John McCain will be spinning in his grave


At Senator McCain’s urging, SCOTUS has set the standard for campaign finance legality as avoiding “the appearance of corruption.”

If that is the law of the land, we seem to have a problem here. You should be aware that the link is to the Washington Post, not exactly a bastion of conservatism, and since registration may be required, here are excerpts:

An alliance of nearly a hundred of the nation’s wealthiest donors is roiling Democratic political circles, directing more than $50 million in the past nine months to liberal think tanks and advocacy groups in what organizers say is the first installment of a long-term campaign to compete more aggressively against conservatives.

A year after its founding, Democracy Alliance has followed up on its pledge to become a major power in the liberal movement. It has lavished millions on groups that have been willing to submit to its extensive screening process and its demands for secrecy.

Demands for secrecy? This appears to me to offer shelter to penumbras, formed by emanations – of corruption.

…But the alliance’s early months have been marked by occasional turmoil, according to several people who are now or have recently been affiliated with the group. Made up of billionaires and millionaires who are accustomed to calling the shots, the group at times has gotten bogged down in disputes about its funding priorities and mission, participants said.

…The group requires nondisclosure agreements because many donors prefer anonymity, Wade added. Some donors expressed concern about being attacked on the Web or elsewhere for their political stance; others did not want to be targeted by fundraisers.

“Like a lot of elite groups, we fly beneath the radar,” said Guy Saperstein, an Oakland lawyer and alliance donor. But “we are not so stupid though,” he said, to think “we can deny our existence.”

No, they only have nondisclosure agreements as an exercise.

…To become a “partner,” as the members are referred to internally, requires a $25,000 entry fee and annual dues of $30,000 to cover alliance operations as well as some of its contributions to start-up liberal groups. Beyond this, partners also agree to spend at least $200,000 annually on organizations that have been endorsed by the alliance. Essentially, the alliance serves as an accreditation agency for political advocacy groups.

This accreditation process is the root of Democracy Alliance’s influence. If a group does not receive the alliance’s blessing, dozens of the nation’s wealthiest political contributors as a practical matter become off-limits for fundraising purposes.

…Those who make the cut have prospered. The Center for American Progress (CAP), which is led by former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta, received $5 million in the first round because it was seen as a liberal version of the Heritage Foundation, which blossomed as a conservative idea shop in the Reagan years, said one person closely familiar with alliance operations. CAP officials declined to comment.

Likewise, a Democracy Alliance blessing effectively jump-started Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). It bills itself as a nonpartisan watchdog group committed to targeting “government officials who sacrifice the common good to special interests.” Alliance officials see CREW as a possible counterweight to conservative-leaning Judicial Watch, which filed numerous lawsuits against Clinton administration officials in the 1990s. A CREW spokesman declined to comment.

“Partner”? Nonpartisan? Watchdog? Declined to comment and declined to comment?

..But Democracy Alliance’s decisions not to back some prominent groups have stirred resentment. Among the groups that did not receive backing in early rounds were such well-known centrist groups as the Democratic Leadership Council and the Truman National Security Project.

Funding for these groups was “rejected purely because of their ideologies,” said one Democrat familiar with internal Democracy Alliance funding discussions.

Officials with numerous policy and political groups in Washington said they have reservations about the group’s influence. Several declined to talk on the record for fear of alienating a funding source.

…The exclusive donor club includes millionaires such as Susie Tompkins Buell and her husband, Mark Buell, major backers of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), and Chris Gabrieli, an investment banker running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Massachusetts this September. Mark Buell estimated that about 70 percent of alliance partners built their own wealth, while 30 percent became wealthy through inheritances.

Best argument for a confiscatory death tax I’ve heard.

Bernard L. Schwartz, retired chief executive of Loral Space & Communications Inc. and an alliance donor, said the group offers partners “an array of opportunities that have passed their smell test.” This is most helpful, he said, for big donors who lack the time to closely examine their political investment options.

Trial lawyer Fred Baron, a member of the alliance and longtime Democratic donor, agreed: “The piece that has always been lacking in our giving is long-term infrastructure investments.”

There also are a few “institutional investors” such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) that pay a $50,000 annual fee and agree to spend $1 million on alliance-backed efforts.

For myself, I have no problem with anyone speaking politically, which is what the money here is doing. That’s fine.

I would say, however, that lacking “the time to closely examine their political investment options” is morally equivalent to nihilism. More importantly, as I have strongly advocated, complete disclosure of such spending is the obvious remedy to corruption. These donors don’t want to know, and they don’t want you to know where they are placing many millions of dollars.

What we have, right now, is a law that permits hiding your political funding, under contract, while preventing the NRA and MoveOn – to cover the spectrum – from using your accumulated small contributions for the same purpose.

Is this a McCained-up country, or what?

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