Hinkle’s reasoning, such as it is, has to do with a central tenet of the McDonnell legal defense, the one that didn’t have the former governor blaming it all on his wife. “Federal law,” the McDonnell team claimed, “makes clear that quid pro quos can just as easily come in the form of campaign donations as personal gifts.”
Um, well, this is a nice try, but federal law does not make this clear, and in fact, it makes clear otherwise, that campaign donations are free speech. Remember Citizens United? That case championed by conservatives like, oh, I don’t know, Bart Hinkle, that spelled out how political donations from corporate donors and individual donors alike are protected speech?
What distinguished the McDonnell case from the standard campaign donation is that the money didn’t go to back a political effort, but rather went directly into personal coffers, or in the case of the Rolex watch given to the governor and the shopping sprees for the former First Lady, onto their wrists and their backs.
Which is not to say that most of us wouldn’t back an expansion of state and federal law making it easier to prosecute officeholders for taking campaign donations from benefactors who use the access gained through their monies to advocate for changes in public policy that work to their personal benefit. Our country would certainly be better off if that were the case; imagine, public policies enacted not for the benefit of the monied elites, but for the common good. Unless you’re a monied elite, you’re not going to be opposed to that notion.
But that’s not the way our system works, or ever will work. The people who would need to change those laws have no incentive to do so; they are where they are because they learned how to work the current system, and if it ain’t broke, from their selfish perspectives, why bother trying to fix it?
Which brings us back to Bart Hinkle. Not even he believes this claptrap reasoning that he’s offered here as a line of defense for McDonnell. They all do it. Sure, they all do it, depending on what you mean by the word it. If you mean by it broadly accepting money from big-time donors who expect certain actions as a result of the exchange, then by all means, yes. That’s not where McDonnell ran afoul of current laws, weak though they are. The it in his case was a Rolex, shopping sprees, vacations.
A lot of us, Republicans, Democrats, agnostics alike, would back the much broader view of it. I doubt seriously that the people for whom Bart Hinkle carries water want to see us get anywhere close to doing that.
Do that, and the response to Jesus overturning tables in the temple will look like a walk in the park.
– Column by Chris Graham