Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

August 19, 2007

Karl Rove Directed Government Funds For Political Gain

by Doug Mataconis

That is the rather shocking revelation that comes out of a fascinating article in today’s Washington Post:

Many administrations have sought to maximize their control of the machinery of government for political gain, dispatching Cabinet secretaries bearing government largess to battleground states in the days before elections. The Clinton White House routinely rewarded big donors with stays in the Lincoln Bedroom and private coffees with senior federal officials, and held some political briefings for top Cabinet officials during the 1996 election.

But Rove, who announced last week that he is resigning from the White House at the end of August, pursued the goal far more systematically than his predecessors, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Washington Post, enlisting political appointees at every level of government in a permanent campaign that was an integral part of his strategy to establish Republican electoral dominance.

Under Rove’s direction, this highly coordinated effort to leverage the government for political marketing started as soon as Bush took office in 2001 and continued through last year’s congressional elections, when it played out in its most quintessential form in the coastal Connecticut district of Rep. Christopher Shays, an endangered Republican incumbent. Seven times, senior administration officials visited Shays’s district in the six months before the election — once for an announcement as minor as a single $23 government weather alert radio presented to an elementary school. On Election Day, Shays was the only Republican House member in New England to survive the Democratic victory.

Although Democrats in the House are talking about launching investigations into whether any of these efforts led to violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits political activity by career government employees acting in their official capacity, on the surface it seems that everything Rove was doing was completely legal:

An invitation to a March 12, 2001, political briefing for federal officials — one of the Rove team’s earliest — framed the mission this way: “How we can work together.”

In practical terms, that meant Cabinet officials concentrated their official government travel on the media markets Rove’s team chose, rolling out grant decisions made by agencies with red-carpet fanfare in GOP congressional districts, and carefully crafted announcements highlighting the release of federal money in battleground states.

“We did that from Day One of the administration, strategically utilizing the president’s appointees to sell his agenda,” Drew DeBerry, the Agriculture Department’s liaison to the White House between 2001 and 2005, recalled in an interview last week.

(…)

To lead the charge, Rove had his “asset deployment team.” It comprised the chief White House liaison official at each Cabinet agency. The team members met — sometimes as often as once a month — to coordinate the travel of Cabinet secretaries and senior agency officials, the announcement of grant money, and personnel and policy decisions. Occasionally, the attendees got updates on election strategies.

White House officials say Rove had two basic rules: the first was to avoid meddling with grant and contract decisions made by career government employees; the second was to make sure they complied with the Hatch Act. “What was surprising was how adamant Karl and his whole team was that we involve the lawyers in our discussions to make sure we didn’t come up with things that ran afoul of the law,” DeBerry said. In March 2002, then-White House lawyer Brett Kavanaugh gave such a briefing on the “do’s and don’ts regarding your participation in politically related activities,” according to the invitation.

It may have been legal, but the fact that Rove and the White House were able to do this points out the extent to which spending by the Federal Government has become an exercise in political largess. Grants are made and money is spent not based on where it is needed, but based on where it would be most politically advantageous. In an era when the Federal Government as a budget in excess of $ 2 trillion and has its hands in virtually every corner of the economy, the impact of such spending decisions can be enormous, both politically and economically.

An effort like this shouldn’t  be surprising to anyone. If anything, the Democrats are (1) kicking themselves for not thinking of stuff like this during the Clinton Administration and (2) taking notes so that they can do the same thing if, and when, they regain the White House.

As long as we have a Federal Government that is too big and spends too much, we’ll have guys like Karl Rove finding ways to manipulate its resources for political gain. We can either continue with the way things are, or fundamentally change the nature of government in the country and return it to what it was intended to be.

The choice is ours.

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  • TanGeng

    Two factors are promoting corruption in the federal government. The monstrous size of the federal government make oversight difficult by congress and the people. The lack of visibility in the process makes it difficult for any oversight at all by the public, and allows for little oversight by congress.

    If we introduce means of oversight and mandate that congressional and public oversight is necessary before implementation, it would mean slowing down the federal government. The government just will not be able to do as much. That will help reduce the size of the federal government as well.

    Politicians, however, would like expediency in implementing their plans and would like to protect their policies from public scrutiny. Public oversight is not going to be part of any reformation package. Bureaucrats are also jealous of their powers as well. They will probably push back against congressional oversight arguing that Congress would inhibit them from doing their job properly.

    Personally, I would prefer if some of these bureaucrats were completely robbed of their jobs when the people finally decide that they aren’t necessary after all.

  • tim randle

    who wrote this? what part of:
    “avoid meddling with grant and contract decisions” equates to “Grants are made and money is spent not based on where it is needed, but based on where it would be most politically advantageous”???

    there were so many ways this could have been spun, and you chose the path of contradiction.

    and you wonder why middle America laughs at us?

    do us all a favor, and submit all further articles to:
    http://www.spectator.org/
    http://www.freerepublic.com/home.htm

    All the news that’s fit to print and fish too.

    except for the ‘news’ part…who’s side are you on?

  • John Smith

    The federal government was, and was intended to be, much larger than it is now from very early in US history. There were fugitive comissioners in every county grabbing black people off the street and sending them south, with their testimony not accepted in court. The federal gov’t censored mails in peacetime to search out and destroy abolitionist materials under Madison. In fact we should be celebrating the reduced size and intrusiveness of the Federal government.

  • http://none Compurgator

    “It may have been legal?” Using governmental employees and government money to boost election-or re-election campaigns? No, it was probably ILlegal, through the eyes of a long-experienced federal criminal litigator; but then, there’s that nagging presumption that everything this crew does, did, and has been doing, is illegal and tainted. That’s neither”spin”nor “contradiction.” That’s just the way it is and has come to be.

  • Red

    The problem isn’t whether the federal govt is too big. Even if it’s small, the money will still flow to fight for elections rather than fund infrastructure.

    The real problem is our two party system. If we had multiple parties, where there has to be an alliance between two or more for majority, we’ll see less of this sort of abuse.

    And for that, we need election reform. Rank voting (preferential voting), and voting by mail is the only thing that’ll change the perpetual two-party death match we have today.

  • Bob Gratrix

    “We can either continue with the way things are, or fundamentally change the nature of government in the country and return it to what it was intended to be.

    The choice is ours.”

    Instead of all the pissing and moaning that’s going on about the mess we’re in as citizens of a totally corrupt government (Rep & Dem!!) and failed election system, why not write the REAL article that everyone is waiting for? Just how do you or any of us propose to change ANYTHING AT ALL? What a waste.

  • BV

    There is nothing more disgusting than people splitting hairs with the letter of the law to break the intent of laws. There are so many people in this country that think manipulating the system is a game. They pervert and distort till what was created for good turns on itself.

  • http://www.internet-encyclopedia.org/index.php/Main_Page Terryeo

    A government that serves for the good of its people is a country rising in power. Whereas a government serving the good of its members is a government in decline. Rome declined. While worthy of address, the arguements here brought forth are the spawn of unworthy government. Read, “Carl Rove hid America, from America”. Read “Bush marched in step”.

  • Rob S

    “The real problem is our two party system.” (Comment posted by Red)

    I often hear the comment that the two party system is the root of all evil. Let’s consider the alternative. Research into group election behavior with multiple parties, i.e., greater than two, indicates that the result usually leads to a candidate LESS preferred by the population. The vote is split between the two most preferred candidates (or parties) and instead a marginal candidate emerges victorious.

    A real world example suggests similar problems: Historically, Italy has the most parties of an industrialized nation yet one of the most inefficient governments (and arguably one of the most corrupt).

    Add these problems to the American governmental system, already one of the most decentralized in the world, and devastating problems could emerge. The two party system may have its problems but multiple parties could make the system much worse. The risk just isn’t worth it.

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  • http://www.no-treason.com Joshua Holmes

    The real problem is our two party system.

    Indeed, we could have six major parties and no corruption, like Italy.

  • http://www.belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis

    Joshua,

    Indeed, we could have six major parties and no corruption, like Italy.

    Indeed. ;)

  • js290

    …yet one of the most inefficient governments

    Isn’t that a good thing? If the effect of more parties is more corruption diluted across the parties making government even more inefficient, then let’s start having more political parties. The problem with the two party system is the two parties become opposite sides of the same coin. You get laws like the Patriot Act and the resolution authorizing force against Iraq pushed right through. Where was the opposition on those?

    If you want less government corruption, simply have less government.

  • TanGeng

    Simply having less government is a good idea. But to control corruption, you should have public oversight and visibility into the decision making processes. Injecting those things into the legislation and bureaucratic process would invariably force the government to shrink as everything it does slows down.

    It would be inefficient government in terms of bringing policy from idea to fruition, but what does government do that isn’t inefficient. We would be saving more by weeding out all the awful ideas that come up every single day and somehow get implemented despite their lack of merit.

  • T. Johnston

    Until we as a Social Democracy abandon this rediculous claim that Money is equatable to Free Speach, and that Corporations should be given the exact same rights ( if not more.. ) that a person may have, we will continue on the path to a new era of American Neo-Fascism!

    “Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” -Abraham Lincoln-

  • sojourner

    There’s a saying:
    The cure for Bad democracy is more democracy.
    The two party system can’t capture the diversity of viewpoints in our country. We have video poker machines that are more sophisticated than our voting machines. The issues with electronic voting are technical and can be fixed and verified. Internet voting on the issues: we could be fiscally conservative and have a sustainable economy. If Citicorp can transfer millions of dollars a day, WE can have a safe, transparent voting system that will solve issues.
    Previous writer who wrote about corporations being equal in the eyes of the law with citizens is exactly right–this must change. (GE spent $79,000,000 on lobbying in 2005) ..you got that kind of money? The truth is becoming a commodity and is being bought and sold.
    Also, Univ of Chicago professor’s idea–BLIND TRUST for campaign contributions: anyone and any corporation can give as much as they want to candidate X..but it goes into a blind trust and the candidate doesn’t even know the contributor. It’s a good idea.
    Thomas Jefferson said words to the effect that ‘democracies rely on an educated populace’.
    Let’s fix this mess.

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