Sunday, January 05, 2014

Foley, Trampin On The Vine

“Baby, they diggin' my potatoes
Lord, they trampin' on my vine…”

So goes the Big Bill Broonzy blues song.  The song, for those unfamiliar with frequently met double entendres in blues music, is not really about potatoes or vines.

Never found my baby
'Cause she was layin' in another town
I know she's diggin' my potatoes
Lord, she's trampin' on my vine

The blues rarely miss the right chords concerning human nature. We are territorial animals – Get off my farm!  Grieving over large campaign contributions made by one-percenters to politicians dispensing favors has in the past been territory staked out by populist Democrats. Until now.

Crony capitalism has become a bi-partisan affair. Perhaps that was always the case: If politician A has the means to assist crony capitalist B, and B has the capital resources to aid A, the match would appear to be one made in political heaven.

To be sure, there are – thanks mostly to Democratic politicians who have stalked out the territory – campaign finance regulations aimed at preventing the more gaudy forms of political corruption that arises from close relationships between those who design regulations and the subjects of the regulation. But in politics there are always loopholes to be exploited, money hungry politicians, and exhausted or indifferent watchdog agencies, many of which find themselves pressed under the thumbs of politicians they are supposed to be scrutinizing.

When unannounced Republican Party gubernatorial prospect Tom Foley a few months ago suggested that the news media might want to have a closer look at some irregularities involving Governor Dannel Malloy, he was given the Big Bill Broonzy bum’s rush – Get off my farm! Stop trampling on my vines! You’ve been layin around in another town. And a Republican town at that!

Here is Mr. Foley’s most recent declamation against the Malloyalists’ too cozy relationship with Big Business campaign financiers as it appeared in a column in the Journal Inquirer.

Mr. Foley begins by noting that the last Republican governor, Jodi Rell, the object of much hilarity in Democratic quarters as a mere shadow of the current gubernatorial dynamo, did in fact make some progress in prohibiting “state government contractors and lobbyists from making political donations directly to state campaigns.”

This baby step forward was frustrated by a bill engineered by Mr. Malloy and the Democratic dominated General Assembly that “allows state contractors and lobbyists to donate up to $10,000 to a state political party, which in turn can spend the money on its nominee’s campaign for state office. Many state government contractors and lobbyists have already done this in the amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars that likely will be spent to re-elect the governor next year.”

Mr. Foley then listed some of the more prominent crony capitalists that have taken advantage of the loophole: “…executives of HAKS Group, a state government contractor, recently gave $45,000 to the Connecticut Democratic Party. Executives of Northeast Utilities, a state-regulated utility, gave $54,000 to the party. Executives of Manafort Brothers, a contractor for the Hartford-New Britain busway, gave $14,000, while $22,500 came from lobbyists.”

In the column, Mr. Foley throws down an armor plated gauntlet. He first makes a distinction between “contributions motivated by party affiliation, ideology, or a belief that a candidate is the better representative of the public interest,” which will be encouraged, and “contributions made primarily to facilitate a personal or organizational benefit,” which will be disallowed. This is followed by a campaign pledge: “If I become a candidate, I will ask Connecticut’s Republican Party not to accept contributions from anyone prohibited from contributing to my campaign… If I am elected governor I will seek to disallow these tainted contributions to our state political parties because they erode public confidence. I will also seek to prohibit state government contractors who make contributions to the state parties from receiving new state contracts for five years.”

It may be possible for a strong governor to discourage state contractors from making campaign contributions to individual politicians; the gubernatorial bully pulpit is sometimes an effective moral rostrum, and such contributions have been looked upon unfavorably by some courts. But it may not be possible to prohibit campaign contributions flowing from crony capitalists to political parties, a golden stream later laundered by the parties and distributed to individual politicians. Money will find a way, and clever politicians will always be able to drive a superhighway through campaign finance cul-de-sacs. An absolute prohibition of campaign contributions to parties from companies and quasi political organization such as unions could occur only after the repeal of U.S. Constitutional prescriptions. The moral suasion of a governor would have to be very intense indeed to persuade his own party to forego an advantage the loyal opposition would seek to exploit.

So then, where are we?

On the farm – watching Mr. Foley diggin Democratic potatoes, tramplin on their vines. And the outrage certain to pour from the usual Democratic fonts at this moral interloper will be a wonder to watch.

What Connecticut really needs to nudge morally agnostic politicians towards the path of righteousness is a ferociously aggressive Inspector General, armed with subpoena power, thoroughly independent of governors, courts, and political parties. A term in prison for corrupt crony capitalists and their political facilitators is the best remedy for what ails Corrupticut.
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