USA Today (Op-Ed): Republicans, don’t be flip about Trump and hush money. Democracy isn’t a partisan issue.
USA Today (Op-Ed): Republicans, don't be flip about Trump and hush money. Democracy isn't a partisan issue.
The Republican Party line is to dismiss Trump’s potential felony exposure on campaign contributions. But these laws keep our government accountable.
No person is above the law. This is a bedrock principle of our social compact to preserve freedom and equal opportunity. And it applies to the laws that govern the integrity of our democracy.
According to papers that federal prosecutors filed with the courts, “Individual-1” coordinated with Michael Cohen in the felonies he committed related to hush money payments to women with potentially damaging information about Donald Trump in the heat of the 2016 presidential race. If “Individual-1” were anyone besides the president of the United States, that person might have been indicted by now, too.
The latest twist has been met with a collective shrug from the president’s congressional allies. When Sen. Orrin Hatch was asked about the new actions of “Individual-1,” he told a reporter, “Okay but I don’t care; all I can say is he’s doing a good job as president.” Sen. Rand Paul said in his response that we’ve “over-criminalized campaign finance.” And Rep. Kevin McCarthy was similarly dismissive of concerns over campaign finance violations because so many members of Congress have their own campaign finance problems.
The flip responses about the president’s potential felony exposure are not isolated incidents. They’re becoming the Republican Party line. Political expediency is carrying the day.
It should not come as a surprise. These are largely the same members of Congress that have consistently blocked campaign finance reform and supported the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which has led to unlimited corporate and secret money in our elections. On the Senate side, anti-reformers are led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of our country’s staunchest foes of limiting the influence of big money in politics. They are backed by a handful of billionaires who seek to deregulate our money in politics even further to increase their power at the expense of voters.
The Republican reaction to Cohen’s guilty plea and its protection of Trump are just the latest examples as GOP leadership moves further away from the views of a majority voters when it comes to the issue of campaign finance reform. Polling data shows there is strong bipartisansupport from Americans for full disclosure of money in politics, empowering small dollar donors, a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and strict enforcement of these laws.
‘Worst day of my political life’
President George W. Bush, a Republican, signed into a law the last big federal campaign finance overhaul legislation, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. It was sponsored by the late Republican senator John McCain and received bipartisan support in both chambers. But since then, the party leadership has advanced an extreme agenda sponsored by their biggest donors. In 2014 while speaking at the Koch brothers’ private donor retreat, McConnell said the day Bush signed that 2002 bill was “the worst day of my political life.”
While the Republican Party’s leadership has moved away from where voters stand on campaign finance, the Democratic Party has moved in a different direction — despite a checkered history of Democratic Party lawyers helping to undermine existing campaign finance laws. But campaign finance reform was among the top issues that Democratic congressional candidates ran and won on in the 2018 midterm elections. Already, likely speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats have announced a sweeping democracy reform package as their top priority bill when they take control of the House in January.
Their package includes a long list of needed money in politics, voting rights, and ethics reforms. It remains to be seen whether Democrats will “walk the walk” and work to prioritize and advance these issues. Failing to deliver a path forward will only deepen cynicism. But there is clearly momentum for action, at least in the House. This will build power in the years ahead.
Hush money payments defrauded voters
Democracy cannot be about advancing any partisan interest but must be focused on creating an accountable government that works for all people. When one candidate illegally funnels hundreds of thousands of dollars to defraud the American people and isn’t held accountable, we undermine the rule of law and foster distrust in government and politics.
McConnell and congressional Republicans’ “oh well – he didn’t mean it” defense is a losing strategy not dissimilar from allies of Richard Nixon who defended him until the bitter end. They may differ with the American people on the specific reforms we need to fix the system, but they should not differ on the importance of the rule of law.
In Common Cause’s five-decade history, we have held both Democrats and Republicans accountable. We do this because of moments like this, when one party has moved so far in the wrong direction that it seems like democracy reform is a partisan issue. It is not, and we shouldn’t let Republican leaders in Congress make it one.
Karen Hobert Flynn is president of Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog organization. You can follow her on Twitter: @KHobertFlynn.