About that Washingon Post Hit Piece on Michael Steele

If you think something smells about the Washington Post hit piece on Michael Steele—yes it is a hit piece—then you are not the only one. I too am wondering how:

“The U.S. attorney’s office inadvertently sent the confidential document, a defense sentencing memorandum filed under seal, to The Washington Post after the
newspaper requested the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum.”

That glaring red flag aside, I decided to delve a little further into the thick weeds of campaign finance. I asked Professor Allison Hayward of George Mason University School of Law an expert in campaign finance laws a few questions about this. Professor Hayward served as Chief of Staff and Counsel in the office of Federal Election Commission Commissioner Bradley A. Smith. Professor Hayward tells us that the situation may not be as what the Post makes it appear.

Professor Hayward’s husband is AEI scholar Steven F Hayward, whose Corner post (second link above) led me to her. Mr. Hayward’s work refuting global warming alarmism is must read stuff.
On to the questions.

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MN: For a someone not well versed in state and federal/state campaign finance rules, just how dense can these rules get?

AH: Quite dense, and inconsistent. For someone running at both state and federal levels, one needs a political reporting specialist who understands the similarities and differences in the laws. Just for example, in Maryland a donor may not give over $4,000 to a candidate in a four-year election cycle. Under federal law, the limits are adjusted for inflation, and presently is $2,400 per election (that is, separate limits for the primary and general elections). Then you would also need to figure out whether something is a “contribution” or not – and the rules between federal and state systems are again inconsistent.

MN: Is it fairly easy for a campaign to unwittingly run afoul of them?

AH: Yes, especially in smaller efforts, like first-time challengers or minor party candidacies, which likely don’t have a big budget and can’t hire a specialist.

MN: Following up on that it seems that other campaigns might be guilty of the same allegations leveled at Steele. Are there a lot of these kinds of violations?

AH: I am not sure Steele violated any laws. But there are instances where a committee’s expenditures are something other than a bona fide purchase of good or services at fair market value. There are also, at least at the federal level, an alarming number of cases where committees are defrauded by their treasurers or other staffers. Oftentimes the individual with the campaign finance expertise is permitted to run the financial operations without much in the way of supervision – and that’s a tempting situation for a person who is less than honest to be in!

MN: How hampering are these various regulations on campaigns?

AH: They can be quite burdensome for small and middling sized efforts.

MN: Do you think there is any fire to this smoke about Steele?

AH: As I noted above, it isn’t clear to me that this is anything more than an internal dispute. I also wonder about the incentives the informant has to provide truthful information.

MN: Does campaign finance reform need reform?

AH: Oh yes!

MN: Is there anything else that you think is pertinent that I didn’t ask?

AH: One of the unfortunate things about the complexity of the law is that it is hard for journalists, or readers, to separate the “real” corruption from the allegations that technicalities have been imperfectly observed. Any allegation “sounds” bad, and that is truly unfair to the committees and candidates who are making an honest effort to comply, albeit imperfectly.

Thanks Professor Hayward.

So by no means is Steele guilty of anything. But remember for Republicans its only the appearance of impropriety that matters. Whereas outright criminality is acceptable for Democrats.

Furthermore, as I will lay out in a follow-up, this Post hit piece appears cough MD4Bush cough eerily familiar.

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