Pity the Multimillionaire Campaign Donor

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 15 2012 3:44 PM

Pity the Multimillionaire Campaign Donor

Thanks to Andy Newbold, I see that Fox News has glommed on to Kimberly Strassel's bizarre -- presumably ongoing -- series of columns about the Obama campaign's huff-and-puff act about Mitt Romney's bigger donors. The first column went viral -- 37,000 Facebook shares -- but Strassel had lost me early on, when she compared the KeepingGOPHonest site to Nixonism.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

Richard Nixon's "enemies list" appalled the country for the simple reason that presidents hold a unique trust. Unlike senators or congressmen, presidents alone represent all Americans. Their powers—to jail, to fine, to bankrupt—are also so vast as to require restraint. Any president who targets a private citizen for his politics is de facto engaged in government intimidation and threats. This is why presidents since Nixon have carefully avoided the practice. Save Mr. Obama, who acknowledges no rules.
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That explains the problem with the enemies list, which John Dean described -- before he switched sides -- as a guide on how to "use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies." It doesn't explain the problem with a public guide to a candidate's biggest donors, whose names and donation sizes were made available on FEC forms. Strassel informs us that these men have committed no crimes -- which nobody's disputing -- and provides no evidence of the administration using incumbent powers to nail them. She just lists a number of times that Obama has criticized -- sorry, "PUBLICLY TARGETED" -- donors/industries spending big to defeat the Obama campaign. The closest she gets to an abuse of power is that the administration's "ginned up an executive order (yet to be released) to require companies to list political donations as a condition of bidding for government contracts." That's not quite a frivolous IRS audit, is it?

This takes us to Strassel's second column, an In Cold Blood-style investigation of a Democrat who followed up on one of the donors listed at KeepingGOPHonest -- Frank VanderSloot.

Through 2011, nearly every mention of Mr. VanderSloot appeared in Idaho or Washington state newspapers, often in reference to his business. That changed in January, with the first Super PAC disclosures. Liberal bloggers and media have since dug into his past, dredging up long-ago Idaho controversies that touched on gay issues.

What's the operating assumption here? The reason that someone like VanderSloot can give unlimited money to Restore Our Future, basically, is that the Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech. When you speak loudly about something, people notice, and gather opinions about it. VanderSloot decided to speak softly but spend big. The response: More attention on his previous political activism. This, according to Strassel, is an affront. The president

swore an oath to protect and defend a Constitution that gives every American the right to partake in democracy, free of fear of government intimidation or disfavored treatment.

Can someone point me to the part of the Constitution that guarantees your free speech won't result in disfavored treatment? Strassel is like an activist judge assigning some new right -- the right never to have to explain yourself if you bankroll a candidate who'll get to write or sign laws.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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