The Tammany Times

Hugh Hewitt | Contributing Writer, The Daily Standard | Thursday, September 11, 2003

The Tammany Times

TAMMANY HALL had its house organ, the Leader. Gray Davis and Cruz Bustamante have an even better tool for communicating: the Los Angeles Times. To wit:

In November of 2000, California voters approved Proposition 34--a campaign finance reform initiative. They were urged not to do so by the Los Angeles Times, which found the measure to be insufficiently restrictive on the evil of large contributions. But voters disagreed and enacted the campaign contribution limits.

Less than three years later, Cruz Bustamante has shredded at least the spirit of Prop. 34. The law limits donations from individuals and entities to campaigns for governor to $21,200. The proposition kept restrictions off of statewide races in the 2002 election as one last hurrah under the old regime of unlimited donations--a gift that allowed Gray Davis to raise and spend about $70 million last year. At the conclusion of the race, the new rules snapped into place.

Bustamante ran for reelection as lieutenant governor in the 2002 cycle and was also allowed unlimited donations, which he received (though not at Davis's prolific pace). Bustamante kept that 2002 campaign fund open, and has now accepted into it huge, Prop. 34-busting donations, which are being recycled into the recall race. One casino-operating Indian tribe sent a check for $1.5 million. Another $500,000 was received from a state employees' union.

Initially, Bustamante defended the legality of these donations, but under enormous pressure, he has now declared that the funds will be transferred to the effort to defeat Proposition 54, Ward Connerly's Racial Privacy Initiative. Of course this is a minor concession, since the dough was still raised in violation of the Prop. 34 limits and will still benefit Bustamante indirectly by mobilizing the group that will be his core supporters.

THE BRAZEN NATURE of Bustamante's tactics does not surprise. What is wildly surprising, however, is the Tammany Times's treatment of the proceedings.

The Times attempted an epic effort of contortion in its September 7 editorial, "First, They Grab the Green." The paper knew it could not ignore Bustamante's smash and grab job. But editorializing about it might have been, well, disloyal. So the Times used an old dodge and tossed the lieutenant governor's misdeed in with a list of other offenses, which they pinned on Gray Davis, Tom McClintock, and, of course, Arnold.

You'll have to read the entire editorial [link requires registration] to fully appreciate the paper's Cirque du Soleil routine. They manage to equate Bustamante's recycling with McClintock's position on tribal gaming and Arnold's acceptance of campaign contributions within Prop. 34 limits. They interpret Arnold's disdain of special interest money to mean that he should not accept legal contributions from business interests like land developers. They arrive at a familiar refrain:

"Bustamante's excuses, Schwarzenegger's about-face, Davis' pandering and McClintock's disingenuousness are all part of the same old political game that energized the recall. But the recall itself will do nothing to change it."

The closing paragraph is just icing:

"The hypocrisy that infects the campaigns is a good reason to reject the recall. California should put its money (the recall will cost the state and counties an estimated $66 million) and energy into developing real reform of state government--including campaign fund-raising limits that work."

Get it? Nothing to see here; everyone does it; Vote Davis!

This is real art, in a George Washington Plunkitt sort of way. By dropping a cherished Democratic talking point about the cost of the recall into the editorial's peroration, the editors are signaling to Sacramento that they're sorry they were obliged to scold the party. By invoking hypocrisy Bustamante's wrongs are blended with critiques of the others, and he is excused from any serious rebuke for law-evading. And by sounding again the cry for "fund-raising limits that work," a marker of lefty purity is erected over the grave of the Times's integrity. The paper no doubt regrets the sacrifice of the latter in the service of the former, but these are difficult times. The country's most reliably and insistently liberal government--drivers licenses for illegal aliens, employment rights for the transgendered, medical insurance mandates and tripled car taxes for all--is in trouble and the Los Angeles Times is rushing reinforcements to the front.

Hugh Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show, a nationally syndicated radio talkshow, and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard. His new book, In, But Not Of, has just been published by Thomas Nelson.