The New York Times editorial board takes up the case of Norman Hsu and Sant Chatwal today, but not to excoriate their Senator, Governor, and state Democratic Party for their dealings with the pair. Instead, the Gray Lady claims Hsu and Chantwal as exhibits A and B for their argument to push for public financing of elections:
The presidential candidates’ gross money marathon is leaving them increasingly open to shady backslappers securing privileged access with big bags of campaign cash on the barrelhead. Senator Hillary Clinton has been burned twice lately by so-called bundlers — aspiring power brokers who harvest large amounts of smaller donations and bundle them into irresistibly giant packages. One Clinton bundler turned out to have an outstanding arrest warrant for business fraud; the other has a history of tax liens, fraud charges and bankruptcy proceedings on two continents.
Other candidates in both parties have been similarly embarrassed. And no wonder, as an estimated 2,000 bundlers now work the major campaigns like maître d’s. Business executives pass the hat among underlings and family members for impressive scores. Trade and professional groups milk their memberships for big-ticket entry to the political circus.
For all their press releases promising watchfulness, the candidates have become increasingly addicted to bundlers. This is because Congress failed to update the public financing of campaigns, the alternative that worked well for the nation for three decades. Private fund-raising, deposed after the campaign corruption of Watergate, has retaken the throne, with the money hunt becoming more rampant as the campaign season lengthens. There is no process forcing disclosure of bundling so voters could better judge a candidate’s donors. Sensing the growing risk of scandal, the campaigns have offered only half-hearted swipes at disclosure.
Private fundraising got "deposed" after Watergate? Says who? Candidates have raised money hand over fist from private citizens all through the thirty-five years since the break-in at the Watergate. Federal funds have matched that raised by the candidates -- they didn't replace donations at all.
The Times acts as if it just discovered that politicians hold fundraisers. Note to the Paper of Record: try hanging out at the St. Regis Hotel from time to time. You, too, could get your picture taken with Norman Hsu, even by accident.
Notice the shift of subject on the part of the editorial board. If Hillary Clinton took money from two frauds, the blame can't be hers. Notice, also, that the Times fails to mention the other two New Yorkers who claim their spots on Hsu's top three recipients: Andrew Cuomo, the state's Attorney General, and Governor Eliot Spitzer, who was Cuomo's predecessor as AG. These two top law-enforcement officials never bothered to do a simple background check on the man who stuffed over $135,000 into their pockets. The blame can't be theirs, either.
So what's to blame? The lack of public financing. Obviously, candidates can't be trusted with private contributions, and so the government must control campaign funding instead. Of course, these politicians who can't control their own contributor base will wind up being the very government that would control campaign financing, but don't let that worry anyone. The Gray Lady seems sure that the act of getting elected on public money will make them excellent stewards of the same cash later.
What the government funds, the government controls. Do we want the federal government to serve as the arbiter of which candidate gets funding, and to what extent? How long before fringe candidates get the same amount of funding as mainstream candidates -- and who gets to make the decision as to which candidate qualifies for either status? At least with open financing, the ability to raise funds follows from some indication of popular support.
It also allows the public to hold candidates responsible for their donor base. The New York Times wants to let Hillary, Cuomo, Spitzer, and the Democratic Party off the hook for Hsu for its own political agenda. If we cannot expect candidates to manage their own money and vet their major contributors, when do we start holding them accountable for their incompetencies?