Ben Cardin v. Dan Bongino: Reasonable questions.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On Monday, May 21, Next Contestant published a piece called “9. Ben Cardin v Dan Bongino: Money buys access.” The article was about campaign financing and, specifically, the $563,946 which Senator Ben Cardin’s campaign has received from 43 organizations related to the health care services industry. Of those 43, the top 2 contributors are the American Medical Association PAC ($141,588) and the American Hospital Association PAC ($64,757). Please refer to the original article for source information.

The reason these particular campaign contributions are attention-getting is that Senator Cardin is on the Senate Committee on Finance’s Subcommittee on Health Care.

Someone reacted to Monday’s article by arguing that, just because someone receives substantial contributions from an industry related to an elected official’s committee assignment doesn’t mean that official has done anything wrong, has allowed his or her vote or legislative agenda to be affected by those contributions. To that point, let me say, unequivocally, that the maker of this comment is absolutely right. Coincidence, in and of itself, proves nothing – a point I made in Monday’s article.

Okay, let’s think about these campaign contributions from the contributor’s point of view. You’re the American Medical Association Political Action Committee. You contribute $141,588, which is a lot of money, to the campaign of a Senator on the Subcommittee for Health Care. Why did you do that? There are only two possible answers: One is that you like what this particular candidate stands for, and want him elected, and that’s all there is to it. That’s the benign conclusion. Unfortunately, there’s another possibility.

Big fan or not of the candidate, the other reason you would contribute all that money is to make the candidate beholden to you. To make sure that, if you call to talk about prospective or pending legislation, the candidate will take that call and allow that meeting in his office or some nice DC restaurant. What the heck, they can meet at Chipotle. It doesn’t make any difference where they meet. The point is, the contributor may have a reasonable expectation of “access” to the official. And even if the meeting is just a courtesy, even if the Senator or Congressman has no intention whatsoever of being swayed by the arguments the contributor makes, the contributor still has access. And it’s access we ordinary people don’t have.

In Monday’s article, I went out of my way to point out precisely the observation the anonymous commenter made, that coincidence is proof of nothing – nothing except the potential for “access.” And for that reason, we have every right, in fact, one could argue that it is the duty of the electorate to ask reasonable questions about the extent of access that large dollar contributors have obtained, and what, if any, affect those conversations might have had on legislation.

Senator Cardin is a good, smart, politically astute man. His campaign may be officially offended, maybe, but Senator Cardin himself knows reasonable questions when he hears them. And you know what? If he finds the questions insulting, he can to two things to put them to rest. The first is to answer those questions. The second is to stop accepting money from contributors whose interests are aligned with the Senator’s committee assignments. That would, after all, avoid the appearance of impropriety, and questions, reasonable questions about the potential for impropriety would never come up.

-Next Contestant

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