Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Another Day, Another Campaign Finance Scandal

Wait, didn't we already have Groundhog Day? So why does it seem like we keep waking up to the same damned story?

This time, the latest scandal du jour involves real estate developer Harvey Whittemore. Because he's the subject of an federal investigation and involved in a growing number of law suits, all of a sudden everyone from Harry Reid to Dean Heller and others (in both parties) is throwing out Whittemore's campaign contributions like rotten eggs.

And this morning, Jon Ralston tried to explain "how Harvey Whittemore became a leper".

Whittemore’s ebullience and intellect endeared him to many elected officials, who often counted him as a friend and counselor as well as donor. His insinuation into their lives brought him immense power and them hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars. The man everyone simply called or knew as Harvey was ubiquitous, whether lobbying in Carson City or building at Coyote Springs.

Now, like Jimmy Stewart’s Harvey, he is invisible, turned into a not-so-benign ghost because of three scarlet letters that see-no-evil politicians cannot abide: F-B-I.

I make no judgment yet on the sulfurous allegations that have made their way into court documents and the media as part of the acidic breakup of Whittemore and his business partners. But without knowing exactly what Whittemore may or may not have done (the schadenfreude contagion notwithstanding) and putting aside years of cozy, unquestioning interaction, suddenly these politicians have adopted a guilty-until-proven-innocent posture and shed Harvey’s campaign cash like it was mob money.

This I do judge. And I judge it to be craven, pathetic and phony.

The default response here, as it is in almost any situation for elected officials, is not whether someone they have consorted with for years did anything wrong. No, it is a simple calculus that is brought to bear: How does this make me look? This solipsistic reflex thus allows them — to borrow the immortal words of ex-Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt, who offered them to Ferdinand Marcos when his time was up — to cut and cut cleanly.

And so that's what's happening. No one wants to be associated with someone who "looks like a crook", even if we don't really know yet if he's actually a crook. As Heidi Klum would say on "Project Runway": "One minute you're in, but the next minute you're out." Six years ago, Whittemore (and all his campaign cash) may have been oh-so-stylish and in. But now that there's a legal gray cloud hanging over his head, he suddenly finds himself out.

And funny enough, Ralston also predicted the next campaign finance scandal to erupt soon. Remember how Sheldon Adelson became Newton Leroy Gingrich's #1 Sugar Daddy the casino mogul who singlehandedly revived Newt Gingrich's political career (if only for another three weeks)? Apparently after promising Willard Mittens Romney that he'll become Romney's #1 Sugar Daddy switch his campaign cash flow to him if he becomes the G-O-TEA nominee, Adelson may end up throwing another $10 million into the pro-Newton Super PAC just because he doesn't like "Frothy" Ricky Santorum.

Right now, Newton and Willard are competing to be Adelson's new BFF. But at some point in the near future, that may all change. A while back, WikiLeaks released a series of diplomatic cables that we now know included concern about Adelson directly lobbying China's central government in Beijing over his Macau casinos. Now, the federal Department of Justice and Securities & Exchange Commission are investigating Las Vegas Sands (Adelson's global casino empire) over possible illegal bribing of Chinese government officials, as well as over LVS' long rumored involvement with the Macau mafia.

Whoops. How long can Willard and Newton keep dancing with this? And how much longer can they, along with many Nevada Republicans, ignore the Macau problems now plaguing their other favorite casino mogul? We all know how Steve Wynn believes that America has become some hot socialist mess, yet China has somehow become the new global beacon of freedom. (HUH??!!) Former Wynn BFF and business partner Kazuo Okada is now calling BS on Wynn's delicate China dance, and he's asking for documents regarding Wynn Resorts' recent $135 million pledge to the University of Macau, a pledge that just happens to coincide with the expiration of Wynn Resorts' Macau gaming license. Recently Steve Wynn has become more a beloved figure in Nevada GOP circles because of his constant rants against President Obama and constant campaign donations to Dean Heller, but how long will this last?

And really, how long can we keep missing the forest for the trees? I'm already seeing the usual "tea party" suspects claim that Harry Reid is some epic, "EVIL!!!" figure for taking Harvey Whittemore's donations. So when will they condemn Dean Heller for doing the same? And when will they condemn the likes of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney for flirting with casino billionaires suspected of bribing the Chinese government?

And when will the entire Nevada political establishment stop this ridiculous kabuki theater that resumes whenever another campaign finance scandal emerges? In 2010, we saw plenty of "outrage" over scandals encircling state legislators Barbara Cegavske and Steven Horsford... But very little was done last year to change the system. The same "outrage" surfaced again once Rory Reid's politically posthumous campaign scandal surfaced. And again, no one wanted to talk about the root of this problem.

So I guess I have to bring out the handy dandy clean elections video yet again...

And yes, I will keep doing this until Nevada's pundits and political elite stop with the kabuki theater and mindless finger pointing, and start discussing real solutions to this ongoing fiasco.

Until we clean the campaign money supply, we'll only see more of these scandals surface. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. It's time to put up or shut up. If folks here are serious about stamping out the corruption of big corporate money in our politics, then it's time to take the big corporate money out of our system and support clean money & clean elections.

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