Defrauding Voters and Campaign Finance Law Violations

December 9, 2018

Defrauding Voters and Campaign Finance Law Violations

campaign finance laws
President Donald Trump

Peter Baker and Nicholas Fandos wrote Prosecutors Effectively Accuse Trump of Defrauding Voters. What Does It Mean? for the New York Times. By doing so, they helped me better understand why campaign finance law violations, as opposed “real crimes,” leave us so deeply dissatisfied. And how did they accomplish this task? By using the word fraud! (Truth be told, the Baker / Fandos piece wanders into deep rough, which happens too often when writers describe this disaster.)

Let me dispense, first, with some nonsense, brought to us by Senator Rand Paul (R – Ky.). Senator Paul tells us “incredibly complicated” campaign finance laws involve “thousands and thousands” of rules. He likens violations to paperwork errors, and advocates for a system of fines.

Senator Paul, paperwork violations get corrected constantly, with or without fines. Nothing about the actions which got us here involves paperwork problems. I know, you were “just sayin’,” but you had as an obvious and only purpose, obfuscating the truth.

So, what about fraud? And why do campaign finance law violations bother so many, so little? Fraud involves, always, a victim. To commit fraud, someone must be defrauded. Here, the argument goes, by violating campaign finance laws, Donald J. Trump defrauded American voters.

Can that argument possibly carry any water with people who voted for Mr. Trump? No. Who wants to admit that paying off former mistresses, and hiding those facts from voters, could possibly matter, when everyone knew Mr. Trump had a long history of extramarital liaisons? Anybody want to admit that they care about Russian relationship diclosures, when there was plenty of information before election day about Mr. Trump’s relationships with Russians?

True it is, seemingly, that nothing will persuade Mr. Trump’s base. But what about the rest of us? Why don’t clear violations of federal law satisfy us? I think the answer involves multiple factors.

First, plenty among us don’t like the notion that Trumpian dishonesty might excuse those who voted for him, even when his base gives him a pass. Mr. Trump came from nowhere … not! He’s the end point, I hope, of the straight line from Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, Ronald Reagan’s “government is the problem,” and Dick Cheney’s “deficits don’t matter.” Simply, he’s the crude and dumb embodiment of irresponsibility run amok.

Second, the laws are complicated. And seemingly turn on irrelevancies. Here, blame rests with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo, which held that campaign expenditure limitations infringe on First Amendment rights. At the interface between expenditures and a slew of laws, we get a freaking mess.

Third, paying attention to details associated with a scandal like this one challenges all of us. Finding that line between active criminal conduct—the activities which have generated the guilty pleas—and paperwork mistakes feels difficult.

Finally, I think Mr. Trump only knows from dishonest, criminal conduct. Yes, I think the campaign finance stuff we’ve seen so far matters greatly, but I want to see the “real deal,” so that we can have a teachable moment. I have represented men and women who engage in business and real estate activities for almost 40 years. Most of them have been honest and have managed to achieve and succeed, despite what might seem like limitations—the need to be truthful and forthcoming in business dealings—to some. Not like Mr. Trump! 

For those same decades I have heard lots of “hoo-haw” about needing a businessman in the White House. The skill sets for business and politics match up poorly in so many ways but, in the real world, the idea deserves testing. Unfortunately, with the fraudster we elected we know nothing more about the nexus between business success and running our nation and Mr. Trump may render the notion of a person of business running things verboten for decades.

Friday night, my partner said, while we were watching the NewsHour, “I hope he’s got more than this.” I think Robert Mueller does, and for the sake of our nation, I hope so. Payoffs to playmates won’t gut this grifter.

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