Wednesday, April 23, 2003

# Posted 8:09 PM by Patrick Belton  

SUSPICIOUS: I just received a letter addressed to me and asking for a $25,000 contribution to the President's re-election campaign. (A year of law school, or dinner. Yeah, why not....)

What's interesting about this is that, not only am I not registered as a Republican, but having just moved into Washington, absolutely no one had my name or address. Being a bad citizen (and not that interested in politics...), I hadn't yet gotten around to registering to vote. And the WaPo and all of my magazine subscriptions (for the oh-so-curious and my stalkers: the Economist, NY and London Reviews of Books, and the New Yorker) are jointly in Rachel's and my name.

However, I had sent my resume to the National Security Council to apply for a position on its staff - even though my chances of getting a job there from a cold letter were between zero and none, given that this administration unlike its predecessor has drawn together an NSC staff generally composed of tenured faculty. However, being from an absurdly wealthy working-class southern family and having married into an equally wealthy dynasty which inhabits a log cabin in Alaska, I just had nothing better to do with those 37 cents. Neither Rachel nor any of my neighbors received the letter.

I'm therefore left, for want of a better explanation, with the conclusion that this administration is making a practice of adding people applying for positions in the administration (including such nominally nonpartisan bodies as the NSC staff) to the White House's political database of potential contributors.

Now, I support much if not most of what this administration has done in foreign policy. But mixing governing and re-elective databases, and sending letters asking for fairly massive donations to people who had applied for foreign policy positions in the administration seems, somehow, slightly crass if not downright unethical. I say this not from any ideological or partisan motivation for attacking the president, but simply from a strong remembrance from my time as a congressional staffer of the strong ethical firewall that had been erected between casework and campaign databases, and in general between government and campaign offices.

Too many more of these letters, and, and, I just might even get around to registering to vote in D.C.!!!! (New Haven, I found out, has kicked me off the rolls - fair enough, since I'm not dead yet.)

UPDATE: A number of readers, including some Republican staffers admirably concerned to make sure that the White House was in compliance with campaign finance laws, have asked me for more information about which precise fundraising push the letter was part of. Our Republican readers particularly wanted to ensure that all this didn't controvene somehow the legislated individual donor limits of $2,000 per campaign cycle.

Now my actual invitation hitched a ride to the Pentagon with Rachel this morning on the dashboard of my car, but I believe it was for this fundraiser - the House and Senate Republicans' presidential dinner on May 21. Dinner tickets are $2,500 each, and tables were the big-ticket item at $25,000 each.

I'm inclined to be fairly confident the organizers' lawyers were probably pretty fastidious on this point (this confidence in the wisdom of campaigns comes in spite of having served on the staff of many of them....), but I'd nevertheless be very interested if anyone could give me a bit more information on the point.
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