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Full-contact politics

John Fund of the Wall Street Journal Online has an excellent look at the seamy, sleazy side of the California recall election, and specifically the role of Indian gambling money. If you want an accounting of how politics really gets played in the US, this is a pretty good vignette. Discliamer: John is a pretty loyal Republican, for the most part, but I have met him and I can assure you he is savvy and knows his politics.

There are all kinds of lessons in this article. I will leave you with a few to chew on:

Note the brazen contempt for campaign finance law by the Bustamente campaign. Where politicians can’t get the money they need through various kinds of gray-market loophole-oriented money-laundering operations designed to evade these laws, they just violate them outright because they know that no enforcement will occur until after the election.

Note the heavily cynical and strategic use of political money to build up politicians that the contributors actually want to lose the race, because these dark horses will strip votes from a real rival to the preferred candidate.

Money and power will always find each other. The only solution to the kinds of influence peddling activities on display in California is to strip power from the state.

3 comments to Full-contact politics

  • >>>Money and power will always find each other. The only solution to the kinds of influence peddling activities on display in California is to strip power from the state.<<< Agreed, 100%. Many people call the California Recall election a "circus," but if only the media (or at least the embattled voters) would run with that metaphor: it is about as honest a description of politics-as-usual as you can get. In particular, campaign reforms, financial or otherwise, are mere sideshows, to distract the rubes while their pockets are being picked. The facts that anyone believes that any good will be or has been done by campaign restrictions, or that we give serious media and legislative time to the consideration of such measures, just go to prove Barnum's old saying about suckers and the passage of time.

  • Zathras

    RCD, that’s what the CA Indian tribes want: to strip power from the state, specifically to restrict and regulate tribal gaming enterprises. This is not a good idea for many reasons, and Bustamante is very much a purchased politician on this issue. But the challenge of the influence of money on politics is not to eliminate but to keep it within limits; Americans accept property’s place at the table, but have a right to object to elections and public officials being bought. In that connection the Wall Street Journal’s — and John Fund’s — opposition to any campaign finance laws at all, and to any enforcement of the laws on the books makes this criticism of Bustamante look like petty partisan sniping. What you say about Fund is not wrong; he knows his stuff. But if the tribes were giving all this money to a Republican, would he object. On the record, no.

  • R.C. Dean

    Zathras, you are overlooking a key element of state power that the tribes are all in favor of – the illegality of anyone other than a tribe opening a casino in California. Eliminate this exercise of state power, and the tribe’s political involvement becomes pretty pointless. They are interested in controlling state gambling policy – if the state has no such policy, the tribes won’t be lobbying nearly so much, in large part because they won’t have a state-enforced monopoly to defend.

    Fund is most definitely complaining about all the money that the tribes are giving to Republicans for purely strategic reasons. This is a pretty crass manipulation of the process unjustified by any substantive or policy goals, but is pure power politics in the service of well-heeled political players. Yecch.

    I don’t know what Fund would do if a Republican had received millions in illegal funds from the tribes. He might remain silent, but until it happens we just don’t know.

    Republicans tend to be pretty consistent about law enforcement. They tend to say that, even if you think a law is wrong, you ought to comply with it. In their eyes, it is not hypocritical to oppose campaign finance laws, while decrying those who violate the laws. I think this is a real distinction.