September 5, 2007

NYT: Hsu Shows Need For Government Control Of Election Financing

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?


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Comments (21)

Posted by emdfl | September 5, 2007 8:29 AM

Nope - any and all donations should be legal - with the caveat that both the amount and the donor's name must be PUBLICLY listed by the candidate with in 48 hours after receipt of the donation. With the provo that any failure to list or a lie regarding name or amount would be punished by a fine in the amount of oh, say 10 times the disputed donation.

Posted by AnonymousDrivel | September 5, 2007 8:38 AM

Yet another indication that we need absolute, instantaneous transparency in campaign financing laws.

Anyone can give any amount s/he wants at all times provided that the disclosure is fully disclosed on publicly accessible databases in real-time. Forget privacy laws since it would appear the system is so corrupted that gigawatt floodlights can be the only disinfectant. The rich and powerful or special interest individuals who are concerned that their donations become visible and open them up to a) scrutiny and b) perhaps undesirables targeting their wealth? Tough. Don't make political contributions. Same thing for the little guys, too. An unfortunate side effect but things have degenerated wildly. Any regulating hoops drawn up by those who supposedly desire "reform" are mere speedbumps until a new financing highway is devised.

Keep the financing private but the disclosure public. Fully and instantaneously. Our system has become so corrupted that draconian measures are in order.

As to the opinion of the NYTimes, who cares anymore? It's time we abandon their "insights" and quit giving them the time of day. Let them die a fast and ignominious death.

Posted by viking01 | September 5, 2007 8:58 AM

If the Old Gray Bag Lady had no problem with the Tammany Hall (who was her mother?) racket and Uncle Joe Stalin you can be sure they'll find no problems with graft by angry Hillary, Bubba, Spitzer, Cuomo and Bootlegger Joe Kennedy's progeny being on the take.

The main thing that has changed is it's far more difficult for the NY Times to Isikoff / Newsweek away their friend's bribes than in their golden years of deceit before the Internet Age of Drudge and similar began calling the Old Liberal Media's bluff.

Posted by Silvio Canto, Jr. | September 5, 2007 9:02 AM

Good work Ed. I just learned that 1996 and 2008 are the year of the rat!

Posted by kingronjo | September 5, 2007 9:08 AM

Norman "Abramhoff" Hsu. This was front page above the fold news then.

Now? Before it disappears, it will be in the local section, page 23.

Posted by Insufficiently Sensitive | September 5, 2007 9:11 AM

The shady backslappers that endanger this republic the worst are those in the back rooms of the New York Times, who secure priveleged access to its print pages with ever more extravagant proposals for government takeovers of everything from health care to financing of elections.

Posted by Joselito | September 5, 2007 9:50 AM

Why doesn't the Federal Government take over the print media? The Times seems to feel that the Government should take over everything else, so, why not the press?

Posted by rbj | September 5, 2007 9:53 AM

"Senator Hillary Clinton has been burned twice lately" Please. If her campaign is so incompetent to investigate long term big time contributors, I worry about having her in charge of the government.

No limits, full disclosure -- with all contributions having to be done before a week before the election to allow people to look over each candidate's contributors. Oh, and limit contributions to US citizens & organizations --- no foreign donations please.

Posted by Sue | September 5, 2007 10:03 AM

First, the politicians will never allow anyone to control their "money". This, folks, is how they get rich and why they manage everything so that they can stay in power. It is business as usual. I am shocked, shocked that so many are so corrupt! Yeah.

Posted by richard mcenroe | September 5, 2007 10:19 AM

Want to cut the rug out from under campaign finance corruption?

Free air time. Maybe "party political broadcasts" as they have in the UK, maybe free commercials -- and for ANY party that can register, say, ten million voters nationwide for network or 100,000 voters in any given state for local televion stations.

Posted by MICHAEL DOOLEY | September 5, 2007 10:52 AM

This all just boils down to the same old thing. A law is passed to "protect" the American people and their democracy. When this law turns into failure raised to glorious heights, the next answer is more laws and more state control over "our" process.

Posted by Steve Skubinna | September 5, 2007 10:54 AM

Big deal. To the coastal elites, everything shows the need for government control of everything else. Except, as Joselito notes above, the press. For some reason that's the only activity in America that's so pure and vital that the government must keep its hands off. I suppose that's because, in the view of the NYT editorial board, the press is the only institution in America incorruptible enough to oversee the government.

Posted by RD | September 5, 2007 11:29 AM

It is the presses job to expose wrong doing and corruption not to cover it up, excuse it, and ask for laws that muddle the puddle. The NYTs should be working on exposing the Hsus and the Chatwals and their pattern of corrupt giving and where their money comes from instead of giving Hillary cover for being "naive" (stupid or corrupt herself) about accepting money from them-making her a victim once again ie blaming the system instead of the careless or greedy person on the receiving end of the giving. They should go back to the Tries and the previous pattern of accepting corrupt and suspicious money. And most important, they should tie it to a country if it is coming from a foreign country that is trying to buy or influence an American election. What do they think they are in the business for?

Posted by quickjustice | September 5, 2007 11:44 AM

Public financing of campaigns has failed miserably in New York. It's yet another incumbent protection program.

Of course, the N.Y. Times cut its own deals with N.Y. incumbents to get the state's power of eminent domain exercised to permit the Times to seize the private property on which its new office building is located.

Posted by onlineanalyst | September 5, 2007 12:09 PM

RD: You are so correct re the role of the press/media. How and why did those conduits lose sight of what their First Amendment rights were all about?

Posted by RD | September 5, 2007 12:20 PM

I don't grasp the concept of bundlers. Do they not have to identify the individual donations by amount and doner? Are they simply arm twisters? Do they kind of work by intimidation and quid pro quo? Are they the scut workers when it comes to fund raising? Do they count on peer pressure? It seems to me that people who want to be bundlers are under a lot of pressure to deliver and they must put their friends and co-workers under a lot of pressure also. I think I'd run if I saw one approaching me.

Posted by Meatsss | September 5, 2007 12:24 PM

Norman Hsu was a no show at his bail reduction hearing today and failed to surrender his passport. Any bets he reappears in China soon?

Posted by viking01 | September 5, 2007 1:32 PM

Very likely.

Hsu probably hopped into the back of an 18-wheeler which took him to Long Beach terminal. The container being the last one loaded onto a ChiCom ship immediately headed for Shanghai and as soon as international waters were entered he'd been dining in a different captain's quarters. Meanwhile he laughs all the way to Beijing about the silly judge stupid or crooked enough to dare let him out on "bail"

Posted by Count to 10 | September 5, 2007 3:44 PM

Abramhoff, from what I remember, got arrested for cheating his clients, and then there was a great deal of talk about shady deals that taints only the Republicans he contributed to. Hsu lies about his income/job, skips bail, and appears to be funneling cash from the Chinese to the Democrats, but so far hasn't tainted anyone. Please tell me this changes if the guy gets convicted of something...

Posted by Count to 10 | September 5, 2007 3:57 PM

I'm all for full disclosure and no limits. The only problem I can see is that groups might still hide their contributions by setting up shells to funnel money through.

My inclination is to rule out any contributions that are not from an individual American citizen: no committee contributions, no business contributions, no union contributions. Of course, you would still have to allow these organizations to run their own advertisements for candidates, but they should have to put their own name to them, not through some phony "people for a better future" group that they fully fund and operate.
If the stockholders/union members want there money to go to candidates, they can do it themselves. The CEO/union boss can advise them who to give to, but should not be contributing from the money they oversee.

Posted by Bennett | September 5, 2007 7:59 PM

Isn't the problem that there is really no penalty? Every time some candidate ends up in one of these messes all that happens is he or she gives the money back or donates it to charity. Sure, there's some bad publicity but in the end that usually dies away because we're so used to these stories, dirty money and sleazy politicians. Same old same old.

The solution isn't public funding. It's finding a way to make violating campaign finance laws truly risky and not just another "aw shucks, we didn't know, we'll give the money to charity" moment.

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