The NY Times Essentially Accuses the White House of Taking Bribes, at Least of Selling Access

In my view this is huge news.  The New York Times, in a front-page story on its web site, documents the strong correlation between (i) large gifts to the Obama campaign or Democratic Party and (ii) access to the White House.  The author strongly suggests that the correlation between (i) and (ii) is also causal – that campaign donations are buying access to the White House, maybe even influencing public policies.

I’m usually skeptical when people try to claim such causal relationships from campaign donations. A more innocent explanation is often possible.  That is, for instance, the donors likely have the same political views as the politicians to whom they are giving.  The correlation could be the result of such like-mindedness, not necessarily a quid pro quo.

But this article gives further evidence – evidence that there really are some quid pro quos going on.  Such evidence includes:

* A quote from Patrick Kennedy, the former House member from Rhode Island and the son of Ted Kennedy.  Kennedy “donated $35,800 to an Obama re-election fund last fall while seeking administration support for a nonprofit venture, [and] said contributions were simply a part of ‘how this business works.’”

As the Times article notes, “I know that they [Democratic Party leaders] look at the reports,” [Kennedy] said, referring to records of campaign donations. “They’re my friends anyway, but it won’t hurt when I ask them for a favor if they don’t see me as a slouch.”

Kennedy told the Times reporter, “If you want to call it ‘quid pro quo,’ fine.  At the end of the day, I want to make sure I do my part.”

* The Times article notes several instances where the timing of a donation is curious – that the donor made the donation immediately after or immediately before being granted a visit to the White House.

* The Times article also notes how, although the Obama campaign does not accept donations from lobbyists, on several occasions lobbyists accompanied big donors when the latter were granted a White House visit.

Conservatives frequently argue that if you want to minimize the influence of money in elections, decrease the overall scope of government.  That is, if government has little influence over people’s lives, then influence peddlers will see little reason to give money to the politicians.

One anecdote in the Times article demonstrates that principle fabulously.  The FCC has regulations that prevent children’s television shows from being essentially a vehicle to market consumer products to children.  Viacom was the subject of a complaint accusing it of violating those regulations.  Specifically, its show Zevo-3 features characters who previously appeared in the commercials of its marketing partner, Skechers shoes.

Viacom enlisted the help of Antoinette C. Bush.  Bush is the step-daughter of Vernon Jordan and the cousin of White House advisor Valerie Jarrett.  She contributed the maximum legal amount to the Obama Victory Fund, $35,800.  Her husband Dwight Bush donated the same amount.  They once hosted a $17,900 a plate fundraiser for Obama, at which President Obama appeared. 

Ms. Bush wrote a letter to the FCC for Viacom, making arguments that seemingly any citizen could make.  As the ending sentences of the Times article noted,

Ms. Bush argued that the cartoon show, which features characters with special powers who previously appeared in Skechers commercials, intentionally distances itself from the footwear Skechers sells.

“In particular,” she wrote, “the characters in Zevo-3 do not derive any powers from their shoes, do not go out of their way to refer to their shoes and do not indicate that their shoes bear any relation to their roles on the program.”

  1. Pat in Obamaland

    “That’s the Chicago way.”

  2. Mel Foil

    You can take the smooth-talking grifter out of Chicago, but you can’t take Chicago out of the grifter.

  3. DocJay

    I am shocked, shocked I tell you to find out bribery is going on here.

  4. Matthew Gilley
    “In particular,” she wrote, “the characters in Zevo-3 do not derive any powers from their shoes, do not go out of their way to refer to their shoes and do not indicate that their shoes bear any relation to their roles on the program.”

    What buffaloes me is that we actually have a regulatory regime that causes this ridiculous sentence to be meaningful.

  5. Fredösphere

    I had to read all the way to the point you introduced that “Antoinette” character to realize that this was all just an elaborate, well-crafted satire. Well done, sir!

  6. Liberty Dude

    I must have an excessively cynical view of politics – I would expect donations would give you access with ANY administration.  Big corporations seem to donate to democrats specifically as “protection money,” I can’t imagine they would continue to do so if they didn’t benefit from it…

    It’s good news that this is news at all!

  7. Larry Koler

    Conservatives frequently argue that if you want to minimize the influence of money in elections, decrease the overall scope of government.  

    Isn’t this the very heart of the matter? Humans will always interact in this way. But, the Super Zips and other reflections of this ever increasing evil show how the funneling of too much of the economy through D.C. increases the likelihood and the amount of graft and corruption. We all know that government bureaucrats don’t have as strong an incentive to watch for money being stolen as they do for other things. Political power comes not from being good stewards of money (as it is in most corporations) but in how much of that money flows through one’s department.

    Isn’t that an interesting problem to solve? The one sure fire issue that needs to be addressed is the size of government.

  8. Barfly

    Stepdaughter of Vernon Jordan, cousin of Valerie Jarrett. The thing that interests me is the nature of the interconnectedness of the power circles. I suppose I shouldn’t expect any administration, or the national government in general, to resemble any sort of real meritocracy – there’s too much money, and hence power, involved for anything of the sort. Still, that grabs my attention.

    Who are these people, who do little of consequence, have no particular skills, yet run our lives? I get the feeling we’re governed by a the cast of a bad episode of HBO’s Rome.

  9. Tim Groseclose
    C
    Matthew Gilley

    “In particular,” she wrote, “the characters in Zevo-3 do not derive any powers from their shoes, do not go out of their way to refer to their shoes and do not indicate that their shoes bear any relation to their roles on the program.”

    What buffaloes me is that we actually have a regulatory regime that causes this ridiculous sentence to be meaningful. · 49 minutes ago

    Mr. Gilley, you are a genius.

  10. Nick Stuart

    Hopefully the GOP and Romney will do something with this

  11. Virshu

    I looked at the comments (first dozen of 150+). They all look like coming from disillusioned lefties. Feels as if I am looking at the Enemy in Disarray. Along with the items in Molly’s post, it certainly looks like a good week for Romney campaign.

    Build on it, folks!

  12. Tim Groseclose
    C
    SMatthewStolte: Tim, could you explain more about why you think this is huge news? Do you think it will develop into a bigger story? · 45 minutes ago

    One reason is that it’s very hard to show that campaign money is a quid pro quo.  Jeff Milyo, an economist at the Univ. of Missouri and my frequent coauthor, has written lots on this.  He has convinced me that people strongly overstate the degree to which campaign funds are quid pro quos.  

    But this article provides some interesting evidence – perhaps most astounding the Kennedy quotes – that lots of the Obama campaign money is buying something.

    The other reason is that the story comes from the NY Times!!!!  As my research shows, it has a strong liberal bias.  I’d bet that less than 5% of its reporters voted for McCain – and it’s probably more like 1 or 2 percent.  I suspect that a few liberals are learning of the cronyism and getting disgusted with it.  That strikes me as big news.  

    (However, I must say.  Immediately after seeing the story, I checked Intrade.  Obama’s chances of reelection have not fallen.  Maybe bettors don’t think it’s big news.)

  13. david foster

    Larry Koler…”funneling of too much of the economy through D.C.increases the likelihood and the amount of graft and corruption.”

    Very true. More than 40 years ago, Peter Drucker observed that “Any government which is not a government of paper forms degenerates rapidly into a mutual looting society.” (This is as true when the forms are electronic as when they are paper. The  state which is attempting to micromanage the economy must either:

    –establish very precise rules controlling the behavior of its agents, which inherently will force real-life situations into a procrustean bed and will result in bizarre and counterproductive government actions

    or

    –give these agents significant discretion, opening to door to widespread corruption and maliciously tyrannical behavior by individual bureaucrats 

    (Most likely, BOTH of these effects will occur, with the work-to-rule approach being that to which most citizens are subjected, with the “significant discretion” reserved for selected friends (or particular enemies) of the governing administration.

    Prof Drucker’s observation makes the point that the growth of government *inherently* increases the bureaucratization of life, the corruption of society, or both. 

  14. Crab bait
    Matthew Gilley

    “In particular,” she wrote, “the characters in Zevo-3 do not derive any powers from their shoes, do not go out of their way to refer to their shoes and do not indicate that their shoes bear any relation to their roles on the program.”

    What buffaloes me is that we actually have a regulatory regime that causes this ridiculous sentence to be meaningful. · 3 hours ago

    It’s the magic powers of Zevo3 that increase Skecher’s shoes sales.  Where the reporters question on this bit of obviousness?

  15. Larry Koler
    Tim Groseclose

    Matthew Gilley

    “In particular,” she wrote, “the characters in Zevo-3 do not derive any powers from their shoes, do not go out of their way to refer to their shoes and do not indicate that their shoes bear any relation to their roles on the program.”

    What buffaloes me is that we actually have a regulatory regime that causes this ridiculous sentence to be meaningful. · 49 minutes ago

    Mr. Gilley, you are a genius. · 3 hours ago

    Truly.

  16. Virshu

    Just wondering – was Kennedy so cynically blunt because he is Kennedy, or because he was caught in pre-rehab state of mind…

  17. SMatthewStolte
    Tim Groseclose

    (However, I must say.  Immediately after seeing the story, I checked Intrade.  Obama’s chances of reelection have not fallen.  Maybe bettors don’t think it’s big news.) · 1 hour ago

    I see. Well, at present, my intuition is that the bettors are right on this one. I guess time will tell.

  18. Liberty Dude

    Tim – Don’t treat intrade as the holy grail.  Prior to the oral arguments it had only a 30% or so chance of the supreme court overturning the mandate.  After the first day’s worth of oral arguments, it jumped to 60%.

    Romney’s chance of being our nominee similarly fluctuated wildly in a manner suggesting the intrade crowd is not as clever as some would have you believe.  Prior to the Florida primary, and when Newt was rising, I believe Romney had gone from >80% to ~ 45%. 

    Right now, I believe Obama is artificially high, because both the left and the right are wildly underestimating Romney.  I believe this election has more parallels with Reagan’s defeat of Carter than the pundits would have us believe.

    However, I do believe that this particular story by itself (unless more is done with it by the Romney campaign) should not alter the % chance of Obama wining much…. tragically…

  19. SMatthewStolte

    Tim, could you explain more about why you think this is huge news? Do you think it will develop into a bigger story?

  20. dogsbody
    Larry Koler:  Conservatives frequently argue that if you want to minimize the influence of money in elections, decrease the overall scope of government.  

    Isn’t this the very heart of the matter? … The one sure fire issue that needs to be addressed is the size of government. · 2 hours ago

    Spot on.  Corruption occurs in DC because, as Willie Sutton said, that’s where the money is.  It doesn’t matter how tight the campaign finance rules are;  when there’s that much money and power concentrated in one place, people will find a way to get “access”.

    Want to reduce corruption?  Start by reducing the amount of money that goes through the hands of the federal government.

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