Jewish World Review Oct. 22, 2003/ 16 Tishrei 5764


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Let's Raise Lots of Money | Reading a New York Times editorial last Thursday, it was without shame that I recalled my scoutmaster of Huntington's Troop 12, Mr. Wilson Mott, reminding his Boy Scouts on several occasions, "Nobody likes a sore winner." Hardly an original snippet of advice, at least 35 years ago, and you'd think after waging a tireless and tiresome crusade for several years over "campaign finance reform" that the Times' isolated braintrust would've quietly savored their (at least temporary) victory last year.

But no. The Oct. 16 editorial, headlined "President Bush's Run for the Money," expresses indignation that George W. Bush is raising a record amount of cash contributions for his 2004 reelection campaign. Yes, there's a grudging reference to Bill Clinton's '96 campaign, when bagman Terry McAuliffe collected an enormous amount of money to air commercials against the incumbent's hapless challenger Bob Dole, who'd exhausted his available funds in securing a worthless GOP nomination. Bush, though, is worse than Clinton because he's been more successful at soliciting funds, even though his methods, which conform to the new outlaw of "soft money," "seems well within the law." That's a very pregnant "seems," but no matter.

Here's the paper's take: "Flush from the golden A.T.M. called incumbency, President Bush's money-raising conglomerate has just rung up a record $49 million in political donations for the latest quarter, with not a party opponent in sight… Mr. Bush can spend the windfall against whichever victor emerges next March, pummeled and dollar-starved [did anyone force these Democrats to run for president?], from the Democrats' primary circuit jousts. President Bill Clinton relished phantom primary money in his 1996 re-election, but Mr. Bush beat Mr. Clinton's total for an equivalent period by getting five times as much, and quadrupled the campaign's cadre of major donors since June."

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What's the point? That Bush is greedier than Clinton because he took a lesson from the master Arkansas politician and one-upped him? It's too bad that the current president's father wasn't so aloof in his '92 race, when he had not only Pat Buchanan but Ross Perot challenging him, and got his hands dirty raising enough money to compete effectively.

The editorial concludes with a lament that the eventual Democratic nominee will also opt out of a publicly financed campaign and follow Bush's example. "This would be a considerable setback in the long struggle to rein in the power of insiders' money in politics," the paper says, "a struggle dating to the scandalous days of Watergate." Translation: If candidates circumvent the First Amendment-busting legislation of last year, and do in fact have plenty of dough to lavish on television stations in particular (which is good for the economy, by the way), then "the power of insiders" like the New York Times will be diminished.

By contrast, the more sensible Washington Post ran an editorial on the same subject the next day, Oct. 17, which, with a few minor quibbles commended Bush for his up-front listing of major donors. The paper said: "President Bush is breaking barriers with his fundraising in this presidential campaign, and not just with his record hauls. Mr. Bush also has achieved a new level of openness in his campaign finance disclosure. He has gone beyond legal requirements to list individual donors (who can provide as much as $2,000) by providing the names of the big fundraisers who really matter to political campaigns."

In fact, the Post puts the onus on the Democratic presidential candidates who haven't, in the paper's opinion, risen to the same level of disclosure as Bush. "[Democratic] candidates are divided on the question, relatively obscure but of intense importance to the high-tech community in particular, of whether companies should be required to report stock options given to employees as an expense on the corporate balance sheet. Sens. John F. Kerry and John Edwards support expensing options; former Vermont governor Howard Dean, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman and Rep. Richard Gephardt oppose it. Wouldn't it be of interest to know who has the big Silicon Valley fundraisers on board?"

There's little question that both the Times and Post will endorse the Democratic challenger to Bush a year from now, but at least the latter daily refuses to be held hostage by the Democratic National Committee.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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