Democracy Alliance’s Mixed Signals

campaign finance

Democracy Alliance (DA), the “philanthropic” pass-through organization that helps move secret contributions from benefactors — like George Soros and Tom Steyer — to the campaign war chests of progressive Congressional candidates, is finally beginning to receive a trickle of mainstream scrutiny for the striking inconsistency between its message and its methods.

DA was formed in 2005 by Soros and other very wealthy progressives with the initial aim of promoting leftist social goals through philanthropy. When Vice President Joe Biden asked for campaign help during President Barack Obama’s bid for re-election, though, DA got directly into politics. There is a very tightly knit, and largely well-concealed, chain of communication and financing between the constellation of major DA donors and Democratic candidates who increasingly view the organization as a magic well of campaign cash.

Those same candidates hew to a campaign strategy that blasts the ostensible ties between Big Money cronies (hello, Koch brothers) and conservative politics. That line of argument holds that evil billionaires manipulate conservative politicians by lavishing their campaigns with private wealth, and they are lavished in return by corrupt policymaking that ensures the rich get richer.

While that sounds like a fine description of corporate-political cronyism in general, it has nothing to do with partisanship. Or, if it does have to do with party affiliation, the Democrats need to re-examine their talking points — because they’re trouncing their Republican rivals in the campaign finance arms race.

On cue, the DA spring meeting in April played out like an allegory of that particular strain of progressive hypocrisy. Here’s a sampling of POLITICO reporter Kenneth P. Vogel’s takeaway from the event:

Democratic attacks on the Koch brothers for secretive campaign spending have become a virtual plank in the party’s platform, but it turns out big-money liberals can be just as defensive when their own closed-door activities are put in the spotlight.

Stop for a moment; who said anything about the Koch brothers being defensive? Oh, only Vogel himself. So this should be a puff mainstream media piece about like-minded donors and politicians, right?

During a gathering here of major Democratic donors this week that has raised more than $30 million for liberal groups, questions about the party’s split personality on the issue were dodged, rejected or answered with an array of rationalizations. That is, when they weren’t met with recriminations or even gentle physical force.

…The liberal strain of the argument is usually sprinkled with a heaping helping of moral superiority. Their most generous backers are giving to candidates and causes that could hurt their bottom line by raising taxes on the denizens of their elite tax bracket, the argument goes, whereas conservative big donors are seeking to pad their pockets by trying to slash taxes and regulations that impinge on their business.

… [Obama adviser Valerie] Jarrett refused to make eye contact with a reporter asking such a question on Monday night, while [New York Mayor Bill] de Blasio on Sunday night said, “My friend, we’re not doing media right now. We’re happy to talk to you another time,” as a handler stepped between the quick-walking mayor and a reporter. When [Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan] Grimes, following a closed-door meet-and-greet with major donors Tuesday, was asked about liberal efforts to vilify the Kochs and other major conservative donors, she said, “I sure appreciate your time. You have to go through our communications department,” then stepped into an elevator and stood behind an aide.

Communications staffers for de Blasio and Grimes did not respond to subsequent requests for comment.

Democracy Alliance staff chastised a reporter during an attempt to interview major donor Jonathan Soros as he headed toward a panel on campaign finance reform. “Sir, you’re not allowed to go past here,” said one staffer, as another grabbed this reporter’s arm to prevent him from walking with Soros, who co-founded a super PAC, called Friends of Democracy, that intends to spend as much as $6 million in 2014 boosting candidates who support campaign finance reforms including enhanced disclosure.

Soon after, three hotel security officers approached to put the kibosh on additional inquiries.

Vogel also points out one of the progressive mind’s central delusions: that the means justify the ends, so long as the actors convince themselves (and, crucially, everyone else) that they’re acting on principle instead of self-interest.

“You can focus on the irony, but it’s not hypocrisy because we’re not trying to get something for our donations,” donor Arnold Hiatt told Vogel.

If wealthy donors truly believe that, then — to politicians’ great delight — they’ve admirably elevated the phrase “useful idiot.”

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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