparently, this is true, and it no doubt breaks the hearts of Republicans everywhere who think that Clinton is both a crook and a fool. She is possibly only a bit of the former and certainly none of the latter.

Let us take the case of Casey Wasserman. He runs the Wasserman Media Group, a sports marketing and talent-management agency. According to The Post, Wasserman’s charitable foundation contributed between $5 million and $10 million to the Clinton Foundation and his investment company also hired Bill Clinton as a consultant, paying him $3.13 million in fees in 2009 and 2010. For this, aside from a warm feeling, it seems Wasserman got nothing. When he tried to get the State Department to approve a visa for a British soccer star with a criminal record, he got nowhere — so much quid, so little quo.

As Cohen of Claims, I followed the same M.O. Not only did I treat every bribe as a gift, but also I never demanded anything from anyone and went out of my way to award my business on the basis of competence alone. In fact, on the rare occasion that someone complained that I was not sending enough business their way and wondered if a little cash would help their cause, I cut them off completely. I insisted on good work, promptly done. I could not be bought.

My father could not be bought, either; he was not bought.  Which is not to say that none of his colleagues, or his counterparts at the other local newspapers, were, but it is to say that most were not and that the ones who were were bought cheaply and that the quo, while important to the one who offered and gave the quid, surely was pretty trivial to the larger public.

It also is not to say that $3.13 million in, um, consulting fees directly to Bill and Hillary Clinton, not to their foundation, in the space of two years—those two years being the depths of the financial crisis and recession—is trivial.  It’s not.  Nor did it go to a good cause, as donations to the Foundation at least did.  Cohen writes:

But just as I knew that the gifts I got were intended as bribes, and just as only I knew that the bribes were buying nothing, so did Hillary Clinton know that the huge amounts of money raised by the Clinton Foundation were coming from donors who thought they were buying something — access, a favor down the line, even a choice seat at some glitzy Clinton event with the requisite selfie to be sent to clients, spouses and interested others. And just as I never spelled out my rules — never said that the gift/bribe would buy nothing — I, like the Clintons, understood what might be the expectations of the donors. Some of them, probably, felt more strongly about taking a picture with Bill Clinton than about AIDS in Haiti.

The same pattern repeats itself over and over. Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian billionaire of huge philanthropic endeavors — he is a benefactor of the Louvre in Paris, for instance — donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation. Yet, when he contacted the foundation for help in meeting with a State Department official regarding Lebanon, where he has business and political interests, he got nowhere. Still, like the occasional tycoon from anywhere, he might have expected otherwise.

There is precious little that’s charitable about the world of charity. Raising money, like sausage-making, ain’t pretty to see, and it would be just criminally naive to rely on the big hearts of big donors. Much is bartered — access, recognition, social standing, proximity to the star at a dinner, a call afterward and, unspoken, the promise of influence if influence is needed. The Clintons knew exactly what was happening — a kind of alchemy in which potential bribes were turned into innocent gifts, leaving everyone with clean hands and, inevitably, the noxious odor of scandal.

What matters at this juncture, in this particular presidential campaign, isn’t what the Foundation or even the Clintons personally received, but instead what, if anything, they gave in return, and what, if anything, Hillary Clinton as president would actually give as quo.  And what Trump as president would, and to whom, and to what extent.  And what the quo’s importance to the public would be.

I’ll quote myself here:

Whatever favors Clinton did as Secretary of State for Clinton Foundation donors, they were trivial in that they had nothing to do with making or changing government policy, it appears.  And the Clintons’ rapacious money mongering didn’t defraud banks or individuals.  And while it served their personal financial interests well, their foundation did have the effect of actually doing some real good on fairly widespread scale.  The Clintons, in other words, aren’t sociopaths.  Trump is.

Please, no false equivalencies on this.  Okay?

Neither of my two recent posts from which I quote received any attention.  I hope this one does.

____

UPDATE: Reader Zachary Smith and I just exchanged these comments in the Comments thread:

Zachary Smith / August 30, 2016 2:24 p.m.

As part of the murder process of Muammar Gaddafi, he was sodomized with a bayonet. Out of respect for any children reading this blog, I’m not going to spell that out any further. What was Hillary’s RECORDED reaction?

“We came, we saw, he died,” followed by a laugh and gleeful hand clap.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fgcd1ghag5Y

Under my definiton of “sociopath”, Hillary Clinton qualifies on that one alone. Of course there are others….

*** My father, too, turned bribes into gifts. ***

I know some saintly people myself, and have no difficulty accepting this claim at face value. Stretching the analogy to the Clinton Foundation is, in my opinion, a stretch too far. If Hillary was as pure as the driven snow, why did she work so hard to ensure her communications were beyond the reach of the Freedom Of Information Act? Why has the State department refused to release her meeting schedules until after the election?

Finally, using Richard Cohen as an source for anything is beyond the pale. This shill for Israel was all-in for the destruction of Iraq. He was a big fan of the destruction of Libya. He’s a huge booster for the destruction of Syria. And he most definitely wants somebody in the White House who will finish off Iran.

That person is Hillary Clinton.

____

Me / August 30, 2016 3:04 pm

Well, first of all, my father was never a movie critic, a theater critic, never covered the auto industry or the pleasure boating industry, or, really, anything else that could have involved him in a quo on anything like a regular basis, so maybe that wasn’t a good line for me to use and maybe this wasn’t a good analogy after all. I was never really sure what these folks were after from my father, but that was the era of “press parties” and free passes to this and that, and there certainly were a lot of those. (Maybe these still are; I have no idea what the ethical aesthetic for journalists is these days.)

Still, not a truly apt analogy, as you’ve now illustrated, even though Cohen’s trip down memory lane did evoke incidents from my childhood.

But the point of my post is that the heavy media focus on Clinton’s conflict-of-interest-type transgressions, and the near-total lack of it regarding Trump, the Russian connection being the lone exception, is inappropriately asymmetrical, and does the voting public a major disservice.

As for Libya, you may well not know that the civil war there was quite well underway when this country intervened in order to fend off the imminent slaughter by Gaddafi of about a quarter-million people trapped with no defenses in a particular Libyan city. It was intended as, and was, a humanitarian intervention. And it was considered so throughout much of the Middle East. The problem came afterward, after Gaddafi’s fall, when this country did nothing to assist the rebels, and they were overtaken by ISIS.

As for Syria, here too I’m not sure why you think this country caused its civil war, but it did not.

I’ve hardly made a secret here at AB of my near-virulent distaste for Hillary Clinton and, these days, Bill Clinton. I’m, suffice it to say, not a shill for her. I really, really dislike her personality. But she’s running against Robert-and-Rebeka-Mercer-and-Paul-Ryan’s-legislative-agenda (believe me, and I don’t mean in the Trump sense). I’m sorry that that’s the case. But it is the case.

And about my father, he wasn’t a saint, but he wasn’t that far from one, in my opinion and that of almost everyone who knew him. He was a very good person.

R.I.P., Daddy.

Update added 8/30 at 3:24 p.m.

 

____

SECOND UPDATE:  I’m adding this exchange of comments between reader Nihil Obstet and me because my response to him clarifies a key point about my post that, judging from the Comments thread, some readers did not understand:

Nihil Obstet /August 30, 2016 4:08 pm

The problem with corruption in Washington these days is that they don’t know it’s corruption — it’s the atmosphere they breathe, the ocean they swim in.

People who want something from you give you gifts? Well, the gift-giving has nothing to do with what they want you to do. They just like you. And you aren’t at all influenced by the gifts and their presumed affection. Unlike the rest of humanity, you aren’t at all affected by your perception of others’ valuing of you. Really?

In a criminal trial, potential jurors who know anyone who will be involved in the trial are dismissed. Silly courts? I don’t think so. That level of ignorance between the governed and their representatives is neither possible nor desirable, but its requirement where government will act is, I think, an accurate indication of the probability of conscious or unconscious influence of relationships.

If gift giving to those in power isn’t corrupt or corrupting, what’s the problem with Citizens United again?

In short, this pabulum about the real purity of backscratching is the crony justification of corruption. It’s not corruption. It’s just the way nice honest grownup people with favors to give live.

____

Me / August 30, 2016 5:55 pm

The thing here is that when there has been no action by the recipient of the gift, there is no backscratching. That’s Cohen’s point, and mine.

The problem with Citizens United is that extremely wealthy individuals, and corporations, are funding candidates who as elected officials will be making policy decisions that serve the financial interests of the people who funded those elected officials’ campaigns.

With Clinton, these people were doing what they were doing because she was Secretary of State and they wanted certain things from her as Secretary of State. If she didn’t oblige them, then the issue is one of access–they were able to get through to Abedin or whoever to request these things. That’s not pretty, but it’s not the same as actually getting what they’d requested.

There are big problems, of course, with potential conflict of interest concerning these past Foundation donors and consultant payments to Bill Clinton and speech payments to him and her. Big problems. But my post, and Cohen’s column, addressed only the issue of quid pro quos when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.

Judging from the comments, I think several readers of my post missed that fact.

And here’s another comment of mine in the thread, this in response to a comment by Mike Kimel:

“It won’t affect my judgment” is different than “It can’t affect my judgment, because I have no judgment to exercise on this.” Which was true for my father and most of his colleagues.

But it also is different than “It didn’t affect my judgment, as you can see. I didn’t do what the gift-giver wanted, and in fact did nothing.” Which is what Cohen did as a claims adjuster. And, with the exception of trivialities, appears to be what happened at State.

If there eventually is evidence of instances in which something really did happen, that would be a big, big problem. But Trump is a walking conflict-of-interest machine, and his funders/puppeteers are far, far worse than Clinton’s, in almost every respect, not least on climate-change matters.

What this election has done is expose the awfulness of the Democratic Party’s nomination process. Every single day, when I click on the internet, I think, yet again, what a tragedy it is that Clinton so wrapped up the Party before the election season even begun that no progressive other than Bernie challenged her. Not Sherrod Brown, not Elizabeth Warren. No one but Bernie, whom the political news media insisted month after month could never actually win the general election, if nominated.

It makes me sick. and I think this will be the last Dem presidential primary season in which that will happen. But we’re faced with a contest between Trump and Clinton. We each have to choose whom we will support.

Hope this clarifies my post.  Especially since it’s my final comment about it.  I think.

Added 8/30 at 6:22 p.m.

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Apparently there’s a special place in hell for Democratic politicians who criticize Barack Obama as insufficiently progressive. And a special place in heaven for politicians who have accepted $133,246 from the private-prisons industry but tell Black and Hispanic voters at a debate shortly before the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary that they want to end the private-prison system.

Nicholas Kristof 

✔@NickKristof

Clinton is accusing Sanders of being anti-Obama. Feels fake and contrived to me, and rather nasty.

10:47 PM – 11 Feb 2016 Twitter

___

What worries me more than anything else about a Clinton general election campaign is her propensity to say obviously silly things. Elsewhere in that speech, in Clinton, IA on Friday, she again repeated her (and her daughter’s) complaint—without any hint of recognition of irony—that Sanders’ single-payer healthcare insurance plan would kill Obamacare.  As if it weren’t the very purpose of a single-payer healthcare insurance system to eliminate private healthcare insurance for the benefits that the single-payer plan provides.  As if the purpose of Obamacare was to create some living monument to Obama, rather than to provide healthcare insurance to people who had no access to it, and provide decent insurance to people who had policies that provided almost no coverage. [Italics added.]

Is it just me, or is the Clinton campaign’s take on how to appeal to African-American voters really demeaning, Me, Feb. 3, quoting myself in a Jan. 24 post.

Okay, good.  It’s not just me.  It’s also New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.  And David Strauss of Politico, who at 9:57 last night posted a short article titled “Clinton namechecks Obama over and over again.”  There was still an hour left in the debate then, so make that “Clinton namechecks Obama over and over and over and over and over again.”

But, hey.  All three of us are white.  And Black folk might not get what she’s doing.  And any who think they do would be wrong.  Like all of us women who mistakenly thought Clinton had, throughout her campaign, bludgeon-like, been asking women to vote for her because she’s a woman.

All those incessant Pavlovian references to women?  And last week, her declaration that Sanders must be the only person who thought she was a member of the political and economic establishment, because she’s running to be the first woman president and by dint of that fact clearly has no connection whatsoever to the politically and economically very, very powerful?  Or even to the slightly powerful?  She disabused us last night of the misconception that she was asking women to vote for her because she’s a woman.  Instead she was asking us to vote for her because she has no connection to the politically and economically powerful.

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I’m so, so tired of political journalists (including some who I think are generally excellent) misconstruing certain types of poll results. And of pollsters not asking the obvious direct question they need to ask. [Addendum added.]

If ever there were a cycle that seemed poised for a serious argument over what to do — if anything — about the torrents of money sloshing through our politics, you’d think it would be this one. We’re seeing a parade of billionaire sugar daddies looking to sponsor individual GOP candidates. A profusion of clever tactics such as turning over campaign operations to a friendly Super PAC, and running a full-blown presidential campaign while pretending you haven’t declared. Outside groups on both sides pledging enormous expenditures. Relentless media attention to foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation. And so on.

Yet despite all this, the chances of turning campaign finance into a major or compelling issue appear remote: A new poll today finds that fewer than one percent of Americans see it as the most important issue facing the country.

Morning Plum: Americans don’t care too much about big money in politics, Greg Sargent, this morning

Aaaaargh.  Might this be because most poll respondents think they’re being asked directly about the issues that they want politicians and officeholders to address, rather than, y’know, the reasons why politicians and officeholders aren’t dealing effectively—or at all—with those problems and often make policy that worsens those problems?

It turns out that the answer is, yes.  And in the paragraphs following the above-quoted ones, Sargent himself, by discussing the poll questions and results in more detail, makes that very, very clear. Sargent continues:

To be sure, the new New York Times/CBS News poll does find that Americans across party lines think money exerts too much influence over the political process. Eighty-four percent of Americans, including 80 percent of Republicans, believe this. Crucially, the poll shows that majorities of Americans believe this gives the rich more influence over the process, and that they believe public officials reward big donors:

“Two thirds think wealthy Americans have a better chance than others of influencing the election process, while just 31 percent say all Americans have an equal chance to do so….Americans see a frequent quid pro quo when it comes to contributing to an election campaign and receiving benefits once a candidate is in office. Fifty-five percent of Americans think politicians enact policies to benefit their financial contributors most of the time, while another 30 percent think this happens sometimes. Just 13 percent think this only happens rarely or never.”

And then:

And get this: 54 percent do not believe political donations should be protected as free speech, and 78 percent support limits on contributions to groups unaffiliated with a candidate. Yet here’s the bad news for campaign finance reformers:

“Very few Americans prioritize campaign finance over other domestic issues when asked to name the most important problem facing the country today. Americans’ top issue priority continues to be the economy and jobs; health care and immigration follow. Less than one percent volunteer campaign fundraising as the most important issue facing the country.”

And then as an afterthought, he adds:

In fairness, the poll reached this conclusion through an open-ended question that asked people to name the single top issue, so who knows how much this means. But even some reform-minded Democrats have lamented the difficulty of turning campaign finance it into a motivating issue.

I love Sargent’s blog and read it religiously most weekdays.  But he, like so many other political journalists, conflates what are two separate categories of issues and draw the wrong conclusion.  And it’s a vicious circle: With the single exception of Elizabeth Warren and now Bernie Sanders, politicians whom the news media pay attention to never, ever, ever directly tie in a particular public policy—mainly, legislation or the lack of it—to actual actions (huge campaign donations, superPac funding, lobbying, and the proverbial revolving door, with industry lobbyists or representatives of, say, the Koch brothers, writing legislation and blocking legislation.  Only Elizabeth Warren actually does that and gets some genuine, meaningful media attention for it.

Obviously, neither Warren nor Sanders is cowed by the results of the incessant polls that ask the right question regarding the usual-suspect issues that poll respondents think is what they’re being asked about—the economy; immigration; foreign policy; healthcare.  Neither Warren nor Sanders confuses the answer to that question with an answer to a question about whether the respondent thinks there is a tie-in between the things they think of as an “issue” as meant in a poll question, and whether the respondent thinks a key reason for the existing problem and the government’s failure to adequately address it, and instead exacerbates it, is that public policy is controlled by the very few, very wealthy people who pay for campaigns in this era.

Sargent links to the CBS online article about the poll, which also says that “[m]ost who think changes are needed are not optimistic that such changes will be forthcoming: 58 percent are pessimistic that changes will actually be made.”

Well … yes.  Exactly.  And Warren and, now, Sanders may well succeed in ending the tautology.  They understand that actual specific information showing direct tie-ins with specific policies or lack of policy would feed upon itself and show that, yes, in fact changes can be made.  But only with a truly new breed of elected officials.

—-

ADDENDUM: Politico’s top article today is titled “Did Elizabeth Warren go too far this time?” But it’s subtitled “The Massachusetts senator’s attack on Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White causes backlash on Wall Street.”  The article, which is lengthy, discusses a 13-page letter Warren sent this morning to SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White, absolutely ripping White for … well, you should read the article, all the way to the end.

By the end of the article, you’ll wonder why somewhere in the middle of it, it says that Warren’s influence seems to be on the wane and that the letter probably will hasten the waning.  The article has two co-authors, and the headline would not have been written by either of them. So that might be why the article is part details and background, and part what Wall Street and the White House want as the media’s take on the letter’s contents and fallout. I did a double-take when I read this sentence: “The backlash against Warren was the latest indication that populist firebrand’s efforts to push for tougher financial regulation may be losing some momentum.

The backlash against Warren is from Wall Street, the SEC, Mary Jo White’s office, and the CEOs and lobbyists who want the TPP treaty ratified and are selling it as a trade agreement even though, mostly, it’s not.  Warren (and others) object not to the actual trade provisions but to parts of it that do not concern trade as such.  And the SEC rules under Dodd-Frank that Warren angrily says the SEC keeps delaying concern transparency of corporations concerning the CEO’s pay as compared to that of the company’s ordinary employees, and concern disclosure of the identities of the tax-exempt organizations that receive corporate donations, and the amounts of the donations.

The public backlash against this has begun, the Politico article says.  Just call JPMorgan’s corporate offices and lobbying firms.  They’ll tell ya!

As for Wall Street’s public relations offering on it, the part of it that the article discusses with specificity sounds to me ridiculous:

“I don’t understand Sen. Warren’s criticism of White for recusing herself where there is a conflict of interest,” said Wayne Abernathy, a top lobbyist for the American Bankers Association, referring to Warren’s criticism that White isn’t involved in SEC actions when her husband’s law firm represents the companies involved. “Is it that she would prefer that the chairman go forward and participate in enforcement cases despite the conflict of interest?”

No, actually, it’s that because her husband is a partner in one of the premier New York law firms that represent the biggest financial institutions against the SEC and Justice Department during investigations and in civil and criminal litigation. And that her recusal means that the SEC is routinely deadlocked about whether to bring charges in such cases because the remaining SEC commissioners are equally divided between Republicans and Democrats.  How convenient.

Relatedly, Roger Cohen has a terrific column today in the New York Times.  But you have to read to the end to get the relation.

Added 6/2 at 8:58 p.m.

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The Campaign-Finance Transparency Canard … In All Its Orwellian Splendor

For the reasons explained above, we now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Jan. 21, 2010

I should have foreseen it on Monday.  That was the day that the Washington Post published a high-profile article by Matea Gold, one of the Post’s national political reporters, headlined “Big money in politics emerges as a rising issue in 2016 campaign.”  Five of the Post’s other national political reporters contributed to the piece, two of them reporting from New Hampshire.

By “it”—that is, the thing I should have seen coming—I mean the Orwellian attempt by Republicans to blame campaign-finance laws for the billionaire co-optation of politicians instead of on, say, the Supreme Court’s dismantling of those laws.

The thrust of Gold’s article is this: Historically, the general public laments the influence of large campaign-finance donors—those who contribute directly to campaigns or parties, and those who run or contribute to ostensibly independent PACs and, now, SuperPACs—most people cite specific substantive policy concerns such as the state of the economy, rather than the influence of large donors, as their main political concerns, because, well, most people don’t connect government policy to who’s paying for the policymakers’ elections.  But now, because of the clear, well-known effect of Citizens United (and McCutcheon v. FEC, whose name and specifics most of the public does not know, but whose effect the public does know, albeit under the rubric of Citizens United), large swaths of the public are, finally, connecting the dots between government policy and campaign-finance practices, whatever the guise.

Uh-oh.  Much of the public is now not only onto the Koch brothers, but recognizes that the Koch brothers and others who are nearly as wealthy are effectively the puppeteers to the candidates for national public office—and may soon become aware that that is as true of elections for state government.  All three branches of it.

Not to worry.  Republican pundits Ed Rogers and Kathleen Parker have the answer.  Which they’ve wasted no time in laying out in their respective forums in the Washington Post forums, Rogers in his blog there surprisingly honestly titled “The Insiders,” Parker in her syndicated column.

Rogers, a longtime high-profile Republican political consultant inside and outside Republican White House administrations, and now (to quote the bio line at the bottom of his blog posts) “the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991,” announces in both the title and the body of a blog post yesterday that he is “embarrassed by our campaign finance system.”  Yup.  The first paragraph of his post reads:

I’m embarrassed by our campaign finance system. And as a long-time participant in the system, for me to get here, it must be pretty bad. So-called “campaign finance reform laws” have created a surreal world where the official campaigns aren’t where the campaigning is being done. I can’t say it any better than the recent article “Trading Places” in the National Journal. Tim Alberta and Shane Goldmacher, who wrote this thoughtful piece about the impact and increasing necessity of super PACs, said, “[SuperPACs] pose an existential threat to the old order. The campaigns themselves may soon become subordinate; as Mitt Romney demonstrated in the 2012 primary, a candidate can win without an effective campaign but not without an effective super PAC.” How can the public interest be served in a world where an unaccountable super PAC is actually bigger than a candidate’s formal campaign?

It can’t, Rogers concludes.  But not because a few exceedingly wealthy people are dictating candidate campaign platforms—they hold their own private primaries these days—and, of course, actual government policy by those whom they sponsored as candidates.  Uh-uh.  No, Sir. No, Ma’am.  No how. No way.  It’s because of a lack of transparency regarding who is funding whose SuperPACs.

And whose fault is it that this system has developed and is having the effect that it’s having?  The drafters and supporters of the post-Watergate and 2001 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance statutes!  Without which we would have had no commandeering of candidates, elected officials and (consequently) of government policy!  Uh-uh.  No, Sir. No, Ma’am.  No how. No way.

If extremely wealthy individuals could donate unrestricted amounts of money directly to campaigns and parties, and have to identify themselves as doing that, the public would also be entitled to transcripts of these folks’ phone and in-person conversations, and email exchanges, with their candidate-proxies/elected-officials, see.

Problem solved!  Or it would be, if only we would just kill the remaining campaign-finance restrictions before the Supreme Court does, and require it all to be … transparent.

Rogers’ post reminds me of those old children’s black-and-white game book puzzles in which the object is to find the obscured animal in the thicket of the drawing’s foliage.  He’s now, finally, after many decades as a participant in the system, embarrassed by that system, because of how very bad it now is.  But it’s the campaign finance reform laws—the so-called ones, not the real ones—that have created a surreal world where the official campaigns aren’t where the campaigning is being done.

Yes, that’s right.  You probably thought that the Supreme Court’s literally spontaneous campaign finance “reform” law announced under the auspices of First Amendment jurisprudence in January 2010, and “enhanced in the name of freedom by the court’s majority last year in McCutcheon v. FEC, striking down most of the McCain-Feingold law, played some role in creating a surreal world where the official campaigns aren’t where the campaigning is being done.   But it didn’t.  Uh-uh.

We know that, because although Rogers admits that it is only now that he’s finally embarrassed about our campaign-finance system–13 years after McCain-Feingold was enacted but four years after the Supreme Court decimated that statute–he’s embarressed by the system propogated by McCain-Feingold, a system that is now a quaint memory.  The embarrassment is totally unrelated to the Supreme Court’s nullifiçation of most of the statute.  Which explains why he doesn’t mention Citizens United, much less McCutcheon. He doesn’t mention the Supreme Court and Citizens United, at all.

So there.

The animal figures in the drawing are really, really obscured.  But he assures us that they’re there.  The campaign-finance laws left standing for now, he complains, are quickly rendering the campaigns themselves subordinate.  As Mitt Romney demonstrated in the 2012 primary, a candidate can win without an effective campaign but not without an effective super PAC.  So, how can the public interest be served in a world where an unaccountable super PAC is actually bigger than a candidate’s formal campaign? he asks.

But by design, he’s asking the wrong question.  So I’ll ask the right one, which is: How can the public interest be served in a world where a handful of billionaires puppet campaigns of others for public office and have secret, direct access to the candidates and who direct campaign positions the goal of which is to ultimately dictate government policy?  It is not, and it cannot.  And that’s true whether unlimited money goes directly to a candidate or party, or both, or whether instead it goes to a SuperPAC.

The demand for transparency is largely a canard, a way to render false assurances that the problem is entirely or mainly secrecy of the identity of the benefactors.  We know who the Kochs are and whom, and what, they support, because they’ve been open about it.  Same with Sheldon Adelson and Tom Steyer.  So what?

Parker’s column today is worse than Rogers’ post, but because of its obvious Orwellian feel will just prompt shrugs, I’d guess.  She writes, in a piece titled “Mr. Hughes Goes to Washington”:

Setting aside for now the debate about security, let’s turn our attention to [gyrocopter pilot Doug Hughes’] proclaimed mission of shining a light on our corrupt campaign finance system and his urgent plea for reform.

We tried that, Mr. Hughes, and it created an even bigger mess. [Italics in original.]Today’s salient political adage goes like this: Behind every successful politician is a billionaire — or several.

We did indeed try that, Ms. Parker.  And for a decade or so it worked reasonably well.  But, see, that decade saw the Democrats take control of both houses of Congress from the Republicans as well as the election of Barack Obama.  So although the Supreme Court majority initially killed most of McCain-Feingold in order to allow corporate CEOs to use shareholder money to support Republican candidates directly and indirectly, what we have as a result is less the influence of corporate money than the purchasing of federal, state and local government policy by a billionaire.  Or several.

It turns out that it’s the “several” part that Parker, and probably Rogers, finds problematic.  Parker dedicates much of the remainder of her column to Hillary Clinton’s call last week for mandated transparency in campaign finance in its various forms, because, well, transparency has not been Clinton’s strong suit.  Clinton has a pretty broad base of large donors, apparently. Anyway, Parker writes:

This tells us two things: Transparency polled well in focus groups; Clinton is adept in the art of political jujitsu.

Campaign finance reform is indeed on many minds, if only in greater America. Beyond the Beltway, people like Doug Hughes choke and spit when talking about politics and politicians. The notion that a few rich people can determine who leads this essential nation is a sour, cynical-making joke that borders on the criminal.

As noted in the quote from Citizens United that opens this post, Justice Kennedy and four of his colleagues beg to differ.  But Parker and Kennedy agree on the elixir.  Parker continues:

There’s nothing free about paid-for elections — unless everybody knows where the money came from. [Italics in original.] Ever since the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, generally known as “McCain-Feingold,” our two-party system has been on life support. If in pre-reform America, too many wealthy people were donating large sums to candidates, at least we usually knew who they were. In post-reform America, too many are still giving large donations — but in the shadows.

As one philanthropist put it to me, “Money will always find a way.”

Funny, but I wasn’t aware that the two-party system was on life support between 2002 and 2010, although I guess it might have appeared that way to someone who liked the idea of a one-party system as long as the one party is the Republican one.  (I am not such a person.)  I’d argue instead that the two-party system’s demise, as Parker and Rogers seem to mean it, came not as a result of the enactment eight years earlier of McCain-Feingold but instead from the rise of the Tea Party and therefore as a result of that Supreme Court opinion that cannot be mentioned in polite company.  Or in Republican pundits’ commentary.

Nor am I aware that money always finds a way in the other democracies. The other democracies in the world–the actual ones, and there are a number of them–manage to ensure that it doesn’t.

Left unexplained by these folks, and by others, possibly including Hillary Clinton, is why they believe that the purchase of candidates’ platforms and, ultimately, of elected officials’ policy positions is pernicious only when done via SuperPAC; the purchase of candidates and entire parties is fine, because, see, we know that Republicans audition with the Kochs, and we know these brothers are billionaires many times over, but that would be unimportant if only the brothers could make direct payments to the campaigns and parties.

Hillary Clinton may be adept at political jujitsu, but suffice it to say that she has no monopoly on it.

I do accept Parker’s characterization (however unwitting but by her own terms accurate) of Kennedy & Friends’ actions as bordering on criminal, though. And that money does find a way in this democracy.  But only in this democracy.  By resounding democratic majorities of 5-4.

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Election, democracy, Hong Kong and the US

This is a 7 minute video that looks at the way money has reduced the voter population that counts down to a handful.  Sure, we all get to vote, but it’s the things that happen before the final vote that makes the real decision.  How often do we hear that there is no one to choose, we have no choice?  My response is: Did you vote in the primary?  I think the greater work done by money regarding controlling the election results is during the primary runs.  The media looking at this as a celebrity contest and reporting it as such (Dean scream of joy turned into a negative) combined with lack of voter participation just makes it too easy for the money to be determinate in a primary.

The comparison of what we have created in the US to Hong Kong is based on this ability of a few to determine who the many have to choose from.  In the US, the filter is money.  In Hong Kong it is by law.  This video makes if simple enough for anyone to understand, including those who learn about life from the Fox news system.

 

We can not count on our media system to inform the populace as to the mechanics of our current electoral process.  They are no longer free of conflict of interest.  An election is now a major source of income/profit and the media is doing just as we have come to accept a private for profit business do in our version of capitalism.   Though it was not always just about profit or profit primary vs secondary.  It has perverted the intent of the 1st amendment as it relates to the ideals mine and my former generation were taught regarding our version of democracy.

I was surprised from the video just how close we are to having success in changing the way we fund our elections.  10 votes in the Senate.  10!

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Ted Olson Wants Congress to Bar the Koch Brothers’ Contributions to Incumbents. I Say: Good Idea!

Post updated below.

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Forty-six Senate Democrats have concluded that the First Amendment is an impediment to re-election that a little tinkering can cure. They are proposing a constitutional amendment that would give Congress and state legislatures the authority to regulate the degree to which citizens can devote their resources to advocating the election or defeat of candidates. Voters, whatever their political views, should rise up against politicians who want to dilute the Bill of Rights to perpetuate their tenure in office.

Led by Majority Leader Harry Reid, these Senate Democrats claim that they are merely interested in good government to “restore democracy to the American people” by reducing the amount of money in politics. Do not believe it. When politicians seek to restrict political speech, it is invariably to protect their own incumbency and avoid having to defend their policies in the marketplace of ideas.

—  Harry Reid Rewrites the First Amendment. When politicians seek to restrict speech, they are invariably trying to pr otect their own incumbency.  By Theodore B. Olson, Wall Street Journal, today

Hmmm.  The McCain-Feingold campaign-finance statute, which the Supreme Court largely eviscerated in Citizens United v. FEC in early 2010 and all but completed the job earlier this year in McCutcheon v. FEC, was enacted in 2002.  In 2006, the Democrats unexpectedly gained control of both the Senate and the House, largely by defeating, y’know, Republican incumbents, and substantially increased their majority in both houses in 2008, mainly by defeating, um, Republican incumbents.  Citizens United certainly helped the Republicans gain control of the House in 2010, but failed that year and again in 2012 to recapture the Senate.  Harry Reid won reelection in 2010, despite the Kochs’ and Karl Rove’s very best efforts.

Led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans, as Koch puppets, claim that by defeating the proposed constitutional amendment to nullify Citizens United and McCutcheon, they are merely interested in good government to “return democracy to the American people” by continuing to allow unlimited amounts of money in politics. Do not believe it. When politicians seek to have Congress and state legislatures controlled by plutocratic puppeteers who actually draft legislation secretly and then deliver the finished draft to their legislator puppets, it is invariably to protect their own incumbency and try to gain or retain a stranglehold on mechanisms of government and avoid having to defend their policies in the marketplace of ideas.

That said, if Ted Olson’s real concern is that a return to pre-Citizens United, McCain-Feingold-like campaign finance laws would just serve to strengthen incumbency, the obvious answer is to demand that Mitch McConnell, an incumbent currently running for reelection, step up to the plate, return his Koch contributions, and propose legislation that would restrict contributions to incumbents in order to give challengers a stronger voice.  That’s something that McConnell and his challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, might agree on.

It’s all about the First Amendment, see.

What a moronic op-ed.

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UPDATE: I posted the following comment in the Comments thread in response to some comments there indicating that some readers missed the specific intended point of this post:

The intended point of my post is that Olson’s claim is clearly false that removing restrictions on contributions by the very wealthy and corporations hurts incumbents. This is a canard that the right is using to try to tamp down anger about Citizens United and McCutcheon and the unlimited amounts of money that are now purchasing elections, candidates and elected officials—and to undermine attempts to nullify those opinions.

Clearly, the Kochs and other very, very wealthy people are individually paying huge amounts of money to finance McConnell’s campaign. McConnell is an incumbent. So are the current Republican House members whose reelection campaigns these people are funding. McConnell’s opponent isn’t an incumbent; she’s a challenger. So are the Democrats trying to unseat House Republican incumbents. This is a sleight-of-hand that Olson and the others think no one will notice. I noticed. It’s a false statement of fact.

9/9 at 12:09 p.m.

 

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Trevor Potter on Citizen’s United

Trevor Potter offers a thorough treatment (for an article sized piece) of the Citizen’s United decision by the US Supreme Court in a speech at an Annual Meeting of the American Law Institute. The link is to the transcript via Alternet.

…coverage is so successful because it accurately describes a campaign finance world that seems too surreal to be true. A system that claims to require disclosure of money spent to elect or defeat candidates, but in fact provides so many ways around that requirement as to make disclosure optional; a system that says that “independent expenditures” cannot be limited as a matter of Constitutional law because they cannot corrupt because they are “totally independent” of candidates and parties—…

Beverly Mann points us to a June 14 date for SCOTUS review of the case:

Here’s a link to a SCOTUSblog article from yesterday laying out the Court’s timeline and options concerning how they’ll proceed in the Montana case. They’re expected to decide on June 14 whether to simply summarily reverse the Montana Supreme Court without briefing and oral argument, or instead to agree to decide the case after full briefing and oral argument next term:  http://www.scotusblog.com/2012/05/montana-detainee-cases-set/.  I expect them to do the latter. But, who knows?

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