Propaganda 101

Did Democrats take money from Jack Abramoff? “Yes they did!” yell the righties. “No they didn’t!” say the lefties. Who is telling the truth?

You will be astonished to learn Republican claims that “Democrats did it too” are based on a sleight-of-hand that counts money not coming from Abramoff as “Abramoff money.” Yes, you are astonished. And shocked. Cough.

This is how it works: Indian tribes were clients of Jack Abramoff. Therefore, all money donated by Indian tribes is “tainted” by Abramoff, even if the money didn’t go through Abramoff but was donated directly by a tribe to a Democrat and Abramoff had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

Matthew Continetti wrote in The Weekly Standard:

“THIS IS A REPUBLICAN scandal,” Harry Reid, the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace in December. Wallace had asked Reid about his relationship with Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who last week pleaded guilty, in two separate investigations, to five counts of mail fraud, tax evasion, wire fraud, and conspiracy. Reid said there was no relationship. “Abramoff gave me no money,” he said. “So don’t lump me in with Jack Abramoff.”

Reid might not have taken money directly from Abramoff, a lifelong Republican and conservative activist, but he did accept donations–some $66,000 worth–from Abramoff’s clients, Indian tribes operating casinos throughout the United States. And Reid’s willingness to do so, and his reluctance to return the Abramoff-related funds, as many of his Republican colleagues have done, suggests that Washington’s latest lobbying scandal may be more complex than partisans have let on, and more difficult for Democrats to make partisan hay out of than pundits now think.

The paragraphs above would make sense only if Jack Abramoff owned and operated the Indian tribes, like one of his bogus charities.

Mary Beth Williams of Wampum points to this bit from an Associated Press article:

Some watchdog organizations that specialize in tracking campaign money have linked former Oklahoma U.S. Rep. Brad Carson and the Oklahoma Democratic Party to Abramoff because both received money from Indian tribes that had been represented by the lobbyist or his firm.

Among the tribes was the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. According to Senate records, Abramoff’s firm was registered to lobby for the Cherokee Nation briefly in 2003. A spokesman for the Cherokee Nation could not be reached Thursday.

Mary Beth notes that not only did these contributions not go through Abramoff, Brad Carson is a member of the Cherokee Nation. She continues,

In the interest of full-disclosure, Eric and I purchased gas from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe last summer in Michigan. The Saginaw-Chippewa were clients of Jack Abramoff’s lobbying firm. Thus, we here at Wampum have been tainted by the receipt of an Abramoff-linked commodity. Hence, the Koufax Awards must also be tainted, as are all the recipients of Awards from the past four years. And if FEC blog-linking rules go into effect, we’ve poisoned everyone on our sidebar as well. Isn’t that how it works, according to new GOP “they did it too” rules?

ReddHedd writes,

Let’s get something straight up front: Native American groups have the same right as anyone else in this country to donate money to political campaigns that they feel represent their interests. That goes for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Donations directly from specific tribal groups are not only proper, but it’s just like the National Chamber of Commerce or the UAW or any other specific, targeted group that is trying to advance the interests of its members. It is the illegal scamming of the money and then the bribing of officials that Abramoff and his cronies did that is illegal.

Can we say that the “Democrats did it too” argument is, essentially, racist? I believe we can.

Some Republican apologia should be preserved in a “Creating Effective Propaganda” textbook. Let’s look at this article from Investor’s Business Daily:

Nearly all Senate Democrats took money steered their way by Jack Abramoff, and Hillary Clinton’s fundraising committee has agreed to a $35,000 fine. Republicans aren’t the problem. The system is.

This is the lede. A casual reader would assume that nearly all Senate Democrats took money steered their way by Jack Abramoff, wouldn’t they? But that’s not true. A casual reader would assume that Hillary Clinton is being fined because of her association with Abramoff. But that isn’t true, either.

The false “steered their way by Jack Abramoff” claim is not explained in this article. This is as close as the writer gets to an explanation, buried several paragraphs down:

The DSCC and Hillary’s campaign jointly set up the New York Senate 2000 committee for the express purpose of bypassing the $2,000 limit on contributions from individuals. It’s that phony limit that empowers the likes of Abramoff, whose clients and associates gave Sen. John Kerry close to $100,000, according to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid apparently got nearly $70,000 from Abramoff sources, and Schumer himself benefited to the tune of nearly $30,000. All but five Democratic senators have taken Abramoff cash, says the NRSC.

But it wasn’t “Abramoff cash,” and Abramoff did not “steer” the cash to the recipients. These transactions did not involve Abramoff.

While we’re here, let’s look at the claim “The DSCC and Hillary’s campaign jointly set up the New York Senate 2000 committee for the express purpose of bypassing the $2,000 limit on contributions from individuals.” This statement is true, as explained here:

In 1999, First Lady Hillary Clinton’s campaign set up a joint fundraising committee with the national party’s Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) to raise unlimited soft money contributions.

The joint committee — called New York Senate 2000 — then transferred the soft money funds to the DSCC, which transferred the money to the New York Democratic state party. The state party then spent the soft money on ads promoting Hillary Clinton….

Mayor Rudy Giuliani has just set up a similar joint fundraising committee with the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC) to raise soft money. The Mayor’s committee is called Giuliani Victory Fund.

In these circumstances, the joint fundraising committees at the DSCC and NRSC function, in effect, as “bank accounts” for the Senate candidates. The candidates could just as easily establish these “bank accounts” with the New York Republican and Democratic state parties, with no impact on the raising or spending of unlimited soft money.

This is the sort of hard money/soft money commingling that campaign finance reform is supposed to eliminate, although I’m not sure that it has. There were allegations that this was illegal in 2000, although I don’t believe that was a universally held opinion. If it was illegal, then it was illegal, and I won’t excuse what Clinton did with “Guiliani did it too,” even though he did. But Abramoff was not involved, and it seems to me the inclusion of this episode in this article is nothing but a gratuitous smearing of Hillary Clinton by working her into the same paragraph as Jack Abramoff.

Let’s go back to Senator Clinton’s $35,000 fine, which one might infer from Investor’s Business Daily is somehow connected to the Abramoff scandal. One of Clinton’s fundraising committees has indeed agreed to pay the fine, for failure to disclose $722,000 in contributions raised by Peter Paul, a convicted felon. That was wrong. Regular readers will know I’m no Hillary Clinton fan and am not going to spin my wheels making excuses for her. But Jack Abramoff was not involved in the Peter Paul fundraiser.

Investor’s Business Daily
says “Republicans aren’t the problem. The system is.” In the grand scheme of things, I agree. The system sucks. The system encourages lawbreaking and corruption, and corruption is perfectly happy to cross party lines. But the Abramoff scandal is a Republican scandal. Just because, for example, Charles Rangel took $36,000 “from Abramoff’s Indian clients” doesn’t make him dirty if the donations conformed to the law and Abramoff played no part.