10 August 2017

Defrauding the donors?

While channel surfing this morning I saw a brief item on Fox News about a Virginia man who was suing the state and local Republican party organizations for fraud. The story is actually about a week old and started here. Bob Heghmann wants the money back that he donated to the GOP last year, contending that Republicans solicited donations under false pretenses. They solicited donations on the promise that they would repeal Obamacare, but Heghmann claims, citing statements from a former Speaker of the House, that they did so knowing that they could not or would not kill the Affordable Care Act. He believes that while "members of the House of Representatives and Senate cannot be sued for failing to abide by campaign promises," the party can be held responsible for its members' failure to fulfill its promises. He considers it the party's responsibility to "pressure" its congressional caucus to live up to those promises. Of course, party spokesmen dismiss Heghmann's suit as frivolous, and I can understand why they'd be angry at him. His complaint puts the lie to an oft-used argument against stricter regulation of campaign donations, which is that donations are not quid-pro-quo transactions. Donors don't give money in return for specific votes, we're to understand, but to support candidates who already have an affinity with donors' values and priorities. Heghmann clearly expected something specific in return for his admittedly-modest donation, and who knows how many donors, modest or not, feel the same way. Common sense may argue that you punish politicians and parties that break their promises at the polls, but that doesn't get Heghmann his money back after he expected it to be effective. If more donors begin to act as he has, or start voting with their wallets by keeping them closed, it will be harder for politicians to sustain the argument that campaign donations aren't intended to influence votes. If a judge ever hears Heghmann's case, I the official to argue that he had no right to expect a quid-pro-quo return on his donation, that too many variables of circumstances make it impossible to hold political parties to such expectations. Those would actually be perfectly valid arguments, practically speaking, but they won't change the truth that Heghmann has spoken about campaign donors and what they expect for their money.

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