While Establishment liberals bemoan “frivolous lawsuits” and “knee-jerk” accusations of lawlessness against President Obama, they seem to be playing the very same games they hang their opponents with. First, it was the indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry – which even most reasonable Democrats think was baseless. Now it’s the supposedly “bombshell” emails released by an appellate court on behalf of a special prosecutor that allegedly incriminate Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in serious campaign finance violations. While the prosecutor continues to insist, amidst a firestorm of criticism, that Walker isn’t even the target of this investigation, a court filing released Friday seems to be aimed at doing everything to destroy him. The mainstream media (Politico, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, et al.) eagerly pounced on the leaked information (much of which is blacked out), sensationalizing it as a “must-read” exposé on Walker’s Nixonian campaign tactics. Upon first glance, it would seem a bit disconcerting, even to administration partisans, that Walker coordinated with a tax-exempt social advocacy group that wasn’t supposed to be directly involved with him or his campaign.
And it wasn’t.
The Club For Growth, a prominent free-market think tank, ran ads for Walker after his campaign reached out to donors and advised them to contribute to this organization (which Politico, embarrassingly, referred to as a SuperPAC before being forced to correct themselves). None of that is remotely criminal. Walker was neither a donor or consultant for this group. His team suggested that Gogebic Taconite, Donald Trump, and others support them with lavish donations. But why wouldn’t Team Walker want “soft money” donors to support a group agitating on its behalf? It’s standard practice. Politicians of both parties take advantage of this loophole, considering that donating unlimited sums to social welfare organizations (which don’t have to disclose donor lists) and SuperPACs (which do) is perfectly legal, while donating unlimited sums to an individual campaign is not. Whether exploiting this loophole is the right thing to do is a separate issue. Even if you believe it’s immoral, in this case, it’s more than likely legal.
Hence is the mundane and futile nature of campaign finance restrictions. Politicians and special-interest groups always find ways to sidestep rules that put limits on how much can or cannot be contributed to any given campaign: if they can’t do it directly, they’ll do it indirectly. That’s just the nature of things. Circumventing laws through perfectly legal means isn’t some novel idea. As long as government cripples free enterprise through onerous tax and regulatory policies – extending preferential treatment to some businesses over others through tariffs, subsidies, taxpayer guarantees, and other mercantilist policies – entrepreneurs will always lobby, fundraise, and advocate for either one of two things: to keep the government off their backs, or to undercut competitors through government-imposed distortions of the marketplace.
Is it surprising, then, that Gogebic Taconite, a mining corporation, cut a handsome check to a political organization that had already made up its mind on whether or not the governor should sign a bill easing up on mining restrictions in order to make way for projects in Northern Wisconsin? Is it surprising that Walker’s campaign team would encourage the Koch Brothers to support an organization that shared the Koch Brothers’ ethos? Is it surprising that Team Walker would direct supporters to an organization that doesn’t have to disclose its donors, and can accept virtually unlimited sums? Again, whether one thinks this is morally just or not is a separate issue. The issue here is one of legality, and Walker’s critics have a lot more work to do if they wish to bring out the prosecutorial knives against him.
What if Walker did break the law? A true proponent of individual rights – conservative, libertarian, or even free speech-loving liberal – would object that Team Walker was merely disobeying laws that shouldn’t exist in the first place. One should not be faulted for peacefully uniting advocacy groups, donors, and citizens around a common cause – one that all parties involved find noble and just. Can George Soros no longer donate to Organizing For Action, ThinkProgress, Media Matters or other groups that agitate on the president’s behalf? Can President Obama no longer attend fundraisers or accept invitations to speak on behalf of these same organizations? Just as the Tea Party and dissident Right has resisted the McCainiac wing of the Republican Establishment when it comes to incumbent protectionism disguised as campaign finance law, the liberal grassroots should resist their own purported leaders when it comes to ensnaring a governor they may otherwise detest, in the fear that this will be used as a bludgeon against their own brethren. It may not be the politically expedient thing to do, but it’s the right thing.