The Republican candidate for Attorney General, Deb Bucknam, has a… shall we say unique… approach to the issue of money in politics. The problem, in her eyes, isn’t corporate donations or Citizens United or the Koch Brothers or dark-money SuperPACs or outside interests flooding Vermont with their barely regulated and lavishly funded nonprofits.
None of that. The real problem is Pat Leahy.
Hey. You in the back, stop laughing.
Bucknam laid out her reasoning, if that’s what you can call it, in an interview with Chris Lenois of Brattleboro’s WKVT Radio. (The interview also ran on Brattleboro’s community access cable channel and can be seen here.)
It should be noted that elsewhere, Bucknam has offered a full-throated defense of the Citizens United decision. In fact, she claims that overturning Citizens United would inevitably involve limiting the First Amendment rights of all Americans.
Back to the Lenois interview. He asked a question about regulating money in politics. She began by asserting that money is a necessary part of politics and trying to regulate it is doomed to failure. But she sees one ray of hope:
If we limited — not donors so much — but candidates themselves, how a candidate can spend the money they receive, that may help solve the money in politics problem.
At this point, I was honesty puzzled. What in the Sam Hill was she driving at?
Here’s what I mean. If we say that campaign donations can only be spent on the present campaign, cannot be spent on other candidates, which you can now, and cannot be saved for the next campaign, I think that would cause people obviously to only spend money on their present campaign.
Wait for it…
They wouldn’t be allowed to amass power like they do now by sprinkling their money to other candidates. Senator Leahy is a prime example. He has a $6 million warchest. He’s not going to spend $6 million on a Vermont campaign. He’s gonna spend that money on other candidates, so that amasses power to him.
And there it is. Pat Leahy: campaign finance Public Enemy Number One. He’s the Jabba The Hutt of political money, lounging around fat and immobile, while his bought-and-paid-for minions praise him to the skies and cater to his every whim.
Aside from the absurdity of the central concept, there are a couple other things worth unpacking.
First, she acknowledges that politicos who “sprinkle their money” are doing it to gain influence — and succeeding. That is the core argument against Citizens United that she just repeated there without a trace of irony. I mean, if it’s a problem when politicians “amass power” through money, isn’t it equally a problem when rich people or corporations try to do the same thing?
Second, apparently she believes that the alleged First Amendment protections of the Citizens United ruling should apply to everyone and every corporate body — except to politicians themselves. Politicians, and only politicians, would be prohibited from spending political money in whatever way they see fit.
Third, she has failed to present any proof that a politician with a big warchest poses a unique challenge to the political system. So what if Pat Leahy has $6 million? That’s nothing compared to the torrents of cash being spent by the Kochs and Sheldon Adelson and their fellows. If Pat Leahy’s $6 million threatens the integrity of our politics, surely the Kochs’ hundreds of millions pose an even greater threat.
Her true intent is patently obvious. She doesn’t like it that many Democratic politicos in Vermont can gain a measure of financial advantage. Like many of her fellow Republicans, her only interest in regulating political money is in hampering Democrats’ ability to raise cash.
Oh, and there’s also self-interest.
Same thing with [her Democratic opponent] TJ Donovan. He has a huge warchest. He had a huge warchest even before he had an opponent. So what is that money going to be used for? It’s going to be used either for his next campaign, or to give money to other candidates so that he earns friends.
Ah, warchest envy. Well, sorry Deb, you like your politics free-market style, and TJ is beating you at your own game. I can see how that might be galling, but it’s not a solid foundation for sensible public policy.
There is no principle here. There is no honest concern with the power of money in politics. It’s just partisan grudgery, Sa in a stunningly inarticulate way.