HRC’s loan: the ethics and the optics

It looks bad, and it stinks.

1. Why should I give money to a multi-millionaire’s campaign not knowing whether it will go to campaign operations or to pay back the candidate?

2. Why should I give money if the candidate will only lend money? Of course, this isn’t strictly logical, since lending money is a greater commitment than not lending it. But the loan reminds people that the candidate has money to burn.

3. Should someone who supports limits on individual campaign contributions evade those limits by writing a big personal check? (This applies to contributions as well as loans.) Don’t Democrats disapprove of the Romney-Bloomberg style of trying to buy office?

In that regard, consider the words of William Jefferson Clinton:

In response to a question in Cedar Rapids about campaign finance reform, Clinton touched on a possible presidential bid by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“Let’s think of somebody I really admire, the mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg,” Clinton said. “I like him; he’s a really good mayor. But if he’s runs for president, he can spend a billion dollars and not miss it. That’s real money to most of us. Under the law, there are no constraints.”

He railed against the Supreme Court for blocking some attempts to limit the influence of money in politics.

“We are very frustrated because we have a Supreme Court that seems determined to say that the wealthier have more right to free speech than the rest of us.”

And he implied that he would not use his own funds to support his wife’s candidacy.

“For example, they say you couldn’t stop me from spending all the money I’ve saved over the last five years on Hillary’s campaign if I wanted to, even though it would clearly violate the spirit of campaign finance reform,” he said.

Salt, Mr. President? Ketchup? Relish? [And don’t you love that “saved,” as if he’d accumulated an eight-figure fortune by living parsimoniously?]

4. This makes the way the Clintons made their money a political issue and not just a personal one. Insofar as they got rich off their political connections, that was a legitimate question anyway, but this accentuates the problem.

5. If HRC wins the election, or if she doesn’t and goes back to being a powerful senator, there’s going to be a fundraising drive to pay off the debt. Those contributions, unlike routine campaign contributions, will go directly into her pocket. Won’t that put her under a special obligation to those donors? And, since those contributions won’t actually help her get elected to anything, won’t they be especially likely to come from buyers-of-access rather than political supporters?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: