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Thursday, February 26, 2004

VandeHei Watch: 2.26.04

Ceci Connolly had another article on drug importation from Canada in Wednesday's Post. It's an important issue but I'll be sticking with the campaign journalism in this space, which she may return to this summer. For now, it looks like I'll be watching Jim VandeHei who is on the front page of Thursday's Post.

Up front, I admit the premise of the article is correct. It is hypocritical for Kerry to denounce "Benedict Arnold" companies and CEOs and to accept money from companies that fit his own description of such firms and individuals. In fact, the whole "Benedict Arnold" line is foolish and I wish he's drop it from the stump speech.

That said, I think the article is rather lacking in perspective and VandeHei is once again going to end up providing Bush/Cheney '04 with advertising material, as he did with his inaccurate claim about Kerry and special interest money. VandeHei seems to sense this line of criticism of his reporting, so he gives the overall dollar figures early on:

Executives and employees at such companies have contributed more than $140,000 to Kerry's presidential campaign, a review of his donor records shows. Additionally, two of Kerry's biggest fundraisers, who together have raised more than $400,000 for the candidate, are top executives at investment firms that helped set up companies in the world's best-known offshore tax havens, federal records show. Kerry has raised nearly $30 million overall for his White House run.

So it's a few hundred thousand dollars he's focusing on out of $30 million total raised, about 2 percent. He's not making much of a case for this being on the front page, especially since, as VandeHei admits, "Given the vast sums raised during the presidential campaign as well the growing number of companies with offshore operations, it seems almost inevitable that candidates would receive contributions from some of them." What is the cutoff point at which these contributions become more than just incidental happenstance and a real inconsistency with the campaign message? Two percent seems rather arbitrary.

While the charges about Kerry taking special interest money and the exposes of his fundraising have been all over the Post front page lately, there has been little examination of Bush's much larger fundraising apparatus that has raked in over $100 million in an uncontested primary season. It would be understandable if readers came away with the impression that the Democrats were the party of shady financial backers, which is hardly the case, based on the relative volume of Post coverage on the parties' fundraising practices (see here). VandeHei also senses this critique and dismisses it in one sentence:

Bush has taken exponentially more from these companies than Kerry, though the president has not made a major campaign issue out of clamping down on them.

If the special interests charge is any indication of how the Bushies will take this article and run with it, though, they will happily go around repeating VandeHei's charge of Kerry hypocrisy now that it's in the Post. In doing so, they themselves will be capitalizing on the same sentiment that is driving Kerry to appeal to voters along these lines. Indeed, White House backtracking from Greg Mankiw's controversial statement on outsourcing last week was an indication that they recognize at least the need to cater to this point of view. The argument, then, is not entirely about consistency with one's formally stated views but also what the campaigns seem to be acknowledging as legitimate positions through their actions, in this case the position that off-shoring jobs and using tax havens are wrong. That means it does matter how much money BC04 has taken from such companies, and all VandeHei tells us is that it's "exponentially more" than Kerry.

The Post obviously has the capability to find the dollar figure and they should have published it. Such a disclosure would have gone a long way toward preventing the Bush campaign from hypocritically touting Kerry hypocrisy on this issue.