Hunter indictment a good reason to repeal Watergate-Era Campaign Finance Rules

Brian Brady Brian Brady 29 Comments

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Duncan Hunter was indicted. He allegedly spent money, which free people donated to him willingly, on things some unelected bureacrats said he couldn’t buy with those funds.

My reaction (if he’s guilty) is similar to my response if he was busted for smoking cigarettes on the beach; an eyeroll followed by a yawn. If Hunter broke these arcane laws, he should probably resign after he is re-elected in November. If he didn’t break these antiquated laws, he should lead reform efforts on these Watergate-era campaign rules.

All voters really need to know, in a timely fashion, are two things: who gives the candidate money and where does the candidate spend that donated money. In the 21st century, there is no reason why voters or donors couldn’t see every single donation and/or expense posted on the internet within 48 hours.

If a candidate chooses to spend campaign funds at Lola’s 24-hour strip club, it should be posted on the internet within 48 hours. If a candidate chooses to donate campaign funds to the First Baptist Mission Relief Fund, it should be posted on the internet within 48 hours. Donors can determine whether or not they want their funds to go to strippers or church ladies rather than on signs, flyers, and television advertisements. Transparency is all I want for campaign finance rules.

Similarly, campaign contribution limits are a direct violation of free speech. If Richie Rich, the CEO of Get Rich Off Government Contracts, Inc. is funding said candidates’ spending at strip joints or churches, we should see that within 48 hours too.

Hunter’s campaign finance debacle is a great reason to start this reform effort today rather than tomorrow.

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Comments 29

  1. Brian,

    As an advocate for transparency, do you think a reformed law should allow a campaign to file a strip club charge as a Baptist Mission Relief Fund charge?

    What about filing family dental work as a charitable donation to the Smiles for Life Foundation?

  2. It’s funny, but this is the attitude at my office. People there say they donate to a candidate because they want to and after that the money is gone. Period, end of story, as far as they are concerned. If the person gets elected, they are happy. If he/she doesn’t, they don’t want their money back. I gotta admit, I remember looking NOT at what the candidates spend their money on, but who people donate to. For example, a former lawyer of mine donated to EVERY Democratic Presidential candidate….including John Edwards. THAT caused me to find another attorney.

  3. Post
    Author

    “As an advocate for transparency, do you think a reformed law should allow a campaign to file a strip club charge as a Baptist Mission Relief Fund charge?”

    I’d be in favor of posting the receipt and/or cancelled checks.

    The Obama 2008 campaign got slapped with a $375,000 fine for the micromanagers’ silly, little (ineffective) rules. I still don’t care.

  4. Seriously???

    Are you really advocating that candidates should be allowed to put campaign donations in their own bank accounts? If that’s the case, I want to run for President, raise $500 million, keep every penny for my own personal use and then drop out of the race.

    Wouldn’t that be a sweet 6-month job?

  5. Just like when I tune out a Democrat who says “Abolish ICE”, I similarly lose interest in Republicans that need to have their conduct excused away. I want candidates that represent me in my district. I want candidates that understand Fiscal Responsibility. If Duncan Hunter couldn’t manage his finances without dipping into campaign funds, how can he possibly understand the National Budget? (And seriously, the overdraft fees and maxed out credit cards? Don’t gloss over those facts with someone you are trusting to represent you)

    Don’t give me the excuse that rules got him in trouble, give me a candidate worth voting for.

    We gave Hunter a chance, and he failed us. Give us someone to get excited for, not make excuses.

  6. And then there’s this:

    Three days ago a UT story (https://www.google.com/amp/www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/watchdog/sd-me-hunter-indict-20180821-story,amp.html) included this quote from Senior, which raised my eyebrows, especially since Junior and Wife were forced to sell their home and move in with Senior:

    “On 10News, he defended his son, saying Margaret Hunter was responsible for the larger expenses, and Hunter had nothing to do with them.”

    And today we wake to a wave of headlines that Junior is following the advice of Senior in throwing Wife under the bus:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/i-didnt-do-it-rep-duncan-d-hunter-seems-to-shift-blame-to-wife-for-campaign-finance-charges/2018/08/24/990dc638-a79b-11e8-97ce-cc9042272f07_story.html

    I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Junior already tossed Grandson under the same bus two years ago as the video game purchases kicked off this whole saga:

    http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/watchdog/sdut-hunter-video-games-2016apr05-htmlstory.html

    Is this some new revival version of GOP “Family Values?” Nice people. Good luck, folks.

  7. Post
    Author

    “Don’t give me the excuse that rules got him in trouble, give me a candidate worth voting for.”

    I’m not defending Hunter. I specifically said this (in bold):

    “If Hunter broke these arcane laws, he should probably resign after he is re-elected in November”

    But these are dumb laws. If HQ can raise $500 million in his bid for the Presidency, drop out, and keep the money, let him. But he can’t…and we all know why he can’t.

    Let’s try to stay on topic about the issue; campaign finance reform

  8. Brian,

    My initial comment was obvious hyperbole, but I promise you I could raise $500K in a race for an open Congressional seat. Since I have no desire to actually be a member of Congress, that would still be a very nice paycheck.

    I will give you this: I agree that there should be no monetary contribution limits as well as instant reporting of both contributions and campaign expenses. Where I disagree, and disagree vehemently, is with the idea that a campaign donor should be allowed to give an elected official (or prospective elected official) money to be used for their personal life. If you don’t see the problem with that, you are much less intelligent than I give you credit for.

  9. I’m not agreeing with Brian on this, yet it seems a lot of folks are missing his point. He’s arguing that free-market transparency of campaign expenses in real time, instead of government regulation and after-the-fact enforcement, would result in a much better job of nipping the problems in the bud.

    Most elected officials are not going to want their donors, the general public and the media to know (and publish) that they are using campaign funds for personal items (including Lola’s), so the problem becomes a self-regulating one — as a natural deterrent. Embarrassment, a dried-up donor base and the prospects of a future re-election loss are the real regulators, in real time, whereas the chance of getting caught by government enforcers can be a “maybe” in the minds of politicians.

    Again, I don’t agree with Brian on this one, but I understand his sentiment. Some of those vehemently reacting to him may be missing the point — for the very same reason they may view government regulation instead of free market forces being the best answer to nearly everything.

  10. Post
    Author

    “the idea that a campaign donor should be allowed to give an elected official (or prospective elected official) money to be used for their personal life. If you don’t see the problem with that, you are much less intelligent than I give you credit for.”

    MEMO: It’s not my money nor is it yours. Stop trying to control other people’s property.

    If you don’t see the problem with THAT, you are much less moral than I think you are.

  11. Post
    Author

    “Embarrassment, a dried-up donor base and the prospects of a future re-election loss are the real regulators, in real time, whereas the chance of getting caught by government enforcers can be a “maybe” in the minds of politicians.”

    Absolutely. The fines are no big deal and are often built into the spreadsheet before they get going. If I ran a “loose” billion dollar campaign and got slapped with a $375K fine for bad reports, I’d do it in a heartbeat. It’s less than the credit card processing fees.

    A good example of my idea was the Fletcher/Qualcomm job. It was legal and it was transparent. Some thought Jacobs was buying Fletcher’s favor as a future elected official and others just shrugged and thought “it’s good that a really rich guy is on my team.” It didn’t hurt him this past June; he raised over $1,000,000 for a County Supervisor Primary Election.

  12. Transparency is a good thing, but it should not replace the law. We do not have a direct democracy in this country. We have a democratic-republic. We elect “representatives” to conduct the public’s business and monitor policy and issues most of us do not have the time or expertise to do ourselves. Laws exist and are written to make the system as fair as possible. If the laws do not work, replace them with ones that will. But the notion that an elected official should be allowed to spend money for their personal enjoyment and bills that the public expected to be used for other reasons, is dishonest. Dishonesty is not made clean by sunshine – it’s made clean by justice.

  13. Barry,

    Sorry but there is no embarrassment in politics. And the public doesn’t care either. If the candidate is a member of your Tribe, er Party, anything is acceptable. If you don’t believe that, try explaining President Trump’s support o,r to be bi-partisan, President Clinton’s support.

    Brian,

    Are you ok with a major pharmaceutical company or a major union simply paying the Chair of an important Congressional Committee $500K per year to ensure that that he/she “took care” of their issues?

    Again, I am all for transparency and no limits on CAMPAIGN contributions. Buying politicians with personal gifts is a whole different matter.

  14. Brian,

    With your proposal, we are less likely to catch crooked politicians, and they would be allowed to stick around longer.

    An anecdote to explain:

    My father was a general council for a Fortune 500 company. When I graduated college, he shared a bit of advice about ethics in the workplace, and the importance of high standards especially when you think nobody is watching.

    In his career as a lawyer, there were a handful of occasions when people in the business would approach him with problems about employees who were suspected of possible shady behavior, but there was no solid proof. In most cases, the people bringing the questions expected a conversation about how the company could tighten their controls and reduce the suspect employee’s responsibility. My dad’s response surprised them. He always suggested giving the questionable employee a corporate credit card without any explanation.

    His reasoning: if they were right about the person being shady, the card would likely give them an undeniable paper trail and grounds to fire the bad actor within six months.

    If your transparency system was in place, Duncan Hunter would still be the same person he is. But he would shift his alleged grift somewhere else, and maybe avoid detection for longer.

  15. @HQ,

    Which is why I don’t agree with Brian. But, I am trying to point out what he’s arguing. Some of the reaction to him (especially some stuff I’ve seen elsewhere) seems to be so emotional (“you shouldn’t allow this on the site!”), that you’d think Brian was individual 1A.

  16. Barry,

    For the record, I know exactly what Brian is proposing and as I have said, I agree with some of it.

    Maybe this is a better example of why I think the rest is crazy:

    Let’s forget the legislators and executive branch and focus on judges instead. Let’s say a “mob boss” is on trial and it is not going well for him. Would Brian be ok with that defendant simply paying the judge an exorbitant amount of money in exchange for a directed not guilty verdict?

  17. Post
    Author

    “Are you ok with a major pharmaceutical company or a major union simply paying the Chair of an important Congressional Committee $500K per year to ensure that that he/she “took care” of their issues?”

    No. If it’s disclosed however, I can scream alongside you about how corrupt it is. I screamed when Jacobs bought Nathan Fletcher and transparency made that possible.

    At the end of the day, those who want to control other people’s money don’t trust people to make good decisions. This astounds me.

  18. DUDE. Dude. Bro. Campaign donation limits are a violation of free speech? What about the members of that district who are unable to give funds to support their candidate? Democracy shouldn’t be a “pay to play” venue.

  19. good grief hq, Brian is on your side and more importantly he’s right – transparency always wins and behavior controlling regulations always lose.

  20. Post
    Author

    @Encinitas Dad

    QUESTION: If the allegations are true, whom has Duncan Hunter harmed?
    ANSWER: His donors.

    Your father was right.

    If you don’t trust Hunter, don’t vote for him.

  21. Brian,

    “No. If it’s disclosed however, I can scream alongside you about how corrupt it is.”

    And it wouldn’t matter, because the mob boss would be free and there would be nothing anyone could do about it. And with no contribution restrictions in place, the judge wouldn’t have committed a crime so the worst that could happen is that he/she might get recalled or wouldn’t get re-elected. That would be a small price to pay if the bribe, I mean campaign contribution, was significant enough.

    You are also wrong that the only one who pays the price is the donors. All of us citizens who expect our legislators to pass laws, based on what’s best for the country not on the needs of whoever buys them a trip to Italy, also suffer.

    Jeff,

    Do you believe that we shouldn’t have any behavior controlling regulations? Should the following (just to name a few) no longer be crimes?

    Bribery
    Use of heroin, meth, LSD, etc.
    Moving to the U.S. without any documentation
    Insider Stock Trading

  22. Brian,

    Traditionally, when we ask a question, the other person gets to answer.

    This may be a better answer, Brian:

    Having a crook in a trusted position of elected leadership harms everyone. It harms his donors; it harms his constituents; it undermines trust in our institutions generally; and it causes a lowering of standards as it reinforces the pessimistic view that our whole system is corrupt and full of crooks. It undermines faith in the inherent good of democracy, which affects all of us.

    Bigly.

  23. Brian,

    I should also mention that I respect your viewpoint, and welcome the framing of this election cycle as a referendum on whether or not it’s a big deal to have crooks in office (alleged).

    I can’t wait to see your bumper stickers:

    “Only his donors should care.”
    “It’s really not your business.”
    “As long as you know, it’s fine; and now you know.”
    “Don’t worry, He’ll be more responsible with public money.”

  24. Post
    Author

    “it undermines trust in our institutions generally; and it causes a lowering of standards as it reinforces the pessimistic view that our whole system is corrupt and full of crooks. It undermines faith in the inherent good of democracy, which affects all of us.”

    Too late. That ship sailed the moment government starting acting extraconstutionally. I see government as a place where wicked people come together to loot from productive people.

    I’m not defending Duncan Hunter only because I respect the rule of law. If he is convicted, he should resign.

    But it’s a really, really, dumb law. I’d prefer the grifters and looters to carry out their immoral schemes in the full light of day so the rest of the population can learn what I did.

  25. Brian,

    I’ve thought a lot about this. Duncan Hunter’s has red flags as early as 2012. In 2016, it blew up over $1300 in video games blatantly charged to the campaign.

    There was transparency, there were no consequences other than the investigation that followed the disclosure.

    Even now, he doesn’t dispute that money we mishandled, he blames his wife.

    So we know a crime was committed, but we don’t know yet who will assume responsibility unless one of them takes a plea deal or a jury decides.

    In your hypothetical “instant transparency” but no laws against it view, Duncan Hunter would still be abusing campaign funds, and by ignoring the negative publicity, might even continue to get elected.

    When I think of how a campaign should be run, I compare it to how I would run a non-profit. You want money coming in, and you want to efficiently spend every dollar until you hit 0.

    There isn’t any margin for personal use in a non-profit organization, why would a campaign be any different?

    I’m just trying to understand where you are coming from. If it’s a business and an employee, it’s illegal. Hell, if the owner is embezzling enough it’s illegal.

    Why do you think campaign donations for elected officials should be treated differently?

  26. Post
    Author

    “So we know a crime was committed, ”

    I dont think it’s a crime to spend money which was given freely to him.

    “I’m just trying to understand where you are coming from.”

    I dont think it’s a crime to spend money which was given freely to him.

    Why do you think campaign donations for elected officials should be treated differently?

    I dont think it’s a crime to spend money which was given freely to him.

  27. Brian,

    Direct question which I posed earlier:

    Should a defendant in a criminal proceeding be allowed to give a judge (Superior Court judges are elected) a huge “contribution” that could be used for the judge’s personal enrichment in return for a directed verdict of not guilty?

  28. Post
    Author

    Of course not, HQ and you know that even my proposed free market transparency doesn’t condone bribery. A donation is given of free will and without conditions or restrictions (and doesn’t have to be accepted)

    Any ethical judge would (a) refuse the donation or (b) recuse herself immediately

  29. “…even my proposed free market transparency doesn’t condone bribery.”

    Actually, your proposal flat out encourages bribery and if it became reality, there would be nothing illegal about my hypothetical.

    “Any ethical judge would (a) refuse the donation or (b) recuse herself immediately.”

    Do you believe that all judges, or legislators for that matter, are ethical? I don’t, and I realize that everyone, even you and me, have a price (maybe not monetary) that would cause us to put aside our ethics.

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