Another Problem With Campaign Finance Legislation

There used to be two Americas -- the small portion who were criminals and the large majority of law-abiding citizens.  Now there is just one America, since with the proliferation of regulations, we all are guilty of something.  If we fall out of favor, we can all be rung up on charges.

Local Conservative pundit Greg Patterson makes this observation about the looming Jon Edwards prosecution, and observes that as much as he may dislike Edwards, his prosecution is downright scary

It looks like former Presidential candidate John Edwards is about to get indicted. Edwards is an awful person who embodies the characteristics that most of us despise.  His hypocrisy and hubris together with his unbelievably boorish behavior while his wife was dying of cancer are the stuff of Greek tragedy.

However, Edwards' downfall is also a great example of how the US has so criminalized the political process that the Government can indict anyone who falls out of favor. Once it was clear that Edwards no longer enjoyed any personal political authority, prosecutors combed through his entire political history and found this charge:

Much of the investigation, however, focused on money that eventually went to keep mistress Rielle Hunter in hiding along with former campaign aide Andrew Young, who claimed paternity of Hunter's child in 2007 so that Edwards could continue his White House campaign without the affair tarnishing his reputation. Investigators have been looking at whether those funds should have been considered campaign donations since they arguably aided his presidential bid.

Really?  Someone gave Edwards a bunch of money so that he could hide his mistress...and those funds "arguably aided" his presidential bid? That means that every dime that any candidate has ever received could later be classified as a political contribution because it "arguably aided" his candidacy.

How many millions has Edwards spent defending himself from this charge?  How much time is he going to spend in jail?  How many other candidates--or contributors--can be indicted for falling out of favor?

By the way, kudos to Patterson for bringing up this point in the context of his political opposition.  All too often groups seek to establish terrible precedents in the name of counting coup on political opponents.  For example, I have been depressed at how hard certain of my fellow climate skeptics have labored to try to bring warmist Michael Mann up on criminal charges.

By the way, I disagree with the second half of Patterson's post, wherein he tries to draw a parallel between the Edwards affair and shenanigans and political payoffs around the Fiesta Bowl.  Patterson describes politicians as having been "victimized" by the Fiesta Bowl, such victimization taking the form of the politicians accepting luxurious trips to college football games and failing to do all the necessary reporting for these boondoggles.

I have a hard time seeing this as victimization.  It would take a really, really, really naive and stupid politician to credibly argue that these trips were purely fact-finding trips and that they had no idea these expenditures represented an effort of the Fiesta Bowl to woo them in return for various quid pro quo's.  Politicians should not even be considering public subsidies of college football games, particularly ones that are so incredibly lucrative to the schools and bowl organizations.  Politicians could have avoided being "victimized" by such lobbying by simply saying that their city/county/state was not going to be handing out taxpayer-funded goodies to sports teams and games.  I don't necessarily want to send these guys to jail, but calling them victims is a joke.

It is interesting to see this attitude from a Conservative.  My mother-in-law the Boston Liberal takes the same line, that the evils that result from lobbying and outright bribery are entirely the fault of private enterprises and not of the politicians themselves.  Of course, the libertarian position on this is simple -- the fault is not any particular person, but the changes in government power that have put so many chips on the table.   If the government has the power to give or take billions, to make or kill whole industries, then it is worth a lot of money for individuals to harness this power or at least to protect themselves from being gutted by those who do manipulate the power.  To this end, 19th century corruption arguments are almost quaint, where the biggest concern was politician's ability to appoint their friends as postmaster.  Reduce government's power to give and take arbitrarily, and the amount of money spent on lobbying, elections, and outright bribery will fall precipitously.


  1. Ted Rado:

    You are absolutely right! The bigger the government, the bigger the pile of cheese, and the more rats you attract. We got along just fine for two hundred years without big government. We are now payinig huge taxes for the priveledge of having some idiots in Washington micromanaging our lives. King George is looking better all the time. We are no longer the Land of thr Free. We are the Land of the Federal largesse sucklings.

  2. Zach:

    Normally, I'd agree. But Edwards voted for Mccain-Feingold. It's time for politicians to personally suffer from Unintended Consequences.

  3. Don:

    You know, it's hard to feel sorry for JE, not just because he's such a sack of $^#@, but also because he's made his living manipulating the courts and juries. It's kind of ironic that he might be sent to prison for a very long time by the same system he manipulated to win cases.

    In case you can't tell, I absolutely HATE ambulance chasers.

  4. Roy:

    "Reduce government’s power to give and take arbitrarily, and the amount of money spent on lobbying, elections, and outright bribery will fall precipitously." Yeppers, especially with regard to "precipitously". Put conversely, I think gov't connected corruption does not increase linearly as gov't involvement in life increases. Not sure if the corruption opportunity and occurrence increase is stepfunction, geometrical, or exponential. But denying a correlation exists rejects both the lessons of history and the obvious in current news. (Why, btw, the Bible's commentary on gov't, cf, eg, many places in Proverbs, focuses primarily upon restraint of gov't. The Bible has an accurate assessment of people.)

    As to Edwards: "You pays your money, you takes your chances." Donors should had oughta known.

  5. peter:

    Since you bring up lobbying just a thought on reducing the ridiculous levels of lobbying by major corporations that end up paying no taxes as a result of that lobbying. No longer allow payments to lobbyists to be considered business expenses for tax deductibility. Im not a tax person but I assume these payments are currently deductible because what else would lobbyists spend their spare time doing besides protecting their own interests. Of course for the same reason I have no hope that congress would ever act on my suggestion :(

  6. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    > If we fall out of favor, we can all be rung up on charges.

    Actually, this is not all that new, this quote is, I believe, at least two decades old:

    "Under any conditions, anywhere, whatever you are doing,
    there is some ordinance under which you can be booked."

    -- Robert D. Sprecht, Rand Corporation --

    Anyone else beside me remember the term:
    "Don't make a Federal case out of it!"

    There was a time when few things were "a Federal case". With the proliferation of Federal Law, comes the fact that nothing -- and I do mean nothing -- is NOT a "Federal case".

    Take a crap on your neighbor's doorstep, you're probably violating a few hundred Federal laws**, and, if someone with power wants to do it, they can probably bring "Federal Charges" against you.

    ** You think I'm joking, you think I'm being facetious...? Let's see what kind of laws might, perhaps, you might be charged under:
    a) Ecological Damage
    b) Toxic Waste Disposal
    c) Child Endangerment
    d) Racial Harassment/Violation of Civil Rights
    e) Sexual Harassment/Violation of Civil Rights
    f) Damage to a Historically Registered Structure

    Not saying the case would have success, by any means -- but probably you can be charged, arrested by Federal Marshals, and arraigned on some violation of laws in, I'd bet, all six of those areas, if certain elements are applicable, three or four almost certainly.

  7. Elliot:

    "There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. When there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws."
     —Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

  8. marco73:

    Edwards always came off as a phony. To think that with a shift of a few thousand votes here and there, and Edwards would have been Vice-President in 2004.
    Campaign finance laws are incredibly complex, and it takes an army of lawyers to just make an attempt at keeping up with all requirements. Edwards major screw up was getting someone else to pay for his transgressions. Come on, you are a multi-millionaire and you can't hide the money to pay off your mistress?

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  11. Mark Alger:

    As I've been saying for years, and wrote of the McCain-Feingold travesty at the time, if you want to get the money out of politics, you have to get the power out of Washington.


  12. the Charlie Daniels of the torque wrench:

    This is the Regime sending the word that no oppo will be tolerated in the run-up to 2012. Funny that the DoJ spins the NBPP investigation and chooses instead to loudly smash the Clinton wing of the Democrat party. No Friday night roll out for this. Wonder what Bill and Hillary had to promise to stay out of the Prog purification pathway?

  13. caseyboy:

    Amen Mark Alger. The concept of "citizen legislators" got lost along the way.

  14. Ian Random:

    The only legislation I support for campaign finance is that the money can't be spent until public disclosure of the donor is made. No limits of any kind on foreign or domestic money. Basically, the internet has rendered a lot of watchdog operations mute. As an example of the afore mentioned abuse, don't forget the guy in Texas convicted of money laundering for using the wrong campaign account.

  15. peter:

    caseyboy "citizen legislators got lost along the way".

    More like they became illegal. It is no longer possible to even discuss a bill that you or your family could possibly benefit from without violating ethics laws even if you are speaking against it.
    I had to leave my local finance committee because I was against the wasteful spending on a geothermal heating system for the new fire station. While my family does not do anything with geothermal or its installation, because we would be providing other products for the construction of the fire station I couldn't challenge the wasteful spending while I was on the committee.
    So how does one hold an outside job and serve as a legislator at any level? Even if your outside job is held in trust by your family it still generates a conflict. This of course does not apply if you are a lawyer or lobbyist. Then even if you did get elected with a hold on your outside business They wouldn't let you serve on the committees you would be most knowledgeable about because they most likely relate to your work. Of course all of these problems go away if you don't actually have ethics and are willing to manipulate the systems so egregiously to your own benefit. Hmm isn't that our current problem with our legislators?
    Sorry to rant on this subject but why is it unethical for a contractor to serve on a planning board but not for an environmental zealot?

  16. epobirs:

    It depends what kind of conservative you're talking about. I'm not religious myself but I appreciate the Judeo-Christian philosophy that Man is inherently a flawed being and this must be kept in consideration when making policy and allocating power. Everybody is subject to corruption and cannot always see it in themselves even when it would be glaringly obvious in another.

    Some people make good executives even though they rely on others for their guiding ideas. Newt Gingrich is a guy who should have have aspired to a Cabinet position but not the Presidency, while George Bush was the opposite. Each position allows certain, differing, flaws but not others.

    The brand of conservative I prefer understands the need to avoid centralized power because corruption is always gnawing away at every one of us. It usually manifests is little ways but is always waiting to give us that little push needed when we're in a position to screw up in truly spectacular ways. When power is centralized a bad decision affecting one or a few can be made to affect EVERYBODY. It is the difference between cities or state going bankrupt and whole nations sinking under debt.

    Bernanke is supposedly a great scholar of the Depression but I fear he is more is a Depression nerd. A hobby enthusiast seeking to recreate the history of his fascination but unlike those Civil War nerds, we all have to participate.