Lev Parnas, a former associate of Rudy Giuliani, was convicted last week on six counts relating to an illegal campaign finance scheme in which a Russian oligarch’s money was used to pay for political contributions made in the hope of political favors. A bogus company funneled hundreds of thousands of contributions to pro-Trump campaign committees, including the America First Action Super PAC – then the conspirators lied about it to the Federal Election Commission.
Parnas, coincidentally, also admitted to participating in Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate Joe Biden in 2019. This news reminds us of just how corrupt and how corrupt our campaign finance system can be. how vulnerable the United States can be to foreign influence because of this.
We have known for over a century that campaign finance is rife with corruption.
President Teddy Roosevelt lambasted the corruption of the Republican and Democratic parties by financial interests, the Tillman Act of 1907 prohibited companies from directly contributing to political campaigns, the Nixon era saw various devices used to circumvent this ban on contributions to corporate campaigns, and in 2009 the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC ruled that the companies were “people” with rights to free speech, including unlimited spending on election communications on the eve of an election.
Recently, two other developments have shown just how corrupt the campaign finance system has become.
According to a Daily Beast review of Federal Election Commission records, Rep. Claudia Tenney, RN.Y., allegedly spent tens of thousands of her campaign dollars on businesses she owned or in which she served as a direction.
Tenney reported $ 130,120 in revenue from these companies in 2020. We all know this trick – former President Donald Trump spent millions of dollars campaigning on his own resorts and hotels – not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars. of taxpayers spent by Trump’s secret service. properties on each visit.
Across the aisle, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-MN., Reportedly spent nearly $ 3 million of his campaign money to pay for a political consultancy firm owned by a man who is now her husband.
All of these transactions are arguably – with the emphasis on ‘arguably’ – legal. While candidates are not allowed to convert campaign funds for personal use, they are allowed to spend campaign money on their own business, as long as fair market value is paid for the goods and services. Establishing fair market value, however, is not always easy, and the appearance of donation undermines public confidence in candidates and in government.
All of these transactions are arguably – with the emphasis on ‘arguably’ – legal.
The best approach would be for Congress to enact a law categorically prohibiting transactions between campaigns and businesses owned by candidates and candidates’ relatives. After all, a political campaign website is not a personal Go Fund Me page for the candidate, their friends and family.
Meanwhile, Representative Fortenberry, R-NE., Has been indicted for lying to federal investigators in an investigation into illegal contributions to his re-election campaign by Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury. Chagoury, a foreign national is prohibited by federal law from contributing to U.S. elections, and in a deferred prosecution agreement earlier this year admitted he intended his funds to be used to make contributions to candidates. Chagoury also admitted to making illegal contributions on behalf of another person.
The federal investigation then turned to Representative Fortenberry, who then allegedly lied to investigators. Fortenberry is charged with one count of conspiracy to falsify and conceal important facts and two counts of misrepresenting investigators.
These are just two of the dozens of campaign finance scandals we have every year. The intersection of money with our representative democracy has become so pervasive and obscene that many Americans believe we no longer have a government that only represents the super-rich.
It shouldn’t be a partisan issue. In 2016, I published a New York Times book and editorial on why Tory voters, if not Tory politicians, are just as worried as liberals and moderates about money in politics. Indeed, the fastest way to inflate the federal budget with unnecessary spending is to allow lobbyists to raise millions for members of Congress who put favorite projects on spending bills. Some of the biggest contributors to the campaign include military contractors, construction and higher education, but other industries that raise money from the federal budget are also playing the campaign finance game. The campaign contributors’ capture of lawmakers and regulators affects oversight of the banking sector, fossil fuels and other industries. The regulatory collapse dramatically increases the economic, environmental and social costs because government officials are not doing the job they were elected and appointed to do.
The answer is threefold. First, activist Supreme Court justices – none of whom campaigned for elected office – must stop overturning campaign finance reform legislation. Money is not free speech and businesses are not “people”. Citizens United and its progeny are among the worst Supreme Court cases ever to be decided, cementing corruption in our political system in much the same way that Plessy v. Fergusson cemented segregation in public education. The Supreme Court must back down on campaign funding or growing public anger will accelerate calls for reform of the court itself. If a constitutional amendment on money in politics is needed, so be it.
Supreme Court justices – none of whom have campaigned for elected office – must stop overturning campaign finance reform legislation.
Second, Congress should pass whatever legislation it can to take money out of politics, leaving the Supreme Court responsible for overturning even more laws. Both types of scandals mentioned above can be dealt with by the Federal Election Commission – the first by prohibiting financial transactions between campaigns and persons and entities linked to the candidate, and the second by devoting more resources to the enforcement of Existing legal prohibitions on foreign contributions to US Political Campaigns.
Congress must also force greater disclosure of money in politics, including black money organizations that fund attack ads ahead of elections as well as other nonprofit groups that engage in the campaign. political process, often in coordination with political campaigns behind the scenes, whether such coordination is strictly legal or not.
Third, as I proposed in 2016, we need to bring many more small donors into politics by giving ordinary Americans a political contribution tax credit of up to $ 200 to any candidate of their choice.
What impact would such a tax credit have on the federal budget? We can’t say for sure, but there would be less unnecessary federal spending if politicians were more dependent on the small donors who elect them, as opposed to financial interests at home and abroad who think they should choose our. government for us. Americans who pay taxes deserve a government that represents them, not one beholden to the money cesspools that dominate our political landscape today.