Saturday, December 15, 2007

Campaign finance for charlatans

It’s the clash of Congressman Club for Growth vs. Senator Slush Fund.

Forgive me for not being all aquiver.

Evidently, the 7th Congressional District has very bad karma, because so far, U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, and state Sen. Mark Schauer, D-Bedford Township, seem sure to face off next year.

And neither has the vision, experience or ethics to do the job at a time when the depressed district needs genuine leadership.

Walberg, as you’ll recall, sweet-talked the cabalistic Club for Growth lobby into shoveling more than $1 million into his 2006 campaign. How else could a Know Nothing state rep whose only accomplishment was voting no on everything topple a tough incumbent in the primary?

Timmy even needed bags of cash from the Club when squaring off in the general election against Sharon Renier, a chicken farmer with $1.03 in the bank.

Well, lots of politicians get creative to raise dough, but the preacher and his anti-tax CFG partners in crime might well have run afoul of the law.

Three complaints (now rolled into two) filed in 2006 with the Federal Election Commission claim Walberg illegally took $500,000 of Club-raised cash, the group failed to properly register its activities as a political action committee and both were in cahoots (no!), illegally sharing pollsters and consultants.

The lovefest’s lasted after the election, with Walberg and the missus in April enjoying a $3,332 Club for Growth junket to the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach and a cruise on a 170-foot yacht, CQ MoneyLine reports.

Because when you’re chit-chatting about cutting government to the bone, you gotta do it in the lap of luxury.

The FEC dismissed the grievances, but they're being appealed. Walbots deny the allegations, sniffing it’s a sour-grapes plot by his foe, former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz.

What’s clear is CFG ain’t exactly the Boy Scouts. In September, the lobby agreed to pay $350,000 in civil penalties to settle a lawsuit the FEC itself filed in 2005, arguing the group should have registered as a PAC in 2000, 2002 and 2004.

As for Walberg’s character, there’s something vile about an alleged man of God rapturously crucifying his enemies, from the “embarrassingly liberal” Schwarz to the “radical” Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, Schauer, beatified by the left, often gets a pass.

But in his quest to take back the Senate last year – which failed wretchedly – Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s lapdog dove headfirst into campaign finance quicksand.

Schauer served as chair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, while his bombastic chief of staff, Ken Brock, took over as treasurer of the Senate Democratic Fund.

The fund raked in $440,000 above the legal limit of $20,000 per person – which the Dems don’t deny. Twelve senatorial candidate committees violated that, with Schauer as the worst offender at $187,000.

The moolah was instantly pumped into the campaigns of four key candidates, three of whom were trounced anyway.

For state races, this is a staggering chunk of change. The grievance is pretty cut and dried. When seven candidates got wind of the GOP’s Secretary of State complaint, they ostensibly demanded a refund. Marky-Mark did not.

A Schauer spokesman protests Republicans have done this before, so somehow it’s a-OK. Tom Lenard cites a 1995 SOS ruling that candidates can give till it hurts if they're trying to advance their career. Problem is, the department, which is still investigating, notes that came before the $20,000 cap was set in 1996.

Democrats also argue a federal judge didn’t grant an injunction against the fund last year - but he didn’t buy the old SOS ruling, either.

Schauer’s not exactly a model of moral turpitude, having brazenly lied to his caucus to win the top post - and candidates he recruited for the 7th District - that he wouldn’t run himself. His slick Calhoun County machine reminds me of journalist Pete Hamill’s acerbic assessment of the New York Democratic Party as “young hustlers with blue hair, trying to get their hands on highway contracts.”

Both candidates play the part of the principled politician to the hilt – Walberg as the ├╝ber-conservative, anti-abortion warrior and Schauer as the bright-eyed, progressive reformer. In reality, modest Mark takes his marching orders from the governor and reverend’s soul is the property of Club for Growth.

But wait, some of my liberal friends will yelp. You can’t be saying Schauer would be as bad as the anti-Christ.

Well, no, I reckon my 3-year-old godson could do the job just as well (he’s superb at following orders). Policy-wise, Schauer would be a step up if he could manage to pen press releases without lying about snaring money for the Battle Creek Airport that he voted against.

What I find revolting is that both swim the sewage of politics and don’t retch – they actually seem to feed off the stench.

It’s still early enough for other candidates to jump in. Lord knows, we deserve better.

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