As you know, I've blogged a lot this summer about what I feel is the exploitation of SC's campaign finance laws in an effort to build a legislature that will support Howard Rich's private-school voucher bill, sometimes referred to as "Put Parents in Charge."
I've mentioned sitting legislators elected with a flood of out-of-state funding from the voucher lobby -- like Reps. Curtis Brantley (at least 86%) and Kit Spires (over 52%).
I've highlighted would-be legislators whose campaigns were almost entirely funded from out-of-state supporters of PPIC -- like Michael Letts (96%), Brad Cain (99.2%) and Roz Mir (99.8%). And of course, I've uncovered evidence that perhaps some of these folks don't actually know their names are being used as contributors to SC races, and that maybe this money doesn't really come from individual checks after all.
All this blogging was based on some underlying assumptions: that SC political races shouldn't be unduly influenced by massive amounts of out-of-state special interest money, that one person shouldn't be able to game the system because he happens to control more LLC's than the average Sandlapper, and that campaign contribution limits are meaningless if they don't really limit anything.
But what if these underlying assumptions are wrong?
It honestly never occurred to me that this sort of funding is the way its supposed to work, or that some people may see no problem whatsoever with this brand of politics. It's an opinion I don't share, but it's a valid opinion nonetheless, and deserves some space on this page -- along with some good humor, a solid tip on a SC 'cue joint, and some thoughts on the blogosphere.
So without further ado, Barbecue & Politics presents...
Five Questions with Rep. Mick Mulvaney
1. Let’s get right to the point, Rep. Mulvaney: Your election to the State House has meant many lunches in the Mustard Belt. Obviously, this fact more than compensates for the meager salary of a legislator. Where back home, in the Tomato Belt, do you go to get your ‘cue on?
My only regular intake of BBQ these days is the 521 Barbecue. It’s on, not surprisingly, Highway 521 in
2. (a) With which legislator have you worked the most during the last session?
I worked a great deal with Jim Merrill and was surprised to find out about halfway through the session that he was the majority leader, and not the dead poet. Go figure. I also worked with both Bill Herbkersman and Herb Kirsh, and can confirm that they are in fact different people.
(b) Have you made any unlikely alliances in the State House?
I teamed up with Don Bowen this year for a sort of vaudeville thing. I juggle flaming torches while he reads Shakespearean tragedies dressed as Hamlet. He looks good in the tights, but we probably aren’t ready for prime time. We might try some weddings and bar mitzvahs this off-season, though.
3. Okay, enough softballs. As I noted before on this blog, your campaign in 2006 received a $9,000 “shot in the arm” from
Two thoughts before I get to the meat of your question:
One: your question makes an assumption: that all of those LLC’s are Howard Rich --- and only Howard Rich. They may have similar addresses and other legal formalities, but there is a long way between those factors and a true alter ego. I am involved in several companies, many of which have the same address, although with different owners, officers, and directors. So be careful about jumping to conclusions.
Two: one of the greatest things about living in this country is that --- ideally --- we aren’t supposed to have to worry about legislative “intent.” In a society governed by written law, the law is what the law is. People should be able to read our laws and know what is permitted and what is proscribed, without having to delve into the netherworld of intangibles. Frankly, I find that people start to focus on “intent” when they don’t like what the law says on its face. Intent rightly becomes an issue when the law lacks clarity…not when you just disagree with it. For the times that legislative intent is validly at issue, we have a court system to perform its proper function.
That said, I have no problem answering your question: absolutely this sort of financing meets the intent.
The easy answer is to say “no,” as I assume folks believe that the “intent” of the law must be to limit the ability of certain groups to contribute to campaigns. They may think that there is some loophole someplace (probably discovered by devious trial lawyers) that politicians are “taken advantage of” with this kind of financing.
That is simply not the case. There is no loophole. It is a cavernous void, so obvious that the only reasonable assumption can be that the Legislature – and I wasn’t a legislator then – did not intend to limit this kind of financing. Indeed, if limiting multiple corporate donations was in fact the intent, it is hard to imagine a law that does a worse job of articulating that.
The definitions in the law make it painfully clear that separate companies, including LLC’s, are treated as separate entities, just as members of one family --- spouses, emancipated children, etc. --- are treated as separate individuals. Clearly, the folks who wrote that law knew full well what would happen: money would come from children, corporate subsidiaries, and multiple LLCs. It’s hard, given the express language, to argue anything else. The Legislature went so far as to distinguish between contributions from emancipated and unemancipated children. Clearly, it could have done the same on related corporate entities. Similarly, many states prohibit contributions from corporations entirely. Our legislators chose not to apply that bright-line rule. I can only assume – and I think reasonably – that they did (or did not do) those things on purpose.
Before anyone decries that position as being overly legalistic, consider an analogous “reform”: the rule changes on lobbying. There, the law is so detailed that the law is actually referred to as the “No Cup of Coffee” law. There is no need to delve into intent, and if there was, that intent would be manifestly clear. Put another way, if the Legislature had wanted campaign finance “reform” to equate to the “$1000 From Any Source” law, they had not only the ability to do so, but also had a ready model available to them.
And I am glad they didn’t as I am not particularly fond of so-called campaign reform laws. Indeed, I think financial limitations are an affront to free speech and create unfair disadvantages for candidates with less personal wealth. In my own race, for example, my opponent was apparently not in a position to provide significant funds to his campaign. However, that his wealthy next door neighbor --- who might have shared his same political philosophy (as misguided as it was) – couldn’t give him $5000 or $10,000 or $100,000 just stuns me. If his neighbor wants to see liberalism prevail, it is a travesty to prevent him from seeking to do so. Look at it this way: if the rich neighbor ran for office himself, he could contribute $2,000,000; if he didn’t, he could contribute $1000. Something is terribly wrong with that dichotomy. Campaign finance “reform” has moved us one step closer to a system where only super-rich candidates are viable --- and that smacks of an aristocracy.
I feel so strongly about the evils of campaign finance limitations, by the way, that I actually sent back one campaign contribution last year: $1000 from John McCain. I had just finished writing a critique of McCain-Feingold when the check came in. Here was a man who, on one hand, was saying that the Bill of Rights was a secondary priority, and that “money corrupts” --- and on the other hand was sending me money. I am not easily offended. That offended me.
Campaign finance reform should be renamed the “Incumbent Protection Act.” That is the only thing it accomplishes. Along with gerrymandered districts, it represents one of the most serious long-term threats to our republican system of government.
Come to think of it, it strikes me that protecting incumbents – and not limiting multiple contributions — may well have been the true intent of the campaign finance reform movement. It makes more sense, at a lot of levels.
4. Whose responsibility is it, if anyone’s, to ensure compliance with state election laws? Candidates? Consultants? Ethics Commission? Bloggers?
I haven’t looked as closely at this issue, but I would think it is fairly self-evident: the candidates are always responsible for their own actions; the ethics commissions (including those in the House and Senate) are responsible for enforcement. Beyond that, consultants are probably just responsible to give good advice to their clients, especially when it comes to the bizarre and often counter-intuitive reporting processes. Bloggers play the same role as other media.
5. New media.
Endless. But right now it is its own worst enemy. Too often the new media seems to start off with great promise, only to devolve into anonymous defamation. That is especially true of the comments on blogs. The bloggers themselves are often serious about their work – although they obviously vary in style (which is part of what makes the medium so attractive.) But it seems that good investigative work is often overshadowed by banal chatter in the commentary. It is intended to undermine the credibility of the source, but the effect is to undermine the credibility of the entire form of media. The entire blog turns into a discussion about the blog itself — and its authors, and their styles --- and not about the substance of the matters presented. That is where we are missing the opportunity.
For example, I have had serious (and non-anonymous) exchanges on the substance of issues with you, Will Folks, and a handful of other bloggers – the same as I would with John O’Connor or Jim Davenport. For that I have been slammed in commentaries. (Indeed, I expect to get hammered just for having this interview.) That sort of attack just undermines the whole endeavor. Can you imagine the chilling effect if someone who talked with The State was accused of various thought-crimes the next day in the Rock Hill Herald for just having had the conversation? This is – or can be – a valid form of media. All sides should treat it as such.
If the commentary got better, I think you would see a spiraling-up effect, where the authors would improve, and the two components would reinforce each other in turn. We are a ways from that yet. If we get there, though, I think you will see this form of media eclipse old-style print media. The interactive component provides that much of an advantage.
I hope to be able to put my money where my mouth is, by the way. I will be introducing my own blog later this month. I hope that I can contribute some meaningful commentary to various debates – although I will leave BBQ to you. We’ll see if I can deliver something of quality.
***Thanks, Rep. Mulvaney, for sharing your views with B&P.