Karl Rove Directed Government Funds For Political Gainby 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.