The Real Dirt on Presidential Fundraisers
The newspapers lit up this week with revelations that Norman Hsu, a top fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, not only may have violated campaign finance laws by laundering contributions through family members but is also a fugitive facing jail time.
While the press enjoyed a reprieve from the dog days of August, partisans delighted in the chance to score some points. Michelle Malkin, Washington’s reigning queen of indignation and a stand-in host on the “fair-and-balanced” network, gleefully taunted, “What say you now, Hillary?” on her blog. Malkin later opined that even Clinton’s pledge to return Hsu’s contributions could not erase the “stain.” Oooooooh.
Clinton’s troubles are about the same as the unpleasant circumstance Mitt Romney faced in mid-August when news broke that a Maryland grand jury had returned a 23-count indictment against a co-chairman of his national finance committee. Ouch. Malkin’s blog item scolding Romney for his failure to perform due diligence on the co-chairman, Alan B. Fabian, is available here. (Oops. Curiously, a review of Malkin’s archive was unable to unearth any such item.)
Aside from the fact that partisans will use campaign finance scandals for their own advantage, here is what the Hsu and Fabian episodes really show: Our campaign finance system attracts unsavory fundraisers - and candidates have little incentive to ferret out the bad apples. In reality, their true incentive is to remain blithely ignorant of their donors’ histories.
The New York Times today discussed the presidential candidates’ ever-expanding use of bundlers, the big fundraisers who funnel money into campaign coffers. The Times used our bundler-tracking Web site, www.whitehouseforsale.org, as a resource for the story and quoted our director, Laura MacCleery.
The story reviewed past scandals, pointing out that about a dozen of George W. Bush’s bundlers in 2000 and 2004 have come under investigation and some have been convicted. As we know, Bush managed to enlist two of the decade’s most famous criminals - now deceased Enron CEO Ken Lay and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff - for his White House bids.
The story points out that other presidential candidates, including Barack Obama and John Edwards also have seen their fundraisers’ integrity questioned.
The bottom line is that we can continue to see a steady drip, drip of scandals surrounding presidential fundraising as long as running a viable campaign requires raising unseemly amounts of private money.
The only answer to this mess is to institute a credible system of public funding that gives candidates a chance to opt out of the money chase. Supreme Court precedent requires such systems to be voluntary, and some candidates will continue to seek an edge by raising vast sums. But at least such a world would give candidates an opportunity to avoid groveling to big donors.