Wednesday, September 12, 2007

More on Tester and that money

Why not make it 4 days in a row? As long as we're being unhinged and wingnutty around here, let's go with it.

First off, Wulfgar is exactly right that we misread and thus misstated the website we linked to, pointing out some figures about the zipcodes where Tester money vs. Burns money came from. We had said that 5 of the top 10 zip codes for Tester were from New York City, and it was actually 4 of 10.

He is also correct that according to the website, zipcodes don't necessarily represent where the donor lives, since a business address could be listed. Presumably, though, if someone's business address is in New York City, they will generally live in the NYC metro area and are unlikely to be commuting from Montana.

As to the claim that on-line donations will register as being from the place the server is -- that's harder to imagine, since the information on only includes donations larger than $2000, and anyone who has made donations larger than a mere $200 knows that the FEC requires donors to provide their name, mailing address, occupation, and employer. Doesn't matter if you're donating online, by mail, or with a fundraiser personally twisting your arm behind your back. Maybe someone from Tennessee donating $2000 online to Tester would list a NY zipcode, but it's hard to imagine why.

Nonetheless, the mention and link was mainly was meant as a tongue-in-cheek tweak in light of initial reports that the donors through whom Hsu may have funneled money to Tester were from New York. Spin? Oh, maybe just a little. Lying? Didn't mean to-- although that can't of course be proven.

The fact is that while Burns raised more money in Montana than did Tester, he also raised more out-of-state money than Tester did -- yielding a higher percentage of out-of-state money than Tester.

So while it's great fun poking at Jon Tester's New York connection (we also wouldn't want to forget that famous meet and greet in Manhattan that night when his on-line schedule said he was on the Senate floor,) it wouldn't be particularly productive to attempt to defend Burns by making a point about out-of-state hard money. (527s like MoveOn are a different matter, but we'll leave it at that.)

There is perhaps also a bit of misunderstanding about our posts commenting on the timing and relationship between Hillary Clinton's decision to return money raised by Hsu and Tester's decision to do the same.

First of all, if we can't have Bill Richardson (which it's becoming obvious that we can't,) the MH candidate of choice on the Democratic side would be Hillary Clinton. No secret here (see our note on "Hillary the underestimated.")

And not because she is the most easily defeated (we very much doubt this theory, if for no other reason than she is the least likely of the Democratic candidates to self-destruct.) Rather, it is because she would make a better President than Obama (let alone Edwards,) and because with her, we'd at least have a shot at some decent triangulation.

The point was not so much to tie Tester to Clinton as it was to point out that it was curious that a Senator who ran on ethical purity was beaten to the punch by a candidate about whom 90% of Americans have already made up their minds regarding her ethics or lack thereof. Frankly, whether Clinton announced a return of the money on day 1 or day 51, it probably wouldn't have affected people's inclination to vote for or against her.

Still, mention of the Hillary connection bought MH the compliment of "clever little weasel" from Wulfgar, so it was a point that ended up being worth having made, especially in light of the fact that this is apparently "sweeps week" for conservative Montana blogs over at Chicken is Not Pillage.

There was a more serious assertion on Wulfgar's part, however, and that is that multiple Senate votes by Conrad Burns were purchased for contributions that aggregated at less than $150,000, and that it is firmly established that votes were changed by Burns in return for these donations, and not as a result of him be persuaded that his earlier votes were wrong.

In a campaign that raised $9.3 million, it can't help but seem rather quaint, and even touchingly nostalgic, that a U.S. Senator could be purchased for so little in campaign contributions. But let us assume that it is nevertheless true. Montana and the country would be better off had Burns won the election, but there comes a point where it is time to bury Burns rather than praise him, and defending the votes alleged to be linked to the Abramoff contributions (as opposed to using the standards set by Democrats in that race to critique Tester) is just that point.

But holding onto that assumption, the tip of the iceberg right now is that Norman Hsu has channeled at least $1.8 million since 2004 into the campaigns of major Democratic candidates across the country. Are we to believe that Burns could be bought for relatively small sums by U.S. Senate race standards, while Hsu had no reason to expect the Democratic party to deliver him anything for what will probably exceed $2 million by the time the counting is done? Can't have it both ways.

The MH post yesterday actually made the point that there did not yet appear to be proof of illegality in the donations to Tester. Which raised the question of why (other than playing follow the leader) he was giving the money back.

Today, we learn that there is probably more to it. By now, everyone knows that a mailman, William Paw, and his family have managed to contribute more than $225,000 to Democratic candidates across the country -- and that it looks like the money actually came from Hsu (and that Hsu in turn got the money by bilking investors.) $3000 of those dollars went to Jon Tester's campaign, and thus at least that money is likely more than tainted, unless evidence emerges that this particular mailman was independently wealthy, and only lived in a "modest home" for show.

Tester is fortunate that this broke when it did. He certainly had nothing whatsoever to do with Hsu's schemes. But down the road he may have found himself being pressured to go along with voting for this or that amendment on behalf of the great Democratic benefactor Norman Hsu, who had incidentally raised a little money for him as well.

We won't know how it ever would have played out, but will assume the best. Given the increasingly enormous sums of money that go into every Senate campaign and the seemingly limitless number of special-interest bills and amendments on which Senators vote, this won't likely be our last opportunity to find out -- about Tester, or any other U.S. Senator.


Anonymous said...

Over at Last Best Place, they've raised another interesting issue that one would think the press would be asking Tester about. It is what he thinks of the MoveOn "Betray Us" ad, since Moveon claimed to have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Tester's campaign.

Montana Headlines said...

Maybe Tester made the correct parliamentary ruling, but the fact that he didn't issue his own statement (as far as we have heard) distancing himself from the MoveOn ad is telling.

He wouldn't even need to back off on his stance on the war -- just say that he doesn't approve of saying that Gen. Petraeus has betrayed his country through his testimony.

Anonymous said...

There's kind of an amusing story on Instapundit about how Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado was pretty calculating in this regard. He denounced Moveon, but did it in the small circulation Grand Junction paper, and the rest of the Colorado media has ignored the story.

So we might watch to see if Tester denounces Moveon in the Two Dot Herald or the Pablo Pundit -- so he can say he did condemn them if he's ever asked -- while Montana's daily papers happily ignore the whole issue.