Tyrion Lannister

Woody's Rejoinder

Filed By Tyrion Lannister | April 11, 2008 4:05 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics

This press release from the Myers campaign really seems like it's grasping at straws.

Part of what they say is true: Andre has accepted quite a bit of money from both PACs and wealthy individuals. It would be one thing to suggest that Andre is "bought" if there were something suspect about either his policies or votes. As far as I can tell, there is nothing suspect about either. So far, as the right has bitterly complained, Andre votes like the progressive Democrat he campaigns as.

There is, of course, a deeper implication. Basically, in order to avoid being susceptible to this sort of attack, you need to do one of three things: (1) You need to avoid campaigning, rhetorically and substantively, on confronting corporate excess and greed. Don't talk about it. And don't promote policies that might address it. (2) You can campaign on that platform, but have to doom yourself to running your campaign on a shoestring budget. In other words, you have to accept the fact that you are going to lose. (3) You can campaign on that platform and still be financially competitive, if you've already made millions from the very corporations you are now denouncing.

Considering those options, I really think genuinely progressive campaigns should avoid that particular angle of attack. If voters rejected out-of-hand all candidates who both took money from rich people and corporations and also advocated that those same rich people and corporations be strenuously regulated, you'd be left only with people who were either really super wealthy or didn't want to strenuously regulate rich people and corporations. I don't have a problem with super wealthy people running for office, but I don't think that the level of independence afforded by such riches ought to be required for office or somehow understood as the baseline.

I'm also not sure why it should be assumed that both taking money from PACs and advocating for the strenuous regulation of corporate greed is somehow inconsistent. When I give to a candidate, it isn't assumed that there is a direct quid pro quo. I'm not expecting that the candidate will do my bidding. I give money to a candidate because I like what they are publicly promising to enact and support. I'm certainly not saying that candidates can't and don't promise votes for campaign contributions. It happens all the time. But I fail to see the harm in accepting money from wealthy donors on the promise of a progressive agenda, if you then proceed to vigorously pursue a progressive agenda. In other words, the inconsistency voters should be concerned about is not between who candidates accept contributions from and who their policies appear to benefit. Instead, the meaningful inconsistency is between a candidate promising to pursue a progressive agenda and then failing to do so. If the Myers campaign can offer any evidence to support the latter, I'll listen, but it sounds like pretty weak sauce, indeed.

The greatest danger of unleashing that particular argument is that it spares only wealthy candidates and savages everyone else. One doesn't need to be a relatively progressive Democrat -- as Woody Myers most assuredly is -- to wield the argument. As it's put, it might just as well be used by an independently wealthy Republican to discredit a working-class Democrat who accepts labor contributions. On a broader level, this sort of argument doesn't advance progressive causes. It advances the political fortunes of individuals fortunate and wealthy enough not to need campaign contributions.

As an aside, I've always found the "return the tainted contribution" demand sort of strange. If the person giving the contribution is truly heinous, wouldn't the smart thing be to not give them their money back? If you return the money, won't they have more money to spend on their heinous agenda? I mean, if a Nazi walked up to me and handed me $100, I wouldn't piously say, "Mr. Nazi, your money isn't welcome here. Spend it on bludgeons, hand grenades, and banners instead." Hell, no. If the Nazi isn't giving me his money, he's likely to be spending it on all sorts of nasty things. As long as I'm not doing anything in return, I'm perfectly comfortable accepting the money, knowing full well that I'll spend the money in a way substantially less evil than the Nazi in question. I suppose there's an argument that candidates should give the donations from evil people to charity, but that seems to be inconsistent to me as well. If accepting "evil" money taints a candidate, why would it taint a charity any less? Alternatively, as a candidate, wouldn't I be likely to believe that my candidacy was a really good thing for my community, such that giving me money would be a charitable act? I assume most politicians view their candidacies that way.

Crossposted at BlueIndiana and Tyrion's Point.

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I disagree that one dooms themselves to losing by not accepting PAC money. My mother's (now retired former) Congressman never accepted PAC donation, only donations from individuals. He also won his elections by twenty points in a district that leaned Republican. He was a schoolteacher and state legislator before he ran for Congress, so he was not wealthy.

True, this is helped if you can finance your own campaign. But I still think door to door campaigning can overcome a lot, if you have the organization mettle to back this up. Ballard, Julia when she first ran, Elrod in his State House run, and Orentlicher are all examples of this in Indy. Of course, I haven't read about Myers making the rounds, or am I missing that?

I think Myers' argument CAN be effective against Andre, because Andre doesn't really have a track record. It's all talk right now (I don't consider twenty votes a record). True, the talk is that he would be of the same mind as Julia (who this sort of argument would certainly not work against) but it might stick. When your opponent is the "establishment" candidate, one kinda has to go that route. It is a road fraught with peril, especially if you made your fortune in the insurance biz. But if anything, it is possibly an effective counterpoint to criticism for dumping a lot of your own money in the race (you can say you are own man).

Frankly, I think Orentlicher can make this argument much better than Myers.

Tyrion Lannister Tyrion Lannister | April 12, 2008 12:13 PM

Hi Chuck,

Obviously, there are some candidates who can swear off PAC money and donations from lobbyists and CEOs altogether, but they are increasingly rare. In fact, I think it really is impossible to run a contested campaign without the benefits of long-term incumbency without those sources, especially if one is running against someone who is well financed, either through those types of donations or by self-financing.

In any case, according to the Myers campaign it isn't just PAC money that is problematic, it's also individual contributions from anyone who is a registered lobbyist anywhere or a CEO of any corporation. Unless, according to the Myers campaign, you happen to be friends with the person, in which case they think it's just fine. This seems like a terrible standard for obvious reasons.

In general, I find these sorts of complaints to be somewhat asinine distractions. No one is credibly suggesting that Andre will be anything but an extremely reliable progressive vote in Congress. His supporters, advisors, and allies are the most progressive people in Indianapolis. The modern campaign requires candidates to take in a lot of donations. Woody and others may not like those donations but they are perfectly legal and ethical. Maybe they shouldn't be. Maybe campaign finance law should be changed to prohibit them, or Congressional ethics rules should be modified. But, if so, as you yourself put it on an earlier thread, "don't hate the player, hate the game."

Isn't the editor of this blog an employee of the Orentlicher campaign?

@hi: My company has contracted with the Orentlicher campaign for social networking outreach, yes. We ran that disclaimer a couple weeks ago. I don't speak for the campaign and my blog and my business are separate entities.