March 18, 2014
quid pro quo in utahI predict that this story will not break through whatever membrane that keeps a news story from becoming widely cited, as there are still Crimeas and Malaysian missing flights, but it is very important to our concerns.
So remember how ever since the Citizens United decision in 2010 we have been discussing the effect of unlimited private money swaying public elections. And not just affecting the outcome, but doing so in an opaque manner — between Citizens United and the loopholes of the IRS, it is possible to funnel unlimited amounts of money into a campaign without disclosing the source.
Why is this bad? Well, just to restate so that we stay on the same page after all this time, it is bad because anonymously affecting the outcome of an election is generally something we frown upon, as then the elected official becomes beholden to the source of the money, or, as we say, "bought and paid for."
But because of this opacity, and because many of the sources of this dark money are quite generally "industrialists" and not interested in specific industries, it has been difficult to find a smoking gun. And to be fair, correlation does not always imply causation is a fair defense. Unless of course you have a smoking gun.
It is the nightmare scenario for those who worry that the modern campaign finance system has opened up new frontiers of political corruption: A candidate colludes with wealthy corporate backers and promises to defend their interests if elected. The companies spend heavily to elect the candidate, but hide the money by funneling it through a nonprofit group. And the main purpose of the nonprofit appears to be getting the candidate elected.
But according to investigators, exactly such a plan is unfolding in an extraordinary case in Utah, a state with a cozy political establishment, where business holds great sway and there are no limits on campaign donations.
At issue is a former Attorney General in Utah, who, as described in this long, good piece by Nicholas Confessore, basically brazenly every single thing that was formerly plausibly deniable in a non-plausibly deniable fashion. He chose a specific industry (pay-day lending, which, ew), he specifically raised funds from them promising to carry water for them as AG, his campaign coordinated with non-profit front groups, and, worst (best!) of all, he did a lot of this over email. That is to say, in writing.
You should go read the whole thing, but don't think of it as an outlier, a singular act of audacity. Think of it as the standard operating procedure as perpetrated by a guy dumb enough (oh, John Swallow, his name is) to get caught.
Posted by mrbrent at 10:14 AM