The New York Times gave us an amusing juxtaposition earlier this week. Editorialist David Firestone sang the praises of Hillary Clinton’s deceptive and pandering speech in which she denounced measures against voter fraud, and he called on Mrs. Clinton to mount another favorite Times hobbyhorse:
Campaign finance issues deserve a speech just as impassioned as the one on voting rights, and it will be interesting to see if Ms. Clinton devotes more time to the subject than President Obama has.
Building a campaign around these kinds of issues particularly non-partisan redistricting and easy registration–has always been seen as too narrow and too wonky for a major candidate. But Ms. Clinton’s political future, not to mention the health of her party and her country, depend on someone taking them on and not letting go. And should Ms. Clinton succeed Mr. Obama, she will encounter precisely the same kind of blanket opposition in the House unless she starts trying to change it now.
Firestone is confusing his categories here: Redistricting and voter registration are not “campaign finance issues,” and while the federal government has broad authority to regulate registration, redistricting is almost entirely a state prerogative. The Voting Rights Act does give the feds some involvement in redistricting, but it cuts in the opposite direction of “nonpartisan redistricting”: Washington presses states to create “majority minority” districts. Given current voting patterns, that leads to a concentration of Democratic voters, making surrounding districts easier for Republicans to carry.
But what intrigues us is the way in which laws restricting political speech–in the areas of both campaign finance and taxation–are vital to, as Firestone puts it, “Ms. Clinton’s political future.”
We noted Tuesday that Mrs. Clinton is using her sinecure at the Clinton Foundation–a charity that is fully tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code–as a “formal apparatus” to prepare for a prospective campaign for president in 2016. Yesterday’s Times features a lengthy investigative report on the foundation:
Soon after the 10th anniversary of the foundation bearing his name, Bill Clinton met with a small group of aides and two lawyers from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. Two weeks of interviews with Clinton Foundation executives and former employees had led the lawyers to some unsettling conclusions.
The review echoed criticism of Mr. Clinton’s early years in the White House: For all of its successes, the Clinton Foundation had become a sprawling concern, supervised by a rotating board of old Clinton hands, vulnerable to distraction and threatened by conflicts of interest. It ran multimillion-dollar deficits for several years, despite vast amounts of money flowing in. . . .
Worried that the foundation’s operating revenues depend too heavily on Mr. Clinton’s nonstop fund-raising, the three Clintons are embarking on a drive to raise an endowment of as much as $250 million, with events already scheduled in the Hamptons and London. . . .
And efforts to insulate the foundation from potential conflicts have highlighted just how difficult it can be to disentangle the Clintons’ charity work from Mr. Clinton’s moneymaking ventures and Mrs. Clinton’s political future, according to interviews with more than two dozen former and current foundation employees, donors and advisers to the family. Nearly all of them declined to speak for attribution, citing their unwillingness to alienate the Clinton family.
Difficult it no doubt is. It would be insurmountable if the Clintons (Bill in particular) lacked the star power that makes raising a $250 million endowment a feasible goal. That kind of money will enable the Clintons to buy the legal expertise to make sure everything they do complies with the letter of the law–no matter how shady it may seem to use a 501(c)(3) charity as a political vehicle.