Saturday, November 1, 2008

Internet Donations

The Internet has made contributing to political campaigns very easy.  
But has it made it too easy?  

Specifically, there are reports surfacing that Senator Obama's campaign has been the recipient of illegal contributions from those ineligible to contribute, or those making contributions under false names, thereby evading Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules.

While this was just something percolating on conservative web blogs, I hadn't paid too much attention.  However, the story has now gone mainstream.

The LA Times reports:
Obama has revolutionized campaign fundraising, employing the Internet to tap into more donors than any candidate in history. The campaign has reported $160 million in contributions from donors of $200 or less, more than a third of the $458 million raised. But as Obama sets records, his fundraising has come under increased scrutiny.

The Democratic candidate's donors also include "Derty Poiiuy," an individual with a scatological sense of humor who has given $950. "Mong Kong" has contributed $1,065 and lists an address in a nonexistent city. "Fornari USA" gave $800 and listed the address of an apparel store of that name near San Francisco.
The Washington Post has a more disturbing take:
Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign is allowing donors to use largely untraceable prepaid credit cards that could potentially be used to evade limits on how much an individual is legally allowed to give or to mask a contributor's identity, campaign officials confirmed. Faced with a huge influx of donations over the Internet, the campaign has also chosen not to use basic security measures to prevent potentially illegal or anonymous contributions from flowing into its accounts, aides acknowledged. Instead, the campaign is scrutinizing its books for improper donations after the money has been deposited.
There's a big difference between a campaign that receives illegal donations despite taking reasonable precautions against them. If the Post is correct, then, the Obama campaign has failed to live up to its obligations to take them. Even worse is the possibility that this is something more than negligence, although there has been no proof of that.

Given that one of the reasons to vote for Obama has been his very well run campaign, this is disturbing news in any case. The campaign needs to come clean immediately about what went wrong, why, and discipline those responsible. If it sweeps it under the rug, it will all come out during the transition, making it very hard for Obama's administration to get off to a strong start.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Weekend Homework

"Your every voter, as surely as your chief magistrate, exercises a public trust."

-Grover Cleveland

As a voter, you have a public trust. It is your duty to cast an informed ballot. You owe it to those who died so that you might have it. You owe it to your countrymen who will have to live with the consequences of your collective votes. I would argue that its less important who you vote for than that your vote is informed.

That means some work for this weekend. Think not? Perhaps you know who you'll vote for for President. Great. Can you give me three reasons? If not, perhaps you need to think about it a little more.

Even if you can provide a cogent reason for your presidential vote. If so, who are you voting for for Congress? The state legislature? The school board? Why? What are the ballot questions up for a vote? Are you voting yes or no? Why?

See. You do have some homework. So do I.

The local papers likely have a voting guide that will provide some information about the candidates, and most office seekers now have websites - even guys running for the legislature and the school board. Still stumped? Look at your neighbors houses. Do you see some lawn signs? Ask them why they are supporing that candidate. Not every political discussion needs to turn into a debate.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Reality Will Set In...

David Von Drehle at Time makes a good point. During the campaign, the candidates speak of themselves in a vacuum, as if the President were an all powerful monarch, rather than the chief executive in a constitutional republic:
the men who would be President have been running for months in a parallel universe, a place where a Chief Executive changes laws by waving a hand and reorders society at the stroke of a pen. "When I am President," the candidates declare — and off they go into dreamspeak, describing tax codes down to the last decimal point and sketching health-care reforms far beyond the power of any single person to enact. In their imaginary, reassuring cosmos, America is always a mere 10 years — and one new President — away from energy independence. And the ills of the federal budget can be cured simply by having an eagle-eyed leader go through it line by line.
After the election, however, they need to come back to work with a Congress that will have a different view of the world and a different agenda (less so when the same party runs both, but the differences never disappear all together):
In an instant, the winner is sucked through a wormhole back into the real world. A world in which Congress, not the President, writes all the laws and gets the last word on the budget. Where consumers decide which cars to drive and how many lights to burn. And where the clash of powerful interest groups makes it easier to do nothing about big problems than to tackle them.
Von Drehle goes on to make an informed speculation about what each candidates' presidency might look like in what the situation is likely to look like in Washington with a Democratic Congress, a tottering economy and the many other constraints the next President will need to deal with. It's worth reading in its entirety before you vote (you are voting, right?) on Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Public Office is A Public Trust

Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was convicted by a jury yesterday of lying on his disclosure forms.

The lies concerned certain gifts that were given by Alaskan business interests that he failed to disclose. Because it's generally not very well reported, I'll just say that there was no allegation that Stevens actually did anything in return for them (something implied when the papers claim he was convicted of "corruption").

The trial involved a fair amount of controversy, including an element of prosecutorial incompetence if not outright misconduct. Accordingly, Stevens is fighting on in bid for reelection. He will likely remain free pending appeal.

Stevens certainly does have a right to his appeal, and may very well win. However, the people of Alaska are entitled to honest government and to rest assured that they have it. Stevens should have stepped aside given his indictment and let someone else carry the flag for the Republican Party, which has been damaged as a multitude of GOP Congressman have now been convicted for not fulfilling their ethical duties as Members of Congress.

The Washington Post's editorial captures an important, larger lesson from the Stevens case:
There is a larger lesson in the Stevens prosecution, which is the sense of entitlement to which public officials can fall prey and, perhaps among the most powerful, a sense of imperviousness to the ordinary rules. After all, they may tell themselves, they work long hours for far less money than they could make in the private sector. After all, they have done so much for their constituents... This is a mind-set that has been on sad display all too often in Washington in recent years, and, in truth, it is something that not even the most stringent ethics laws can fully protect against... Mr. Stevens worked to give so much to his state, but he forgot the most important duty he owed its citizens: honest service.
(emphasis added)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Incivility from an odd source...

When I started blogging, one concern I had was the state of our political discourse.

We have begun to demonize each other. Rather than claiming one person has the better idea, or represents greater experience, etc., we've begun simply condemning our opponents as being stupid, less the fully patriotic, or even desirous of hurting other people.

Much of this is at a symmetrical level or, if asymmetrical, it goes from bottom to top. In other words, it might be one voter attacking another, one politician attacking another, or a voter attacking a politician.

Rarely do politicians attack voters, though, especially those who elect them.

Hence the odd case of John Murtha, a Democrat from Pennsylvania who is a key member of the House of Representatives:
Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) is in an unexpectedly tight race for an 18th term after effectively calling the constituents of his southwestern Pennsylvania district racists and rednecks.

Earlier this month, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s editorial board that “there’s no question Western Pennsylvania is a racist area” in response to a question about Barack Obama’s prospects in his district.
There may be a lot of questionable individuals, but as a whole, "we, the people" have done pretty well. Presidents Roosevelt and Reagan placed a great deal of trust in the electorate. Today's politicians would do well to remember their example.