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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

We may know this week whether any indictments will be announced relating to the Wilson/Plame affair. The circus in Texas is also continuing.

1. From what we know, no underlying crime appears to have been committed in this case. Plame was not, within 5 years of the conversations, a covert agent. Further, there is no indication that any WH official knew of her formerly covert status. Fitzgerald may have evidence that suggests otherwise on both counts, but I have yet to see a convincing case made.

2. Wilson himself opened the door on this line of inquiry by falsely claiming that he was sent to Niger by the Vice President's office (not to menton lying the findings in his own report). Those lies have been detailed by the Senate's own definitive report on the subject. The media has alleged a "conspiracy" to discredit Wilson. Well, no. Making it clear that Wilson was not sent to Niger by the Vice President is not a "conspiracy." It is the truth. And, of course, reporters then asked the obvious question -- if the VP's office didn't send him to Niger, who did? The answer to that question: his wife, Valerie Plame. Who made that question necessary? Joe Wilson, by lying. Assuming that Libby acted in good faith and didn't know about Plame's formerly covert status, there is no crime there.

3. The big problem for Libby and Rove is perjury/lying to a grand jury. That is a crime. To some extent, there is a lot of he said/she said here. There isn't likely to be a smoking dress, as it were that proves inconclusively who said what. Regardless, Republicans have to be firm on the question of perjury. It is a serious crime that undermines the integrity of the judicial process. If you are called before a grand jury, you need to be honest, regardless of the consequences, personal or political. If either Rove or Libby committed perjury, then they should resign. Regardless of their guilt, if they are indicted, they should take a leave of absence and request a speedy trial. That isn't to say they are guilty before being proved innocent... but an indictment is an indictment. They need to address it before going back to work in the West Wing.

4. Can there be any greater contrast between prosocutorial styles than Fitzgerald and Earle? The prosecutor in the DeLay case (Earle) had a freakin' movie crew in to chronicle his efforts to take down DeLay. I'm not a huge DeLay guy, but Earle's multiple grand juries, his indictment do-overs, his film crew, make me fairly confident that this case is going to be thrown out of court. At this point, if anyone does go to jail over this, it is more likely to be the prosocutor himself rather than DeLay.

5. What really rankles the media is that DeLay helped Republicans in texas win the statehouse, which they used to redistrict the state more favorably for Republicans. What they don't tell you is that the lines drawn by Democrats were horribly skewed. Earlier in the decade, Republicans garnered 54% of all congressional votes, but only 31% of the congressional seats. So, save all your crying about wanting "fairly drawn" districts for someone else.

What you call "money laundering" used to be called politics. DeLay, like the Democrats he opposed, exploited a loophole in the system that allows money to flow from parties, and allows money to flow from businesses to parties. That's why campaign finance laws are a waste of effort. When they were first invented in 1974 (I think that's the date of the original campaign finance regulations), Political Action Committees were a REFORM! The 529s, which brought money away from parties to independent groups were similarly a REFORM! In both cases, they made the problem worse, not better. Why? Because as long as important decisions get made in Washington, people will try to have a say in who goes to Congress.

Loopholes are not conspiracies. Earle has been down this indictment route before with Kay Bailey Hutchinson. It is a BS political indictment and it won't stand the test of time and scrutiny. It may even pass muster with the judge assigned to the case, but that's about it. Long run, DeLay will be vindicated. And I say that as someone who is not a huge fan of DeLay.

The fact is, campaign finace laws are the exact wrong approach to the problems they are supposed to solve.

Problem 1: The power of incumbency. Rationing money is the absolute worst thing you can do to a challenger campaign. Gary Jacobson's done the analysis: the key factor in challenger campaigns is not how much money the incumbent spends, it is how much money the challenger spends. By forcing challengers to raise their money in small bits -- and if I remember the Texas case correctly, blocking funds toward the end of the campaign when challengers might actually gain momentum -- you make it easier for incumbents, not harder. Incumbents have no problem raising money early on from lots and lots of groups in small increments. Challengers have a much harder time raising money from lots and lots of groups (unlike incumbents, they have to go see the groups rather than the other way around). To the extent challengers do raise money, it is at the end of the campaign, when their numbers show they could actually win the election (and that's when the money matters... because people aren't paying close attention till the final 2-3 weeks, if that). Strict limits are foolish because they result in less speech on the part of challengers, the exact opposite of what is needed for competitive campaigns.

Problem 2: The problem of parties. Parties are the great equalizer, fundraising wise. They can help create competitive races where none would have existed -- by bringing in their supporters, expertise, and money. Bans on soft money make the system less competitive, again, this benefits incumbents and results in less speech, not more.

Problem 3: The problem of influence. The theory is that big donors will be able to buy members of congress with big donations. The exact opposite is true. Because money is scarce... members of Congress engage in what is, effectively, a shake down racket. They need money from EVERYBODY, in $1k or $5k increments. 90% of issues have zero concern to 99% of constituents (outside of one or two districts that have shoe manufacturers, who cares what the tariff on footwear is?). Since members of Congress need the cash from lots and lots of groups to get their message out, they are MORE likely to cast sympathetic votes that benefit special interests that have nothing to do with their district. They are also less likely to tell a special interest to jump in a lake. Got that? Making money scarce results in members of Congress selling their votes to lots and lots of groups instead of just a few and lowers the cost of influence for the special interests at the same time. Bad idea. Making the limits significantly larger would give members of Congress more flexibility to pick and choose the interest groups they courted as supporters. As long as constituents knew who was donating what, members would be kept in check -- since they would be open to the "buying influence" charge from any groups who gave them large donations. On the other hand, challengers would be able to raise a ton of money from a few wealthy people who shared their political vision. There would likely be multiple challengers rather than just one. Ironically, third parties would do much better under this system as well, since they don't have a broad base of support they are disadvantaged by the strict limits that many of them have pushed for.

Problem 3: The problem of time. Raise money in bigger chunks from fewer groups means less time spent fundraising, more time with real people or with the family. Either way, a good thing for the country.

Problem 4: The "problem" of speech. Making it easier, rather than harder to raise money for campaigns will result in more competitive elections and more political speech. Will some of the speech be negative. Perhaps. But forcing candidates to manage their own campaigns -- rather than relying on 3rd party proxies -- would result in less vitriol, as there is a political price to be paid for negative ads. When third party groups (swift boats, spend the money, the rhetoric is likely to be more negative than when the candidates spend it. In either case, negative ads work best when (a) they are true and (b) your opponent doesn't have the money to combat the message.

And don't tell me public financing is the answer. We will never and can never hope to fund campaigns to the same level as the private market. Government support of political speech is the wrong answer. Just get government the heck out of the way and let people make their case to the American public in as free and open a political environment as possible.
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