Campaign Finance

Give Nixon, McCain, and Bush Some Blame for Trump's Campaign Finance Trouble

Republicans all too often adopt themselves many of the most misguided beliefs of the left. Among these misconceptions: money is inherently corrupt.

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President Trump has been trying to blame the Democrats for the effort by federal prosecutors to depict payoffs to two women as campaign finance violations.

If only it were that simple.

Trump is correct to perceive campaign finance law at the heart of the matter. Actually, though, any accurate accounting of blame for it has to include three Republicans — President Nixon, Senator McCain, and President George W. Bush.

It was Nixon who, on February 7, 1972, signed into law the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.

In his statement, Nixon declared that the law "limits contributions by candidates and their families to their own campaigns." He added that, "By giving the American public full access to the facts of political financing, this legislation will guard against campaign abuses and will work to build public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process."

Coming from a president known for resigning amid the Watergate investigation, the language about guarding against campaign abuses and building "public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process" seems rather rich in retrospect. The whole episode is emblematic of the big long-term story of campaign finance law. It's been about the appearance of propriety, rather than about genuine integrity. And it's been a failure. Public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process has steadily declined notwithstanding the passage of the 1971 Act and subsequent similar measures.

For the subsequent measures, at the federal level, one of the main culprits was John McCain, who championed what became known as the McCain-Feingold Act, or the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. President George W. Bush, in signing into law a measure he acknowledged presents "serious constitutional concerns," nonetheless claimed, laughably, that "all of the American electorate will benefit from these measures to strengthen our democracy."

That these laws are now being used to attack a Republican president is a kind of poetic justice. One might be more sympathetic to Trump if he weren't a victim of laws enacted by his own party's leadership over the warnings of far-sighted and principled critics, such as Senator Mitch McConnell, who warned that they were deeply misguided.

The campaign-finance mindset encapsulates the way Republicans all too often adopt themselves many of the most misguided beliefs of the left. Among these misconceptions: money is inherently corrupt. Passing extensive and complex laws and regulations will somehow help disadvantaged people rather than further advantage those already in power. And the laws will somehow change fast enough to keep up with the technological change.

Our campaign finance laws were enacted in 1972 and 2002 to guard against rich individuals or companies writing large checks with which campaigns might buy commercials on the three major broadcast television networks. Since then, though, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders showed how to raise recurring credit card donations from small donors using web-based and email appeals. Campaign funds are spent more efficiently on Facebook ads or YouTube videos than on broadcast television.

It takes a special sort of hubris to think that the law can stay ahead of all this.

The sentencing memo from federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York argues that a lawyer for the Trump Organization, Michael Cohen, "sought to influence the election from the shadows…by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs….in the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts."

Whatever deception may have taken place here pales beside the prosecutorial theory that Trump was somehow elevated to the presidency by voters whose primary polling-place concern was the candidate's history of marital fidelity or lack thereof. The highest-ranking New York prosecutor whose name is at the bottom of the sentencing memo is one "acting United States attorney Robert Khuzami," who spent from 2002 to 2009 as a top in-house lawyer at Deutsche Bank. In 2008, while Mr. Khuzami worked at Deutsche Bank, Trump sued Deutsche Bank over the terms of a loan and its role in the financial crisis, complaining about what the suit called the bank's "predatory lending practices."

It's probably too much to hope that Trump would channel his annoyance at the New York charges into an effort to repeal the current campaign finance regime and replace it with a system that would make more clear that it's not a federal felony for a candidate to spend his own money to preserve his own reputation or marriage, with or without disclosing the expenditure. Whatever steps Trump does take on the campaign finance law front, it's hard to imagine he can do any worse than his Republican predecessors, Nixon, McCain, and George W. Bush.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of JFK, Conservative.

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60 responses to “Give Nixon, McCain, and Bush Some Blame for Trump's Campaign Finance Trouble

  1. “President Trump has been trying to blame the Democrats for the effort by federal prosecutors to depict payoffs to two women as campaign finance violations.”

    It’s a coup by the most corrupt of the Deep State trying to stave off their own arrests and prosecutions for their oceans of crime in the Obama administration.

    If they aren’t brought to justice, self government is over in the US.

    1. +100

  2. Among these misconceptions: money is inherently corrupt.

    Proggies especially, but statists of all stripes more generally, repeat this over and over. Anything which they might ignore or forgive if done freely is suddenly evil when paid for. That doesn’t mean they approve of everything done freely, of course.

    They bring to mind the old corrupt Olympics standard of (Sl)Avery Brundage: that only independently rich amateurs are noble enough to compete honestly. I knew an Olympian who described how everybody got around the restrictions on sponsors. For instance, they’d give him prepaid first class tickets for his whole family, and he’d cash in all but one and travel by himself coach or economy or whatever was cheapest back in the old CAA days.

    The statists know this stuff goes on. I can only conclude that their goal is simply to tar all business as corrupt as an excuse for more government to control it. Too bad their fake idealism didn’t extend so far as to require government employees, and politicians, to work without pay.

    1. The reason for amateur classes of competition is that professionals can afford to devote so much practice time that the amateurs would be no match.

      1. And in reality, unless the sport is something like curling …. all of the athletes are professional in all but name.

        1. True only for sports where professional competitions exist. For instance, figure skaters and gymnasts are pretty much all truly amateurs simply because the paying market for their services is Hollywood and not much else.

  3. “Whatever steps Trump does take on the campaign finance law front, it’s hard to imagine he can do any worse than his Republican predecessors, Nixon, McCain, and George W. Bush.”

    Don’t say that, he’ll just say ”

    Hold mybeer soda water.

    1. Trump is probably the least corrupt president we’ve had since Washington — simply because nobody has enough money to buy him off.

      Of course that depends on whether you define him as “corrupt” because he bought and sold Congressmen when he was a businessman. But to me that makes him the corruptor, not the corruptee.

  4. Hold my beer soda water.

    1. Eh, never mind.

    2. Is this what you were going for?

      Hold my beer soda water.

      1. yes, thank you

  5. Cohen, “sought to influence the election from the shadows?by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs?.in the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts.”

    Allegedly. Are alleged facts like alternative facts and is there actually a federal statute requiring the disclosure of allegations? Because if there is, I know a woman who was running for President in 2016 who failed to address about 50 years worth of allegations of the most foul and corrupt behavior.

    1. Of course, as any number of people have commented on, this thing doesn’t read like a legal document so much as an editorial in the New York Times, leading to the speculation that it’s not meant to influence a Court of Law but rather the Court of Public Opinion. Which Court is heavily influential in an impeachment trial where the standards for admissibility of evidence and findings of guilt have no connection to legal standards. And given the circus atmosphere of the SDNY in terms of providing a showcase for grandstanding by politically-ambitious actors, you have to judge their actions by political standards rather than legal standards.

    2. Let me understand this.

      It is election interference for Trump and his agents to keep his affairs private, but it is also election interference to make the internal campaign machinations of the Democrats public?

      Both these things can be true, at the same time?

      1. LOL

        I love the irony.

    3. I know a woman who was running for President in 2016 who failed to address about 50 years worth of allegations of the most foul and corrupt behavior.

      Jill Stein?

  6. Because paying someone to shut up is not a campaign contribution. Its paying someone to shut up.

    Was Bubba paying Paula Jones a campaign contribution. Is the congressional slush fund that’s used to defend sexual harassment allegation a campaign contribution.

    WTF, a campaign contribution is writing someone a check to their campaign. The candidate writing a check to someone to shut up is not that.

    The biggest danger to the USA is how fucking stupid the electorate has become.

    1. ^ This.

      I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. The thing is, Trump is the richest President to ever take office in the history of the United States. I’m not saying it’s impossible that they might have used campaign funds for this, but my question for the Progressives is this: Are all of Trump’s bank accounts ‘campaign funds’ since he used more of his private funds for his campaign than any U.S. President?

      Apparently the left just doesn’t know how to handle a politician that doesn’t actually need campaign contributions. Not that Trump didn’t take campaign contributions, don’t get me wrong, but if you think Trump is the only politician with ladies out there with NDA’s you’re smoking crack.

      Every modern President has run afoul of campaign contribution law. Even Obama. And last I checked, it wasn’t even a question that these NDA’s, however sleazy they might be, might be illegal. We’ve known about them for years now, and they’re torturing the law to turn these into contributions well after their revelation.

      God damn it, stop making me defend this asshole!

      1. need a new hashtag

        #stopmakingmedefendtrump

        1. I suspect this already is a hashtag, I’ve come across more than one person (even on the left) saying the same thing. People have lost their god damn minds over Trump. Sure, he’s a shitty throwback President to the 1990’s Democrats. I get it. What’s insane is that Democrats don’t know how to deal with someone that’s basically in their own party, which just goes to show how far to the fringes of the left the entire party has gone.

          1. The question is, what do we do,about these progtarded people. At what point do we say that enough is enough , and no longer take their crap?. The something must be done to stop them.

            1. I think most people are progressive at this point, it’s the natural life cycle of a democracy. Our’s just happens to be in decline, and next on the Tytler cycle is authoritarianism. There isn’t any avoiding it.

              1. Where are we on the cycle Verwirrung – Zweitracht – Unordnung – Beamtenherrschaft – Grummet?

                1. I don’t know what Tytler cycle you’re looking at, but I don’t speak German and Tytler was Scottish so…

      2. “God damn it, stop making me defend this asshole!”

        Yessss!!1!!

      3. Why haven’t we heard anything in the media about the 84 million in bundled money the DNC and the Hag’s campaign mishandled in a very illegal fashion that Judicial Watch nailed them on? It’s truly a stupid law that allows both parties to get around limits legally but they fucked up the handling of the donations and 84 million would get people’s attention, but nada in the MSM.

  7. Has the Mueller probe investigated either of these women for extortion?

  8. In terms of the campaign, Cohen was accused of illegal campaign contributions: apparently, he contributed too much as an individual.

    Then, that makes it strange for the prosecution to say, “Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts.”

    For one, “alleged facts” sounds even worse than “alternative facts.”

    Two: the real legal issue is that Cohen had undue influence over the election, not “deception.” Ostensibly, this “deception” would have been completely legal if only the campaign had used different funding.

    Let’s just drop the pretense: we hate Trump and we’re going after him in any way we can. But if we pretend this was the undermining of democracy, then we never had democracy in the first place.

    Or, alternatively, go after Stormy Daniels at. al. For their complicity in “deceiving” the voting public. She didn’t have to sell out and “hide alleged facts.”

    But who cares about reality when your head needs to explode for the fuck of it all?

  9. Opensecrets- Kochs change strategies

    Stung by Trump and midterms, the Koch network changes its approach

  10. So, the theory is that no married man would pay off a blackmailer from his past, unless he is at that time running for office?
    Absolutely no way in hell Trump just wanted the tramps to STFU?

    Was not the voting public deceived with “If you like your policy, you can keep it. Period.”? (and all the other lies)

    “Alleged facts”. Really? It is very clear that common core does not teach anything about the English language.

    1. I’,m not sure why people are objecting to “alleged facts”. What would you use to describe bits of information that are alleged to be facts?

      1. Allegations?

        One could ask the question “What word would you use to describe additional, alternative facts being presented?”, but apparently the only word is “lies”, which doesn’t really make sense. But who cares?

      2. It’s redundant for the purpose of including the word ‘facts’ to add some extra legitimacy. ‘Allegedly’ would cover it all on it’s own.

        Propaganda 101. Or Newspeak. Take your pick.

  11. “Allegations” would be better. Maybe Reason needs a style guide.

    1. Maybe Reason needs a style guide.

      Wouldn’t have mattered. The “alleged facts” thing was part of a quote from Cohen’s sentencing memo.

      The sentencing memo from federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York argues that a lawyer for the Trump Organization, Michael Cohen, “sought to influence the election from the shadows?by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs?.in the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts.”

  12. The campaign-finance mindset encapsulates the way Republicans all too often adopt themselves many of the most misguided beliefs of the left. Among these misconceptions: money is inherently corrupt. Passing extensive and complex laws and regulations will somehow help disadvantaged people rather than further advantage those already in power.

    Is it really a misconception, or do they know full well that these kinds of law will only help those in power and they just claim that they’re looking out for “the little guy” in order to sell it to the useful idiots? Evil or stupid, when the end result is the same does it really matter?

  13. I think it is a bit of the pot calling the kettle black for a Reason article to complain about Republicans adopting the terrible base assumptions of the Left.

  14. Hold my beer soda water!

    1. htm the l with it

  15. How can anyone claim that Trump’s marital infidelities not matter when Trump himself was willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover them up? Surely the folks at Reason would appreciate that since Trump placed a high monetary value on that information it had, high value. And spare us the crap about Trump protecting his reputation or protecting Melania. This is the same creep who lived on Stern’s show bragging about what a creep he was. Here is the fact. Trump thought the information about his sleeping with Porn stars would be damaging to his campaign and so he spent a lot of money to cover it up. Trump thought it would make a difference so why poo poo it after the fact?

    That being said, whether or not it was a crime is a different story. But let’s not lose sight of the moral facts here. Trump, not only cheated on his wife, but he then paid to cover it up and then continued to lie about the cover up to the American people. And, this is just one among many scandals Trump is neck-deep in. Let’s re-tool campaign finance laws, but let’s not let Trump off the hook on these technicalities when he is clearly a moral degenerate.


    1. Here is the fact. Trump thought the information about his sleeping with Porn stars would be damaging to his campaign and so he spent a lot of money to cover it up. Trump thought it would make a difference so why poo poo it after the fact?

      The fact is that isn’t the measure of if it’s a campaign finance expenditure. That’s according to the commission itself. It’s not even a question, yet it’s being begged anyway. This is why they’re playing up the Cohen angle.


      But let’s not lose sight of the moral facts here.

      Morality doesn’t enter into the equation, after Bill Clinton it’s a moot point.

      1. Plus, there is the possibility that Trump pays to make them all shut up so Melania won’t have to hear about it.

        This seems plausible, since he paid for NDA’s before he was running for office as well.

      2. So by your reasoning once someone does something wrong it legitimizes it for everyone else. I sincerely hope that line of reasoning does not be commonly accepted.

        1. Too true. I mean, there would be no such thing as perjury.

  16. >>>who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs

    dude’s been having those since the ’80s and everyone on the planet knows, how is paying these two a crime?

    McCain/Feingold was one of the more stupid things 43 signed and that’s no short list

  17. The measure for if something is purely a campaign finance expenditure is the question of ‘would this expenditure also have occurred even if the candidate wasn’t running for office’. It’s possible, and even probable, that Trump would have paid them off either way so it’s not a purely campaign finance expenditure any more so than a new suit that Trump might buy for a campaign rally.

    Now, the fact Cohen pulled some shenanigans with his own finances is a separate issue and would seem to reflect on Cohen rather than Trump, and even if what he claims is true how many times in the past did a candidate repay campaign contributions to their private lawyer, one might ask?

    I don’t like Trump, but I’ll tell you this if the media and Democrats continue on the path they’re on I’ll be voting for him next time around. It’s about the worst punishment I can imagine visiting upon the Democrats to make them deal with Trump for four more years, and while the nation may suffer for it it’s the only way I can see to make a party that’s hostile to basically every American ideal pay for their shady and illegitimate tactics.

  18. Public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process has steadily declined notwithstanding the passage of the 1971 Act and subsequent similar measures.

    It’s like the way mandatory cosmetic ingredient labeling (enacted about the same time) has made people more suspicious about the products. So now you can look up who’s contributing to whose campaign, and have your suspicions confirmed instead of being reassured. You can see what’s in the cosmetic products and be similarly scared by the disclosures.

  19. The Masturbating Bear had a predictable A as to what he thought about campaign finance reform. It’s as w arms control agreements: They seem to do good only where they’re not needed. If you have enemies, what good is making agreements w them about anything they might have or do? If they’re trustworthy enough on that, they’re not really your enemies, & depriving them of weapons is no help. Same w domestic gun control.

  20. How anyone can argue that these two ladies keeping their mouths shut affected the outcome of the election in any way is mind boggling.

  21. Money is intrinsically evil and corrupts the soul.
    So, everyone out there, in order not to be corrupted by such a nefarious entity, feel free to give me all of your money so you won’t turn into a demon bent on destroying the human race.

  22. There are many adjectives that can be used to describe Senator Mitch McConnell principled is not among them. This line is a real winner ” that it’s not a federal felony for a candidate to spend his own money to preserve his own reputation or marriage” Really? Trumps reputation as womanizing, cheater was established long before Stormy came along. Here’s an idea if you want to preserve your reputation or marriage, keep your dick in your pants and respect your marriage vows. Then you have nothing to worry about.

  23. The real questions should be –
    Did Cohen/Trump actually have to spend $125,000 to keep their “right to privacy”?
    OR did they pay to cover-up a crime?
    Where does the line between transparency and “right to privacy” exist?

    And in this particular case;
    Did copyright laws interfere with “freedom of speech”?
    If a person “sells” their story and story isn’t made public – Does that mean the story/evidence is no longer obtainable?
    Should evidence or witness be fore sale like a book or something?

    What if these 2-women had not tried to “sell” their story but put it out into the public domain without purchased “rights” attached?

  24. If Mr. Trump did pay these women for silence about his affairs with them, why aren’t they both on trial for blackmail?

    1. Like entrapment, it all depends on who initiates the negotiation.

  25. McCain? Oh yeah I remember him.

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