October 24, 2007

Diaper Donors

The rich may start having more children if they can use them to launder political donations. The latest demographic of political activism comes not from people who act like two-year-old but actual toddlers, as their parents look for ways in which to channel contributions:

Elrick Williams's toddler niece Carlyn may be one of the youngest contributors to this year's presidential campaign. The 2-year-old gave $2,300 to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

So did her sister and brother, Imara, 13, and Ishmael, 9, and her cousins Chan and Alexis, both 13. Altogether, according to newly released campaign finance reports, the extended family of Williams, a wealthy Chicago financier, handed over nearly a dozen checks in March for the maximum allowed under federal law to Obama.

Such campaign donations from young children would almost certainly run afoul of campaign finance regulations, several campaign lawyers said. But as bundlers seek to raise higher and higher sums for presidential contenders this year, the number who are turning to checks from underage givers appears to be on the rise.

"It's not difficult for a banker or a trial lawyer or a hedge fund manager to come up with $2,300, and they're often left wanting to do more," said Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics. "That's when they look across the dinner table at their children and see an opportunity."

Most of us see love, responsibility, and the future when we look across our dinner tables. The bundlers apparently see only opportunity and a chance to extend their political power through money laundering. That isn't all that unusual, of course; the people who get elected to office have no problem spending the money of the toddlers and their progeny when they create and perpetuate massive entitlements.

The diaper donors have hit the big time this cycle. Presidential candidates have raised four times as much from students than they did at this point in the 2004 campaign, an increase that outstrips the overall increase in campaign donations. Bundlers and campaigns have discovered that the age of donors does not usually come under scrutiny by the FEC, and they have rushed to exploit it. Parents simply say that the money came from "babysitting money," as Susan Henken explained the $2300 donations to Mitt Romney from her 13-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter.

The Supreme Court barred age-related barriers to contributions as unconstitutional, but offered some guidance on other parameters. The contributions have to come from the child's own money, cannot be reimbursed by parents, and must be knowingly and voluntarily contributed. None of this can be easily checked, but contributions from 2-year-olds obviously fail the last test. What's worse, these effects of campaign-finance reform limits then put the FEC and the courts in the position of judging whether each child has rational thought behind their contributions, and determining the origin of the money. It's impossible to sort out, which is why bundlers have exploited this loophole so effectively and enthusiastically.

Once again, we see the unintended consequences of campaign finance reform. Contributors hide behind the diapers of their progeny, and checkbook politics continues unabated.


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