It is the height of hypocrisy to privately practice what one publicly condemns. But most politicians are prone to bend principle when a pot of fund-raising gold temporarily blindsides their moral imperatives. One Washington critic claims government powerbrokers seduced by lucrative political contributions suffer “selective amnesia” about former objections to fund-raising excesses.
The Bush administration obviously fell prey to that condition when its big-time campaign donors sashayed into town waving fat wallets. All the abuse Republicans heaped on the previous administration for schmoozing donors at White House coffee klatches and sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom came back to haunt the vice president.
Dick Cheney took immediate heat for holding a private bash for wealthy GOP backers at the Naval Observatory - his taxpayer-supported official residence.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer went to great pains to differentiate the fund-raising schemes of his bosses from the scandalous indulgences of the Clinton era by insisting the reception at the vice president's mansion was “just a way to say thank you” to Republican donors who had put their man over the top.
The explanation would be laughable if it were not such a straight-faced insult to voters' intelligence. Most of the 400 top GOP donors partying with Mr. Cheney, one night before Republicans threw an official fundraiser with the President, had given or pledged upwards of $100,000 to the party.
The only difference between rewarding generous party donors with access to high officials, or intimate White House coffees, overnight stays in historic bedrooms, or use of the vice presidential home for political parties, is the degree of panache around the punchbowl.
The Bush-Cheney team may not yet exhibit the fund-raising boldness of former Clinton-Gore operatives, but give them time. They might not have to spend as much effort on the task. When President Bush can pull in more than $23 million in one night as fund-raiser in chief, the demands for raising money may not be as great.
Still, as Common Cause President Scott Harshbarger observed, “Only in Washington could that (the official explanation for the Cheney social) pass the smell test.” Well, it stinks beyond the Beltway, where public cynicism with fund-raising abuses by both parties is only strengthened with every new revelation of exorbitant contributions.
Like hogs shoving each other for the best spot at the trough before the slop runs out, the two parties are out to grab the last of unregulated “soft money” donations that could be banned if campaign-reform legislation sails through Congress. It has already passed the Senate.
It is a sad commentary that what former Vice President Al Gore once called “donor maintenance” events are being maximized by the same people who so recently hammered the Democrats for such activities. But paying to play is the nature of modern politics and, hypocritical or not, the Bush administration is predictably making hay while the sun shines, and before McCain-Feingold becomes law.
Clear evidence, if any more is needed, to fix a fundamentally flawed political system.