A Wichita Eagle news story concerning a candidate for the Republican Party nomination for United States Congress from the fourth district of Kansas has sparked controversy for its reporting of some factual issues, and also for its coverage of the politics surrounding the campaign.
The story (Big D.C. names host Pompeo fundraiser, May 16 Wichita Eagle) reports on a fundraising event held in Washington DC for Mike Pompeo. The event was held at the home of Robert “Bud” McFarlane, and was attended by, according to the Eagle article, “former federal officials, lobbyists, consultants and political action committees.”
Readers with long memories may have trouble with the Eagle story when it reports “He [McFarlane] was convicted of lying to Congress about the administration’s plan to sell arms to Iran and divert proceeds to the Contras, a guerrilla movement then waging war against the leftist government in Nicaragua.” As a guest on KPTS public affairs television program “Kansas Week” on Friday, Dion Lefler, the author of the Eagle story, repeated the assertion that McFarlane was convicted of lying to Congress.
The actual facts are that McFarlane entered a guilty plea. He was not convicted, as reported by a contemporaneous New York Times story: “Robert C. McFarlane, President Reagan’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty today to four misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress and agreed to serve as a prosecution witness in the criminal investigation of the Iran-contra affair.” (“McFarlane admits withholding data on aid to contras,” March 12, 1988 New York Times.)
There’s a distinction between being convicted of a crime and pleading guilty. While some may view it as a distinction without a difference, it was certainly important at the time, and is part of the historical record.
The Eagle story also reports on McFarlane’s current involvement in Sudan, specifically with the people of the Darfur region of that country. The United States has called the actions of the Sudanese government against these people genocide. In the Eagle story, congressional candidate and Kansas Senator Jean Schodorf noted that the Kansas legislature voted to divest the state of any business interests with Sudan. McFarlane, however, disputes the contention that he is working for the government of Sudan. Based on her interview with McFarlane, State of the State KS’s Rebecca Zepick reported: “McFarlane said he was disappointed the story was virtually wrong in all elements about his testimony on the arms sale deal and on his work overseas. McFarlane says he works to coach the tribal leaders of Darfur, often the victims of ethnic cleansing, as they prepare to negotiate a peace agreement with the central government.” (Former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane Speaks Out On Support for Mike Pompeo, State of the State KS, May 17.)
The politics of the article deserve discussion, such as the role of lobbyists at the fundraising event, and in the campaign in general. Pompeo’s opponents have criticized him for accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists. Part of the problem we have is understanding and even appreciating the role of lobbyists both at the federal and the state government levels. I spent quite a bit of time in Topeka this spring observing the Kansas legislature and surrounding activity, and I came to understand the role of lobbyists more clearly. While it’s true that the popular perception of lobbying — described by one writer as “sinister influence peddling by pressure groups with reckless disregard for the general welfare” — contains an element of truth and is an important area of concern, lobbyists do play useful roles.
For one, lobbyists play a useful role in gathering and transmitting information to their clients and others. While this is also the job of the news media, many clients require more detailed and specific information and analysis of what’s happening in the legislature or Congress as it regards their interests.
Second, many lobbyists are simply trying to protect their clients from harm. They are not necessarily seeking anything from government except to not be harmed.
I also observed times where legislators rely upon lobbyists for technical abilities such as analyzing the effect of a change to legislation on the insurance industry, for example.
While advocates of limited government such as myself wish for a day when government is so inconsequential that lobbying is neither necessary nor productive, that day is not here. In fact, with the actions and policies of the Obama Administration — Bush’s too, for that matter — government is becoming larger and more intrusive, meaning that lobbyists are going to play a role.
To simply pretend that lobbying does not exist is naïve and does not take into account the realities of the current political environment. Further, while one of Pompeo’s opponents, Kansas Senator Jean Schodorf, has apparently not received contributions from lobbyists or political action committees in her campaign for the nomination for Congress, she has accepted many such contributions for her Kansas senate campaigns.
Examination of Schodorf’s campaign finance reports from the last time she ran for office (her campaign for the Kansas Senate in 2008) shows that she received campaign contributions from many political action committees. Some of these PACs are controlled by groups such as the Kansas National Education Association (the teachers union) that also extensively lobby the Kansas legislature for increased spending — which Schodorf accommodates, as she did in the current legislative session. She voted for a budget that increased state spending partly for schools, and voted for the bill that raised the state’s sales tax to pay for the spending.
A further issue that deserves discussion is the source of campaign contributions. The story itself — certainly the quotes from Pompeo’s opponents — paints a picture of Pompeo raising large sums of money from Washington sources. In a phone conservation, Pompeo said that this characterization is not accurate, that over 80% of the money he’s raised is from Kansas. While the other Republican candidates have not raised much money from outside Kansas, one candidate has: Democrat Raj Goyle, the likely opponent for the Republican nominee in the November general election.
For Goyle, the proportion of in-state versus out-of-state contributions is roughly reversed from Pompeo’s. A quick analysis performed by myself on Goyle’s campaign contributions through March 31 showed 33% of the dollars coming from donors in Kansas. The remaining donations came from donors outside of Kansas. This analysis is confirmed by analysis available at the website OpenSecrets.org, which showed Goyle’s campaign contributions from Kansas at 32% of his total.
The same analysis from OpenSecrets.org showed that for the Pompeo campaign, 82% of contributed funds came from donors within Kansas, with 18% from outside of Kansas.
Interestingly, the OpenSecrets.org analysis showed that the leading metropolitan area that has contributed to Goyle is the Washington DC area, with donors there having contributed about $149,000 to his campaign. The Wichita metro area was just behind at $148,000.
For the Pompeo campaign, donors in the Wichita metro area contributed $434,000. The next metropolitan area was Chicago at $16,500, and contributions from the Washington metro area were just below $10,000. For Pompeo, this figure does not include contributions from the fund-raising event that is the subject of the Wichita Eagle article.
While Pompeo is not running against Goyle at this time, the Wichita Eagle has shown a tendency to paint Goyle in the best way possible for someone running for Congress in a fairly conservative district. My post Raj Goyle is not moderate or conservative, even for a Democrat highlighted the Eagle’s characterization of Goyle as a blue dog Democrat, meaning a fiscally conservative Democrat. Such a description would be helpful to Goyle in his campaign against the eventual Republican nominee.
As my story reported, “fiscally conservative” does not describe Goyle’s past voting record in the Kansas House of Representatives, although this year Goyle voted in a more conservative way. In my new edition of the Kansas Economic Freedom Index, Goyle scores quite well, better than 30 Republican members of the House. Voters will have to judge for themselves whether this change in voting represents a true change in Goyle’s governing philosophy or is merely election-year posturing.
In the end, the criticism leveled at Pompeo by his election opponents as a Washington insider may simply be a reaction to his success at fundraising not only in Washington but elsewhere. Eagle reporter Lefler, again speaking on the most recent Kansas Week, said “The real irony in all of this, is that four five years ago, having an event like this would have been an absolute plus for a candidate. This was the kind of thing that that showed you have the gravitas to actually go to Washington and actually get some things done.”