Browsing the archives for the Obama Administration category.


Are Guns Nuts Too Mentally Ill to Own Guns?

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Obama Administration

Lots of people have commented on the Senate’s failure to pass any of the four gun control measures it considered this week. And some of those commentaries pointed out that the measures were lame to begin with.

As I understand it, one of the measures would have provided for federal background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or over the Internet, which I certainly support. Another would have blocked people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns. This makes for a good talking point — let’s take guns away from ISIS!  But the terrorist watch list is an opaque and mysterious thing that easily could be used to unfairly jerk people around (see Glenn Greenwald on this point). And it’s highly questionable how effective such blocking would be, anyway.

But to me, the single biggest howler among these proposals was the Republican one for a “mental illness” database.

The Senate rejected first a Republican proposal to update the background check system for gun purchases, which would have required states to add more information on mental health records to a national database. …

… Some Senate Democrats warned that the legislation’s revised definition of who would be considered mentally ill could potentially still allow those with significant psychological issues to legally purchase guns.

The “revised definition” be damned; doing this at all is objectionable on several levels.

First, “mental illness” is not a tightly defined scientific term; it could apply to a wide range of brain, behavioral and mood disorders, from mild and common to severe and rare. I do not want a bunch of politicians with no background in psychology defining it, especially since I suspect at least half of Congress currently might qualify as “mentally ill” depending on where you draw parameters. And I’m not joking.

Second, given the stigma attached to any kind of psychological disorder, a list like that could visit all kinds of discrimination against the people on it.

Third, data tell us that even severe mental illness accounts for very little of our gun violence. According to this article, people with severe mental illness commit only about 4 percent of firearm homicides in the U.S. And expecting psychiatrists to report on potentially violent patients probably won’t help;  predicting which patient might become violent is an inexact science, “only slightly more accurate than flipping a coin.”

Even among our infamous mass shooters, who certainly seem to have been deranged, it’s estimated that only about 22 percent of them were “mentally ill.” And only about 11 percent had problems severe enough that they’d been reported to a doctor or another authority before the shooting. As a group, mass shooters may be less crazy than Congress. And according to this guy, only 10 percent of “jihadist terrorists” in the U.S. were mentally ill, which makes them saner than the general population.

However, there may be a connection between behavior or personality and gun ownership that does raise red flags for potential gun violence.

The more guns a person owns, the more likely they are to report experiencing serious, uncontrollable outbursts of anger and aggression. That’s the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law, which found that nearly one in ten Americans have both a history of impulsive anger and access to a firearm.

“The new research also indicates that the 310 million firearms estimated to be in private hands in the United States are disproportionately owned by people who are prone to angry, impulsive behavior and have a potentially dangerous habit of keeping their guns close at hand,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “That’s because people owning six or more guns were more likely to fall into both of these categories than people who owned a single gun.”

It turns out that being chronically angry is the REAL warning sign that predicts a potential killer.

A number of common mental health conditions — including personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol use disorder — tend to be associated with the risky mix of pathological anger with gun access, according to the APA.
“However, only a small proportion of angry people with guns has ever been hospitalized for a mental health problem — voluntarily or involuntarily — and thus most would not be prohibited from firearms under the involuntary commitment exclusion.”

IMO an argument could be made that people — men especially but possibly not exclusively — who are militant about their unfettered right to own and carry any firearm they want are displaying behavior that ought to disqualify them from owning guns at all.

In fact, people have made that argument.

What we’re seeing is a strong correlation between pathological anger and a desire to own multiple guns. There is also a strong correlation between pathological anger and violent behavior.  Therefore, the very people who are most motivated to purchase more than one high-powered weapon are the last people who ought to be purchasing high-powered weapons.

But maybe some day the American Psychiatric Association will include “gun nut disorder” in the DSM, making it an official “mental illness.”  Then we can talk about a mental illness watch list.

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Another Day, Another Atrocity

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Obama Administration

I was out all day and am just catching up on the news of the mass shooting in Orlando. So terribly sad.

I understand the current thinking is that the gunman was a “lone wolf,” born in the U.S. of Afghan parents, who talked about fighting for ISIL/Daesh but had no known ties to it. He’d been investigated by the FBI twice and wasn’t connected to any terrorist organization. He had legally bought guns in the past couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, a guy identified as James Howell of Indiana was detained in Los Angeles with a car full of guns and explosives, allegedly intending to use them at a Gay Pride event.

Meanwhile, all over social media, people are posting every video they can find of Bible-thumping preachers calling for gays to be put to death.

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What I Just Posted on Facebook

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Obama Administration

Sanders supporters: By all means, keep fighting for what you believe in. However, take care to fight smart and not stupid.

As I write this, with 92 percent of precincts reporting in California, Clinton leads with 56 to 43 percent of the vote. This is seriously bad. This result pretty much erases any chance Sanders might have had at going into the convention with serious leverage. I do not doubt that there are all kinds of reasons (such as the “no party preference” ballots) why this result does not accurately reflect the will of voters. But here in Real World Land those numbers are all that matter.

The reality is that at the DNC convention Hillary Clinton will officially receive the nomination on the first ballot, and that will probably be one of the first things the convention does. There will be no “contesting.” Sanders simply does not have the leverage to contest anything. Had he won California, or had the vote even been a close second, things might have been different. But they aren’t.

(Note that massive street demonstrations in Philadelphia won’t give Sanders the nomination, either. And if such demonstrations turn violent, they will discredit Sanders and any movement he might lead going forward. I’m not saying don’t go to Philadelphia to demonstrate, but I am saying that if you go, be disciplined and be careful.)

In fact, he probably has more leverage right now than he will later, since the Democratic Party will be just about frantic to get him out of the way asap. The convention is supposed to be a celebratory rah-rah occasion. Clinton will want to be choosing and announcing her running mate and otherwise be getting ready for the big party. So if there’s anything he still hopes to achieve regarding the party platform, convention speakers, or senate committee assignments, IMO he’s got a better shot at getting those things now than he will in July.

So if he does announce that he is suspending his campaign later this week, or after the final primary (DC) next Tuesday, I hope you don’t think less of him.

I’ve also been saying all along that Sanders is not going to run as a third party or independent candidate in November. Because of the way we run elections, such candidacies have no hope of winning and have never accomplished anything but generate meaningless publicity for the candidate. Such an attempt is a prime example of stupid, IMO.

Of course, I don’t know the man personally, and he may continue to campaign, and he may choose to run third party, but IMO those would be terrible misjudgments on his part and would tell me he’s not as smart as I think he is. But we’ll see.

In any event, I urge everyone to get involved in the Brand New Congress movement that some former Sanders staffers started, aimed at having a big impact on the 2018 midterms. Bernie will still be in the Senate, where he can continue to provide leadership. Don’t think of this presidential campaign as a failure, but as a start.

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Pub Quiz

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Obama Administration

“The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.” — Mark Twain

I like to check in with British news sources like The Guardian and The Financial Times because sometimes they actually do a smarter job of figuring us out than we do.  FT content is behind a subscription firewall, alas, but sometimes I get lucky and find a usable link.

Anyway, because we’re all burned out, or at least I am, and to lighten the mood, see how well you do on this Pub Quiz created by the Brits at FT. I only got a couple of them right.

I’ll add some more questions. Eventually I’ll put the answers in a comment.

1. Which Republican candidate said “Net neutrality is Obamacare for the Internet”?

(a) Ted Cruz (b) Ben Carson (c) Rand Paul (d) Carly Fiorina

2. Bonus: What the hell does “Obamacare for the Internet” even mean?

3. At one point Jeb Bush was criticized for saying “Look, stuff happens.” What was he referring to?

(a) Global warming (b) Gun violence (c) That his brother George endorsed him (d) That his mother didn’t

4. Ben Carson recently was un-appointed from Trump’s vice president search committee. According to rumors reported at The Daily Beast, this was because …

(a) He nominated himself. (b) He nominated Sarah Palin. (c) He nominated Jesus. (d) He was vetting candidates by examining “the fruit salad of their life.”

Your turn.

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They Aren’t Listening to Us

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Obama Administration

Following up the last post, I want to direct you to an article by Ted Morgan: “This isn’t how a democracy should work.”

In his book “Democracy, Inc.,” the late, distinguished political scientist Sheldon Wolin has argued that we have a “managed democracy,” that elite “management” of elections is the key to perpetuating the “primal myth” that the people determine the rulers. As Wolin put it, this “antidemocracy” doesn’t attack the idea of government by the people, it encourages “civic demobilization” – conditioning the electorate to be aroused for a brief spell, controlling its attention span, and then encouraging distraction or apathy.

Yeah, pretty much.

For decades, going back to another supreme practitioner of cultural politics, Ronald Reagan, the right side of the elite has moved into a dominant political position by sounding unconventional, like they are on the side of millions of Americans who have long felt that their place in society and the economy is being marginalized. The right consistently trots out scapegoats – “liberals,” protesters, “welfare cheats,” immigrants, Muslims, etc. – to “explain” why this audience’s fortunes are declining.

This is the faux populism that the right has mastered in its ride to power. It’s also the faux populism of advertisers when they suggest they’re on our side as we try to make our lives better. But neither one is on the side of the people. They’re all on the side of corporate America. Despite his conservative rhetoric, Ronald Reagan arguably did more than any other president to accelerate the decline of family-supporting jobs and manufacturing communities than anyone else. Similarly, with the Trump campaign, building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico won’t improve the livelihood of American citizens one iota. But it feels that way to significant numbers of Americans.

There’s no question that the Right has done a better job than the Left of generating faux populism and making it downright tribal. But the Dems keep trying.

Not surprisingly, the Democratic Party establishment embraced Hillary Clinton from the start; she plays the same big-money, managed democracy game they play. Nor is it surprising that the national news media have also embraced her candidacy while dismissing the “unrealistic” campaign of the “unelectable” Bernie Sanders – though he does keep surprising them.

I’ve said before that a big part of Hillary Clinton’s appeal with among those who genuinely support her is that they identify with her on a deep level. Her followers can get pretty tribal also. Many of them refuse to even look at questionable aspects of her record — her hawkishness, for example — and dismiss all criticism of her as sexism, or just repetition of the mud from the Whitewater era.

Clinton doesn’t just play the same games the Dem establishment plays; it’s obvious she is queen of the establishment realm. Speaking as someone who doesn’t identify with her, it’s obvious to me that the ultimate source of her power comes from a place that has nothing to do with democracy. And that’s the primary reason I refuse to support her.

The quote at the top of the post about managed democracy says it pretty well. Clinton did not offer herself as a candidate; she was packaged and marketed to us as the inevitable nominee. The entire Democratic Party aligned itself to make that happen early last year; the primaries were supposed to be just formalities.  We’re being “managed” to accept her as a candidate, and as a president. I’m sure the insiders fully expect us all to go back to sleep as soon as she’s inaugurated.

And whatever innocent idea I still harbored that the system was still more or less democratic has been destroyed this primary season. Seeing Rachel Maddow all-too-obviously provide cover for the Clinton Machine was too much.

Back to Ted Morgan:

Our news media, television in particular, work at two levels simultaneously. One level is cultural. This is where market-driven news accentuates its entertainment value, seeking to maximize audience or readership by grabbing attention with all the devices common to entertainment. News stories are brief, dramatic fragments; they accentuate eye-catching imagery, conflict, and personalities. They play on our emotions, but tell us almost nothing about why the world is the way it is.

The other level is ideological, or political.  This is where the mass media are corporate institutions that reflect the consensual and competing views of elites who dominate our politics.  This is where Democrats and Republicans “debate” political issues, where they tell us how to interpret the world.  It is definitely not where more fundamentally critical, or outsider, views are taken seriously.

Yes to both. Mainstream media set the parameters of “acceptable” political thought and discourse, and at the same time they fail to provide information or context that might enable people to reach unacceptable conclusions.

Although the New York Times is a major enabler of the management, they do sometimes give us a peak behind the curtain:

This year the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia will be bankrolled entirely with money from corporations and wealthy individuals. Not since the Watergate era, when a $400,000 pledge to the 1972 Republican convention from ITT Corporation was linked to a favorable outcome for the company in a federal antitrust decision, has this happened.

Industries with business before the federal government have long found opening their checkbooks for the conventions to be one of the most efficient means for influencing an incoming administration and Congress in one quick action. …

… The ITT scandal prompted legislation that provided public financing for conventions, and limited their budgets to that amount. But the parties soon found multiple ways around that, including using “host committees” that operate in the cities where the conventions are held, soliciting unlimited amounts of convention money from corporations and wealthy individuals. These committees, established to skirt federal laws banning corporations from giving to political parties directly, should be abolished.

And what’s different about this year?

The demise of public convention financing is a result of the 2014 Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, named for a Virginia girl who died of brain cancer. The law ended government funding for nominating conventions, which in 2012 amounted to about $18 million, or one-quarter, of each political party’s convention costs, and redirected $126 million over 10 years to pediatric disease research.

Talk about unintended consequences. Of course, I’m sure no sponsor expects direct quid pro quos for their money.  The benefits they receive will be more indirect and more subtle.

And this is just one example. There have been allegations about the foreign governments that donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Some of those governments were lobbying the U.S. State Department about something. I have defended the Clinton Foundation in the past, but one does wonder.  And I’m sure there’s plenty of ammunition in there somewhere for the Republicans to use against her in the fall.

Remember what I said in this post about foot dragging? We are in for some epic foot dragging. Clinton and her allies will be pragmatically certain that whatever she does will be incremental enough to not cause the clients, or the sponsors, much consternation.

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Negotiation, Yes. Just Not With Ourselves.

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Obama Administration

The latest excuse I’m seeing about Why We Should Just Get Over It and Support Hillary is that the Democrats have always been expedient incrementalists, including Franklin Roosevelt. For example, in response to this tweet —

Scott Lemieux wrote,

As the historian Kevin Kruse (whose book One Nation Under God is strongly recommended) observed, the obvious answers are “yes,” “yes,” “yes,” and “this is not a thing but assuming you mean the Fair Housing Act, yes.” The idea that the Social Security — which not only offered modest benefits but intentionally excluded large numbers of African-Americans — was not an example of incremental reform is quite remarkable. Even more revealing is the Medicaid example. Nothing makes it clearer that this fake-nostalgia for the REAL LIBERAL Democratic Party of yore is just a rhetorical cudgel with which to beat Democrats and not any kind of serious historical analysis than this. Apparently, a public health insurance program that required states to cover only a subset of people well below the poverty line was REAL, UNCOMPROMISING LIBERALISM while a public health insurance program that required states to cover everyone up to 138% of the poverty line is the hopelessly compromised neoliberal work of useless corporate sellouts. Right.

Of course in a democratic system everybody has to compromise. That’s not the issue. The issue for Democrats is that we’ve gotten way too good at compromising with ourselves. We don’t propose what we actually want and then get as much as we can through compromise. We deny even to ourselves what we really want and then propose things we don’t want but which are less awful than what we fear the Right will force us to do.

The clearest example of this was back in 2013 when President Obama’s budget included cuts to Social Security and Medicare. This was part of a “grand bargain” meant to appease the Right from completely trashing the country. Fortunately, the grand bargain fell through, and the Right failed to do as much damage as they’d threatened.

The Affordable Care Act was the most progressive legislation passed by Congress since the LBJ Administration. Even that wasn’t what we wanted, although I supported it because I thought it was the best we were going to get, and people were dying from lack of health care.

But there’s no reason Democrats can’t be trying to make the case to the people for single payer. There’s a great case to be made for it that people never hear, because only a few renegades like Michael Moore ever make it. If the people become sold on it, it can happen. That’s how Reaganism took over, you know; the Reaganites persuaded the people that tax and budget cuts were the road to the good life for everybody.

Where were the counter-arguments? Yes, by the 1980s the Republican Noise Machine was doing a great job of drowning out dissenting voices. But the Republican Party is imploding now. The Noise Machine is arguing with itself these days.

That’s the biggest mistake Barack Obama made, IMO — he didn’t go directly to the people to explain what was going on soon enough and often enough. Instead he allowed his administration to be defined by news media, and that’s a disaster. Those people can’t define toast.

There’s also a difference between necessary incrementalism and plain old foot-dragging. The Dems are a party of foot-draggers, IMO, for a lot of reasons I want to write about later. But let’s just say that Hillary Clinton will go into the White House with her feet locked into really big, heavy chains. You know she won’t make bold proposals even if Congress begged her to.

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The Rev. Daniel Berrigan, 1921-2016

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Obama Administration

Good job.

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How Badly Will the GOP Have to Screw Up in November to Lose to Clinton?

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Obama Administration

This was Hillary Clinton being interviewed on MSNBC last night. She’s basically telling Sanders supporters they can kiss her ass; she doesn’t need their votes.

The only way she’s going to win in November with that attitude is if the GOP accomplishes the biggest pooch-screwing in human history. And, of course, that is entirely possible. The fall campaign is not exactly going to be another Clash of the Titans, in other words.

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Why the Democratic Party Is in Bigger Trouble Than It Realizes

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American History, big picture stuff, Democratic Party, liberalism and progressivism, Obama Administration, Sanders and Clinton, self-destruction

Regarding the perpetual complaint that young voters don’t turn out for midterm elections, which gives Congress to Republicans — yeah, I used to complain about that too. But try to imagine what the Democratic Party must look like to younger voters.

I’m old enough to remember when Harry Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt were still alive and still influential in party politics. I was in middle school during the Kennedy Administration. For all his flaws regarding Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson initiated genuinely progressive domestic programs. I was in high school when Bobby Kennedy ran for President and was assassinated. I cast my first vote for POTUS for George McGovern. So that’s the Democratic Party I remember — flawed and messy, but still a vehicle for doing the right thing, at least part of the time.

But that party died a quiet death some time back. I’m not sure that other people my age realize this. The Democratic Party now is closer to where the Republicans were during the Nixon Administration than they are to being the party of Truman, Kennedy or even LBJ.

But at least the Nixon Republicans sort of stood for something. You knew where they were coming from. The current party Democratic Party stands for nothing.

I’m not sure when it happened, exactly, but sometime between the McGovern blowout in 1972 and the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, the party of FDR, Truman and Kennedy died. Clinton ushered in a fundamental change in the Democratic Party that made it about winning elections on the Right’s terms. It became the party of lowered expectations, learned helplessness and “at least we’re not as bad as they are.” But what does it actually stand for any more, as a party?

I recently got into a sad discussion about how the party abandoned the legacy of FDR. I mentioned FDR’s great 1941 State of the Union address — the “Four Freedoms” speech. This encapsulates what the party should still stand for, I said. A Clinton supporter dismissed this as ancient history. You want to have it both ways, she said. You keep saying it’s not 1972 any more, and now you want to go back to 1941. The Democrats have moved on.

So I quoted this portion of the speech:

Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world.

For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Personally, I think anyone who wants to call himself a REAL DEMOCRAT ought to memorize that passage and recite it daily.

FDR continued:

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement.

As examples:

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.

We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.

We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.

And we’re still working on that stuff. Maybe we’ll always be working on that stuff. As technological and economic conditions change, we’ll have to keep adjusting. But it’s hard to even talk about some of these things now, never mind work on them. We’ve done something about health care, although we need to do more. But looking ahead I don’t see any plans from most Dems except to try to stop what we have accomplished from being further eroded.

Roosevelt went on to say that people would be required to pay more taxes to make these things happen. He was re-elected later that year anyway. And no, Pearl Harbor hadn’t been bombed yet.

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants–everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

Compare/contrast to right-wing calls for carpet bombing the Middle East to get rid of ISIS. For that matter, compare/contrast to Hillary Clinton’s “vision” of dealing with ISIS. It’s all about military and anti-terrorist options. There’s no vision there.

Now, some would say that Pearl Harbor and the subsequent war proved FDR hopelessly idealistic. I don’t think so. These ideals lived on in programs like the Marshall Plan, which helped secure a lasting peace in western Europe and which is the sort of thing that would never get past a right-wing Congress today, and which the current Democratic Party would never even dare propose. And FDR was a great war president and hardly a pacifist weenie, btw.

We have to acknowledge that FDR didn’t always live up to his own ideals — the Japanese-American internment, for example — but that doesn’t mean the ideals themselves were wrong.

As I’ve written elsewhere, there’s a good argument to be made that in 1992, Clintonian “triangulation,” moving Right to finesse the Reaganites on their own turf, was the only way a Democrat could have won the White House. But it’s time to drop that strategy now, because it’s holding us all back. The current Dem establishment, never mind Hillary Clinton herself, is stuck in the past and ignoring the realities of the current political climate, which is that the Republican Party is falling apart and the young folks are hungry for a more assertively progressive left-wing party that actually stands for something other than technocratic responses to whatever problems arise. Which is all Hillary Clinton knows.

And when some of us start talking about a real progressive vision, the Clintonistas dismiss us as naive “purists” who don’t understand what’s practical. I guess by their definition FDR wasn’t practical (see: New Deal; victory in World War II).

But y’know what? We’ve complained for years about how younger voters don’t turn out for midterm elections and let the Republicans take over Congress. I’ve complained about that, too. But try to look at the Democrats through their eyes. They don’t remember Truman or Eleanor Roosevelt or even George McGovern or Hubert Humphrey.  They remember the Clintons. They see Democrats in Congress that sell out liberal values a large part of the time, and who can’t effectively push back against right-wing craziness. Even President Obama — who has done a lot more good than he’s given credit for — has disappointed them often by trying to make “Grand Bargains” with the Right that would have compromised essential “safety net” programs. And his foreign policy hasn’t been all that great, which is largely Clinton’s doing, IMO.

From that perspective — what’s there to vote for? Why bother?

Again, I always do trudge out and vote, if only because the Dems are not as bad as those other people. But the Dems have been coasting on we aren’t as bad as they are way too much and way too long. It’s like they’re using the Republicans to hold us hostage — vote for us or they’ll shoot your dog. And then most of them go about being way too compromised by money and lobbyists and not really responding to the people.

No, they aren’t as bad as the Republicans. But maybe the young folks are right for not settling. And if the Democratic Party doesn’t change, I wonder if it can survive.

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Re-explaining Why the Hillary Victory Fund Is an Issue

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Obama Administration

It appears, from comments here and on Facebook, that I failed utterly to explain my concerns about the Hillary Victory Fund yesterday. So I’m making another attempt.

The Hillary Victory Fund is a joint fundraising effort set up with the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic parties of 33 states.  It’s essentially a PAC. Individual donors can give up to $356,100 per year, and since this was set up in 2015 some have given this maximum for two years, for a total of $712,200. Of course, a lot of donations are smaller.

All the money raised by the HVF goes to the Clinton campaign first. I had previously read that she gets to keep the first $2700 from each individual per year, or $5400 for contributions made in 2015 and 2016. But I just read that is for the primary only; she can keep another $2700 per each individual contributor for the general election fund.

Since the money goes to her first, she can always keep the maximum amount allowable. For example, if the donation is $2700 she keeps all of it. This money can be treated as individual donations, with no strings attached; the Clinton campaign can do whatever it wants with it. And this is completely legal. We can quibble about whether it is ethical, considering the fund is being touted as some altruistic effort to raise money for down-ticket Democrats. But let us put that aside for now; it’s not part of the newer allegations.

What Clinton cannot keep goes to the DNC, where it is allocated by a joint committee that includes Clinton campaign staff. The DNC keeps $33,400 of each individual donation per year, which is the biggest portion. That’s where the spending issues get murky. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

And then the portion the DNC cannot keep goes to the state Democratic parties in chunks of $10,000. It appears that by then what’s left over amounts to crumbs. Again, this is legal, but it burns me whenever somebody chirps about all the millions of dollars Clinton is raising “for down ticket Democrats.” The largest portion of the money stops with the joint committee at the DNC.

There are also huge ethical questions about whether this is, in effect, turning these state Democratic party organizations into arms of the Clinton campaign committee. As long as she’s in the race, the crumbs keep coming. This would be a huge incentive for them to “help” Clinton win primaries and for their superdelegates to remain loyal to Clinton, corrupting the primary process. Similar kinds of joint fundraising operations have been set up before, but not until after a candidate had secured the nomination. This is the part about the fund I’ve complained about before. It’s legal, yes, but it still stinks.

However, the new allegations are about something else.

Let us go back to the DNC and the joint committee allocating the funds passed on to them by the Clinton campaign. Here is where the new allegations come in. The joint committee, as I’ve said in earlier posts, includes Clinton campaign staff. Its treasurer is Clinton’s chief operating officer. The joint committee also includes DNC officials, I assume, who have reason to be loyal to Clinton because the HVF saved their financial asses and hauled the DNC out of the red last year.

The money passed on to the joint committee by the Clinton campaign is not supposed to be used by the Clinton campaign any way it wants. There are legal strings attached. Are we all clear on that?

The new allegation is that this money being allocated by the joint committee is mostly being spent in ways that help the Clinton campaign, either primarily or exclusively. This is where the legal issue gets sticky. Instead of keeping a wall between Clinton money and DNC money, which I believe is what the law calls for, it appears the money is being treated as something fungible that is still mostly being spent according to the wishes of the Clinton campaign.

This takes me back to what I wrote yesterday that nobody seemed to get. The Sanders campaign said,

The financial disclosure reports on file with the Federal Election Commission indicate that the joint committee invested millions in low-dollar, online fundraising and advertising that solely benefits the Clinton campaign. The Sanders campaign “is particularly concerned that these extremely large-dollar individual contributions have been used by the Hillary Victory Fund to pay for more than $7.8 million in direct mail efforts and over $8.6 million in online advertising” according to the letter to the DNC. Both outlays benefit the Clinton presidential campaign “by generating low-dollar contributions that flow only to HFA [Hillary for America] rather than to the DNC or any of the participating state party committees.”

This seems to me a legitimate beef, yet no one in media is taking it seriously. There was a segment on Rachel Maddow in which Maddow and Andrea Mitchell sat around and talked about what a mistake it was for the Sanders campaign to make an accusation like that, since the Hillary Victory Fund is perfectly legal, and Mitchell said she had talked to the DNC, which had told her nothing was amiss.

Yes, of course the DNC would say that. Duh.

Steve Benen also wrote a post at the Maddow Blog that is being widely linked to as a rebuttal of the Sanders charges. But Benen doesn’t seem to me to address what the charges actually are.

Now, I would be the first person to confess I don’t have a head for numbers. But as I wrote yesterday, this Politico article seemed alarming:

Yet, during the first three months of the year, the $2 million transferred by the Hillary Victory Fund to various state party committees paled in comparison to the $9.5 million it transferred to Clinton’s campaign committee or the $3.5 million it transferred to the DNC.

Is this saying that the joint committee is just donating the money back to the Clinton campaign?

And the Hillary Victory Fund [meaning the joint committee] also spent $6.7 million on online ads that mostly looked like Clinton campaign ads, as well as $5.5 million on direct marketing. Both expenses seem intended at least in part to help Clinton build a small donor base, an area in which Sanders has far outpaced her.

Knowing Clinton, she probably does have some team of lawyers keeping an eye on this to be sure there’s at least a fig leaf of legality stuck to this operation. But does this not seem questionable?

Update: You can click on this link to see the list of participating states and the amount of money each has received as of the end of March. As you can see, the states are getting peanuts compared to what the Hillary Victory Fund has taken in.

 

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