Monday, December 29, 2008

Do Virginians understand that Terry McAuliffe's fund-raising genius is unlikely ever to be used to benefit them? Plus: Rahm slips out of the House


Former Democratic National Committee chair (and current
Virginia gubernatorial candidate) Terry McAuliffe

"[Terry McAuliffe] has an astonishingly strong personality," said [Virginia billionaire Randal J.] Kirk, a biotech and investment mogul. "When you meet someone, you often get a gut feeling whether this is an integrated personality. Are they the same with Joe Blow as they are with me? To me, this guy just seems utterly consistent."
-- quoted by Tim Craig in today's Washington Post

by Ken

In case you didn't see the article, it starts like this:

McAuliffe's Prowess As Fundraiser Grabs Spotlight in Va. Race

By Tim Craig

RICHMOND -- With his booming voice, quick wit and gregarious nature, Terry McAuliffe established a reputation as one of the world's best political fundraisers, soaking up hundreds of millions of dollars for Democratic causes and candidates.

Now, after spending much of his adult life soliciting donations for others -- most notably, former president Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) -- McAuliffe is considering using those prodigious skills and extensive contacts for himself, as a candidate for governor of Virginia. McAuliffe's potential candidacy has created what Michael Toner, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, calls "the perfect fundraising storm."

Virginia is a state with no limits on how much an individual, corporation or union can donate to a candidate running for state office, and some say McAuliffe could wage an $80 million campaign -- triple what Kaine spent four years ago -- if he is the Democratic nominee.

"I think the sky is the limit in terms of Terry McAuliffe's fundraising potential in Virginia," Toner said. "I suspect there will be a lot more interest in Virginia politics in Manhattan and Palm Beach than there usually is."

Already, McAuliffe is showing what's possible. . . .

And it goes on from there. Boy, does it go on. And on and on. Anyone looking for a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes world of fund-raising -- or a highly sanitized version of same -- has come to the right place. Ah yes, the sky is the limit. I think we get it: This man can fund-raise the feathers off a chicken. Check.

I suppose this is the sort of thing that gives Rahm Emanuel or Chuck Schumer a hard-on. We're talking about that prized political species the self-funding candidate. Usually SFCs self-finance from their own personal fortunes, exercising the right of no-price-too-high free speech which the non-activist strict constructionists of our Supreme Court cherish. But it would be unfair to say that our Rahm and Chucky only like rich people. Rich people certainly do occupy a special place in their, er, hearts, it's true, but if you've got a guy like Terry McAuliffe who can extract campaign cash from a stone, well, sign him up! (To my knowledge, our Terry isn't exactly a candidate for welfare himself.)

I know a lot of people out there don't understand why Howie and I are always going off on Rahm Emanuel, would-be master of the political cosmos. Why, isn't he the Democratic answer to Karl Rove? A Dem with the muscle and balls to stand up to the blasted Other Side?

Um, no and no. As a matter of fact, Master Rahm often seems to get along with Republicans better than Democrats. (Many of his most prized new "Democratic" candidates actually are Republicans, often up to the very moment of the filing deadline.) As Howie has frequently suggested, Master Rahm in his tactics and goals much more closely resembles a Dem version of Tom DeLay, a man for whom the political cosmos begins with money (lots and lots of it), continues with influence-peddling (the backbone of American democracy, no?), and ends -- if you've done it right -- with power (lots and lots of it).

As to the uses of that power, it's hard for a long-term observer to divine much vision or even principle at play, unless you count the clearly felt urgency of protecting the interests of fat-cat donors, the people and corporations who cough up all that campaign cash. It's not hard to understand why Master Rahm values those candidates who are long on cash and short on political vision: because he will own them. Even new representatives who join the House infected with some nasty desire to make the country and the world a better place quickly find themselves under pressure to be coopted to the bosom of the master's Realpolitik -- the way things are done, Rahm-style.

People I trust insist that Master Rahm really didn't want to take the job of White House chief of staff, that in fact he regarded it as a derailment from his painstakingly laid fast track to power in the House of Representatives. But, say these sources, his old pal Barack Obama maneuvered him into a position where he couldn't say no. Howie has already reported that Master Rahm has made clear his ardent wish that his House seat be filled on a temporary basis by a "caretaker" who will step aside as soon as he's ready to return to the House.Link
(This represents high-quality political maneuvering on the president-elect's part, but highly questionable judgment. Rahm looks to be the pre-installed cancer on the Obama presidency. I'll bet the Vegas oddmakers already have him as the odds-on favorite to be the first member of the new administration to be the target of a congressional investigation and the first to be indicted.)

From all accounts, Master Rahm was already exercising considerable influence within the House Democratic caucus. And yet I'm not aware of any significant instance where the public good benefited from his use of his vaunted political "muscle" in a meaningful tough fight.

I keep coming back to the point David Sirota made some months after the Democrats retook control of the House: that the likely reason why the new majority was doing squat to end the war in Iraq was that important segments of the leadership didn't want to. As we know, Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained the House's consistent record of inaction on "not having the votes." I would love to hear just once that there was ever a meeting at which Master Rahm looked the speaker in the eye and said: "We have to stop that damned war, Nancy -- whatever it takes to do it. Don't you worry about the votes -- I'll get you the votes! We'll show that friggin' David Sirota!"

It may seem that we've ventured far afield from our subject: Terry McAuliffe's fitness to be governor of Virginia. I would argue, though, that this is just what we've been talking about. What made Terry chairman of the Democratic National Committee and what makes him a force in Democratic politics is his prodigious fund-raising ability.
Hassan Namazee, a New York investment banker who was a top fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, said McAuliffe has a gift for persuading people to invest in causes that matter. He has "the most fundamental skill that you have to have when you ask people for money. . . . He makes you feel good when he asks you to write a check."

And what more could you ask from a prospective governor?

I suppose at some point candidate McAuliffe will say a word or two relative to some sort of policy he might wish to enact as governor -- like a solution for Virginia's long-simmering, crippling transportation crisis. Or maybe it's just going to be an unending string of well-tried, consultant-tested bromides about responsible and fiscally prudent government.

Here's about as close as we get to good news, policy-wise, in the Post article:
Advisers to [rival Democratic candidates Brian] Moran and [Creigh] Deeds said they had been expecting that it would cost about $3 million to win the June 9 primary, but McAuliffe could spend triple that amount, launching a wave of television advertisements early in the spring that could drown out his opponents' messages. [No, no, that's not the good news! Just wait. -- Ed.]

Political strategists said it's not clear whether money will make the difference. [Emphasis added. This is the good news, or the good-as-it-gets news. -- Ed.] In the 2006 primary contest between Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) and lawyer Harris Miller, Webb was outspent 4 to 1. But he won the race because antiwar activists and liberal bloggers were drawn to his military background and opposition to the war in Iraq.

"I think the money is important, but you have to have a message," said Democratic strategist Kristen Denny Todd, who was Webb's communications director. "I strongly feel that Virginians expect it to come from the heart and come from the soul, and I don't know if it can be manufactured or if Virginians can be bought."

Confidential to Virginia Democratic voters: Have you heard the old saying "Money talks, bullshit walks"? Did somebody out there say, "Money talks bullshit"? Yeah, that too.


After writing the above, I found the following e-mail from Howie (in Bamako):
I don't know if you're in the mood for some Rahm-bashing or not but...
As I wrote back promptly, "Not in the mood for Rahm-bashing? When would that be?" I explained that at that very moment I was in the act of Rahm-bashing.

Howie's link is to CQ's report of Master Rahm's announcement -- in a letter to Illinois Gov. Rod Blogojevich (well, it's not Rahm's fault that that's who he has to announce it to) -- that he will resign from the House as of January 2.
Emanuel’s resignation will trigger a special election in Illinois’ 5th District, which takes in parts of Chicago and its suburbs and is strongly Democratic. At least 10 Democrats have filed candidacy papers with the Federal Election Commission or announced plans to run. Republican Tom Hanson, who received 22 percent of the vote as Emanuel’s Republican opponent in 2008, also intends to run.

It’s not clear when the special primary and general elections will be held. The Illinois election law gives Blagojevich five days after a vacancy occurs to set the date for the special general election, which must be held within 115 days.

The timing of Emanuel’s resignation will make it difficult if not impossible for the special election schedule to coincide with regularly scheduled local elections on Feb. 24 and April 7 because Illinois law calls for a candidate filing period 50 to 57 days before the primary election.

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At 4:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope Virginia is smart enough not to elect McAuliffe its next governor. I have no admiration for him. My final moment of any consideration of him was on Morning Joe! the day after Obama won the primary. He not only embarrassed himself, he embarrassed all of us, bringing in the booze to others while he was already boozed up.


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