I was going to write a little something about the Bush campaign’s hypocritical pointing of fingers at Kerry for accepting “special interest” money. But the Washington Post beat me to it:
He Ought to Know
Saturday, February 14, 2004; Page A28
IT’S HARD TO RECALL a more brazen display of political chutzpah than the Bush campaign’s assault on Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) as a captive of special interests. A video e-mailed Thursday night to 6 million supporters attacks the Democratic front-runner as an “unprincipled” collector of special-interest cash. The video cites a report in this newspaper that Mr. Kerry led the senatorial pack in collecting money from the very Washington lobbyists that he is busy decrying on the campaign trail. As the dollar amount — $640,000 — shows on the screen, a female announcer emits a sound of pained surprise. “Oooh,” she says, “For what? Nominations and donations coincided.” The video concludes: “Fact. Kerry — Brought to you by the special interests. Millions from executives at HMOs, telecoms, drug companies. Ka-ching!”
Mr. Kerry’s fundraising and his relationships with Washington lobbyists are a legitimate topic, even more so now that he has positioned himself, or tried to, as the scourge of Washington business as usual. But — how can we say this politely? — let’s consider the source.
Mr. Bush’s acceptance of special-interest money and his subsequent rewards to the industries doing the giving dwarf anything in Mr. Kerry’s record. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, whose figures are cited in the Bush campaign video, Mr. Bush has raised more than four times as much from lobbyists during the 2004 race as Mr. Kerry has — $960,000 for Mr. Bush to $235,000 for Mr. Kerry. During the 2000 contest, the Bush campaign assigned an industry code to givers so it would know precisely how much it was beholden and to whom. As electric utility lobbyist Thomas Kuhn explained in a 1999 letter to fundraisers, putting the code on the check “does ensure that our industry is credited, and that your progress is listed among the other business/industry sectors.” Mr. Kuhn’s progress may well have been noted; he met at least 14 times with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force.
“Nominations and donations coincided”? You wonder what possessed the Bush people to bring that up. Of Mr. Bush’s Pioneers — those who raised at least $100,000 in the 2000 campaign — 21 snagged ambassadorships, and these weren’t hardship postings. Checks from “HMOs, telecoms, drug companies”? Mr. Bush has swamped Mr. Kerry in all three sectors during this campaign, raking in 10 times as much from donors connected to the pharmaceutical industry ($585,000 to $58,000) and telecommunications ($578,000 to $58,000). The liberal group Public Citizen counted 53 registered lobbyists among the current Pioneers and Rangers (the $200,000-and-up crowd.) Total amount bundled by lobbyists? At least $6.5 million this time around. Ka-ching. Ka-ching. Ka-ching.
And, since Mr. Bush brought it up, it’s worth remembering that Mr. Kerry actually has some bona fides in the area of campaign finance ethics. He swore off checks from political action committees during his Senate races. He supported the McCain-Feingold legislation to end big soft-money checks to political parties — which Mr. Bush’s party did its best to kill and which the president only reluctantly signed. While the Bush administration fights to keep secret the activities of its energy task force, Mr. Kerry has promised to release the records of his meetings with lobbyists during his time in office.
The Bush video may be a long-shot effort to help derail Mr. Kerry’s march to the Democratic nomination. More likely, it’s an attempt to neutralize the special-interest issue, to inoculate the Bush White House against accusations that it’s a captive of special interests and to muddy the waters by convincing voters that both candidates are equally complicit. We don’t think voters are quite that slow.
©2004 The Washington Post Company