Thursday, March 27, 2008

McCain and the Post: A win-win combination on gutting campaign finance laws

The Washington Post--scourge of DC corruption a generation ago, now too often its handmaiden--does a nice job today of recycling GOP talking points regarding the breaking of campaign finance laws by the McCain campaign:

[B]ecause of a congressional standoff over confirming new members, the FEC is now operating with just two members out of the six it is supposed to have. This means that, in addition to being frozen on public financing, the FEC is unable to write regulations, launch enforcement actions or issue advisory opinions.

This situation is an embarrassment waiting to mushroom into a scandal. It is outrageous to have the country going through a contested election with the agency that is supposed to oversee enforcement of the election laws incapable of functioning. The reason for the logjam is that Senate Democrats have opposed confirming the pending Republican nominee, Hans A. von Spakovsky, because of concern about his actions on voting rights while he was a Justice Department official. Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have refused to hold separate up-or-down votes on all four nominees for fear that Mr. von Spakovsky would lose -- and they would be outnumbered at an unavoidably political agency that is supposed to be equally divided between the two parties. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), in a letter to White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, reiterated his promise that if Mr. von Spakovsky's nomination were to be defeated, he would "quickly review" a replacement nominee.

There's no love lost between Mr. McConnell, an ardent foe of campaign finance reform, and John McCain, the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee and champion of such reform. But Mr. McCain -- who has said he would accept public financing for the general election if his Democratic opponent agreed to do the same -- has more than a passing interest in ensuring a functioning FEC. Perhaps he could use his newfound influence within the party to get this problem solved.

(Emphasis added.)

Let's be clear: von Spakovsky's nomination is not being blocked because of something as bland and mealy-mouthed as "concern about his actions on voting rights while he was a Justice Department official." It's because he participated--knowingly, willfully, proudly, and zestfully--in the Gozales Justice Department's systematic voter suppression plans designed to win elections for Republicans.

Von Spakovsky's specialty is "caging"--deliberately challenging (with or without positive evidence) the registration of Democratic (often minority) voters in groups so large, and at a point so near the election (often on election day itself) that the voters can't establish their bona fides in time to vote. Positioned far too high to soil his hands with the actual practice, von Spakovsky's job was to (mis-)use the enforcement tools at Justice to clear the way for underlings to do the dirty work at the state and precinct levels.

His confirmation to the FEC would not merely be a case of letting the fox guard the chickens, it would be a case of letting Col. Sanders guard the chickens. Senate Democrats rightly refused to confirm his nomination by Bush to the election watchdog commission.

Bush enablers in the Senate know the drill quite well from this point, even if the Post still seems a little naïve. Including the unacceptable von Spakovky as one of the four nominees needed to fill the empty FEC seats gave Bush (whose name is not mentioned by the Post, as if von Spakovsky's nomination appeared out of thin air) and the Senate Republicans a win-win scenario: If von Spakovsky's nomination is confirmed, the Republicans will have placed one of the nation's most ardent opponents of fair elections on the Federal Elections Commission. If he isn't confirmed, since the Republicans insist that all four nominees be treated together, it means that the Republican dream of crippling or eliminating all government oversight is advanced in a significant area--and, as the editorial demonstrates, a compliant press will happily blame it on Senate Democrats.

There's the Post's "scandal in the making," although they don't seem to see it that way.

It's sadly amusing that the Post imagines that McCain--currently the chief beneficiary of this mess, since a crippled FEC can't pursue his current flouting of campaign finance law--might somehow be the solution, that he might "use his newfound influence within the party to get this problem solved." Solving this problem is the last thing McCain wants to do.

Oh, and by the way: The Post is dead wrong when it says that McCain "has said he would accept public financing for the general election if his Democratic opponent agreed to do the same." McCain has accepted public financing, and the fund raising limits that go with it (he did it in the dark days last fall when it looked like his campaign was going to tank). That fact is not conditioned in any way by whether a Democrat (the Post obviously means Obama, whose successful small-donor strategy has forsworn PAC and corporate donations, but hasn't officially opted for public financing) also accepts public financing or not.

I'm writing about this now because in this morning's email was waiting a note from Democracy 21, the non-profit organization whose mission is to "work to eliminate the undue influence of big money in American politics and to ensure the integrity and fairness of government decisions and elections," drawing my attention with apparent approval to the Post editorial and its litany of GOP talking points.

By helping to provide political cover for McCain's apparent law-breaking (and not just any law--campaign finance law, upon which much of his alleged "maverick" reputation is based), and by helping blame the FEC debacle on Senate Democrats, Democracy 21 shows a very odd sense of its own mission.

Democracy 21 (along with most other similar groups) has been largely MIA as McCain's fundraising totals inched upward toward the limits set by campaign finance law--limits to which it is legally bound, and the breaking of which is a 5-years-in-the-slammer felony. Instead, with the Post's help, it seems more worried about establishing moral or legal equivalence between McCain's already-existing legal obligation and the Obama's campaign stated willingness to put the possibility of accepting public financing on the negotiating table with the Republican nominee.

With friends like Democracy 21 and the Post, do fair elections need enemies?

1 comment:

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

You can't go more that 2 feet in D.C. without bumping into a lobbyist, unfortunately.