Monday, September 03, 2007

Bombay Bizarre

Another campaign contributor to Senator Hillary Clinton came under the spotlight, according to the Washington Post.

Sant S. Chatwal, an Indian American businessman, has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaigns, even as he battled governments on two continents to escape bankruptcy and millions of dollars in tax liens. ...

There followed a description of a trail of shady deals in Chatwal's wake. None of which seemed to bother anyone. "He was out on bond when he showed up in India in 2001 during a visit by his longtime friend Bill Clinton." Maybe meeting Bill while out on bail is par for the course.

Yet none of the legal and financial woes -- occasionally touched on in American or Indian newspapers or highlighted by political opponents -- raised red flags inside Hillary Clinton's fundraising operation. Chatwal recently said he plans to help raise $5 million from Indian Americans for Clinton's presidential bid.

Asked whether anything in Chatwal's background caused concerns about his activities on behalf of the campaign, Clinton spokesman Phil Singer answered, "No." He declined last week to be more specific, saying only that major fundraisers are routinely vetted "through publicly available records."

Like Hsu, Chatwal is described by his lawyers as a man struggling to get up after a run of bad luck. One of those riches-to-rags stories. "The man came to this country, accumulated an empire, lost it during the time of real estate [softness], and has struggled and worked to try to pay off his debts," said A. Mitchell Greene, Chatwal's lawyer for 25 years. "It has been a long battle, but he has cleared up all of his obligations, and in the process he is trying to accumulate his wealth again." Can't blame a man for trying to get back his riches. That would be un-American.

Campaign Finance Reform

Some argue that only by funding campaigns out of public funds can scandals such as have bedeviled both the Republican and Democrat parties be avoided. But this raises a new set of problems. Typically, only candidates with a certain public standing will benefit from dollar-matching schemes: and that takes money. For example, take the Clean Money scheme. "In order to qualify for this money, the candidates must collect a specified number of signatures and small (usually $5) contributions. The candidates are NOT allowed to accept outside donations or to use their own personal money if they receive this public funding." Typically only those with access to publicity, or who are given the means to generate celebrity have a reasonable chance of raising the signatures and the contributions. You still have to pay to play. Money remains the key to getting more money, though the locus of the problem can be shifted around.

Yale Law School professors Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres propose an ingenious scheme to give every citizen a public funding voucher which can be used to spend in the political market. The vouchers create a pool of funding against which candidates can bid for on the basis of issues. The voters "consume" a candidate product with their finance vouchers. The Ackerman and Ayres proposal is conceptually interesting, but the problem still remains. In order to enter the political market and become visible to voters eager to spend their funding vouchers, a candidate must surmount the barriers to entry and that, typically, costs or implies the use of money. Hillary Clinton, for example, with her name recognition as a former First Lady and considerable fame will have a far more powerful "brand" than say John Doe. To build the brand you've got to spend or do something like sit on a flagpole to gain attention. Even if you sit on a flagpole, you still have to get the media to cover you.

However that may be the need to get the dirtiest money out of politics has become more pressing than ever. And there's no chance it will be done voluntarily. Why, Bill Clinton never even suspected there could be a problem with one his wife's contributors, Norman Hsu.

Contoocook, N.H - Former President Bill Clinton said he was "shocked" by revelations that a top fundraiser for his wife is a fugitive from justice and claimed he didn't even know what "HillRaiser" Norman Hsu did for a living.

"You could have knocked me over with a straw, especially when I heard the L.A. people had been allegedly looking for him for 15 years when he was in plain view," he told Newsday while touring a county fair in rural New Hampshire Sunday.

Money and politics may never be completely disentangled. But maybe there are ways to simplify the knots.


Blogger NahnCee said...

Maybe meeting Bill while out on bail is par for the course.

Given his predilections, maybe Bill never meets anyone who is NOT out on bail

9/03/2007 05:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems Hillary is running into many troubles recently, check out this post at Free Republic.

9/03/2007 06:10:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

I kind of missed the Clinton's.

With apologies to Glen Frey:

The sailors and pilots,
the soldiers and the law,
the payoffs and the ripoffs,
and the things nobody saw.

Lots of shady characters,
and lots of dirty deals.
Every name's an alias
just in case somebody squeals.
It's the lure of easy money,
it's got a very strong appeal.

Perhaps you'd understand it better
Standing in my shoes,
It's the ultimate enticement,
It's the Clinton blues.

You can see it in the headlines,
You hear it everyday.
They say they're gonna stop it,
But it doesn't go away.
From the office of the President,
right down to me and you.

It's a losing proposition,
But one you can't refuse.
It's the politics of contraband,
It's the Clinton blues.

9/03/2007 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger F said...

The worst part of all this? The lack of outrage across the board -- red, blue and every color in between. If we had a single candidate for whom principle was more important than winning office, perhaps dirty money would stop. Perhaps. In the meantime the shady money seems mostly to go to a single candidate and even that builds name recognition. One can only hope the negatives are building apace. F

9/04/2007 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hope everyone understands that things are getting better wrt transparency. The people at publish what used to be hidden from the general public. And now that people who bundle contributions are being documented it's clear that a recipient can vet their own "top 250" donors and see if they are comfortable accepting their contributions (to say nothing of having a picture published shaking their hands or worse).

Those that claim ignorance should be considered disqualified for public office (demonstrating a lack of intellect, judgment, or integrity).

9/04/2007 05:21:00 PM  

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