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Ben Ginsberg Reacting To Democrat Allegations Of Foreign Money In Campaigns

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

HH: I’m beginning with the story I led with yesterday when I talked with Karl Rove about this astonishing series of attacks from the Democratic National Committee and President, and Vice President Biden on Karl and all of his friends in the campaign world, alleging that he and Ed Gillespie and the Chamber of Commerce are breaking laws left and right. Well, when the question concerns campaign finance law, the person you should ask is Ben Ginsberg. Ben is a partner at Patton Boggs in Washington, D.C. He has been counsel before to Bush-Cheney 2000, Bush-Cheney 2004, Romney in 2008, pretty much every campaign ever. Ben Ginsberg, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

BG: Thanks, Hugh, great to be with you.

HH: We are very much looking forward to having you out at Chapman Law School a week from Friday at the Citizens United symposium.

BG: Well, I’m looking forward, too. It sounds like a great group of people there to discuss it.

HH: We never anticipated, however, that a symposium would be about, in the front pages of the New York Times. What is it that the Democrats are alleging, Ben Ginsberg, as best you can tell?

BG: Well, it is a little bit difficult to tell. What they’ve been alleging the most is that somehow, there are secret donations from foreign corporations coming in as part of the independent expenditures and issue ads that the Supreme Court has given its blessing to over the past few years. It turns out there’s no proof for that. And that, you would think, would embarrass the administration a little bit, but no. And I guess the second charge that they’re making, Hugh, is that they would like the donors to these groups disclosed, which is all well and good, other than it is not what the law is. A bill to do that failed, because it was such a one-sided, partisan bill. And the Democrats really didn’t seem to mind that disclosure, lack of disclosure too much during the 2006 and 2008 cycles when their groups outspent conservative groups by about $400 million dollars.

HH: Now if I assess this, Ben, it’s that the President and his political team have decided to take advantage over a great deal of confusion over Citizens United, and that’s why we’re having this symposium next with you and with Grant Davis-Denny of Munger Tolles and a number of other experts on Citizens United, is to explain what the law said. But into this confusion about what the Supreme Court decided, they’ve added this rather menacing note, this sinister accusation that foreign influence is somehow at work here, and I just don’t see any evidence of that. Do you?

BG: There’s absolutely no evidence of it. There’s no evidence by the Chamber of Commerce. There’s no evidence of it by any of the unions, frankly, that are all international unions – SEIU, AFL. They all have international chapters. Nobody’s alleging that indeed the money from their international chapters that gets intermixed into their treasuries is going to politics. There isn’t. Remember, the President sort of dropped this little notion in his State of the Union speech, which of course got Justice Alito shaking his head at the time, and got a lot of press. So it’s been something that’s been in the President’s mind ever since the Citizens United decision. It was never clear whether the Democrats sort of going on about this issue is because Obama’s made a mistake and they’ve got to now kind of cover up for it, or because they really think it’s happening, or it’s just their kind of constant quest this cycle to find a Republican to run against.

HH: Now Ben Ginsberg, let’s break it down for the audience. Let’s say your phone rings, you’re at Patton Boggs, and the phone rings, and it’s, you know, the CEO of some major corporation, and they say Ben, I’m very exercised about this Senator or that Congressman, or this issue. What can I do with my corporation’s money to win or lose that election? How do you respond to that?

BG: Well, you have a number of options under the law. Your corporation can start a political action committee that can give direct contributions to candidates. Your corporation, now after Citizens United, can run independent expenditures in its own name talking about it. By the way, the number of corporations that actually sell a product in the marketplace that have undertaken independent expenditures is about none.

HH: Wow.

BG: And the third option is to try and encourage trade association that your corporation belongs to, a chamber of commerce, to undertake political activity, although you really can’t specify who the member of Congress is, or you’ll end up being reported yourself. Or you can give money to social welfare organization, a 501C-4, that’s doing similar work. Or as a corporation, you can give money to the super-PACs that the FEC has given permission to exist since Citizens United.

HH: And so if you want, there are lots of legal things to do. The people who want to play in elections, they don’t have to go import dirty foreign money. Not only is it criminal, it would be stupid to try and do such a thing in this environment.

BG: That’s exactly right. I mean, let’s remember that the Democrats this cycle have tried to run against George W. Bush. That didn’t work so well, so they backed off. They tried to run against John Boehner. That didn’t work so well, so they backed off. And now they seem to be trying to run against Karl and Ed, and sort of intermix this notion of foreign money in there. And that doesn’t seem to be working so well, because if you’re a Democrat running attack ads, and the New York Times in a news story debunks your theory…

HH: Yup.

BG: And then the Washington Post today editorialized against it, that should be a hint to you.

HH: All right, we’ll get into this at length next Friday, a week from Friday at the symposium. But let me conclude by asking you this, Ben. After Citizens United, is American democracy better off or less well off that we have more money in politics, more easily applied?

BG: Well, I think what you’re seeing is more speech in the marketplace. In other words, there is more information out there that voters can use to base their decision. And that really is the fundamental principle behind the democracy, that there is free speech, that all voices should be heard. And so to the extent that the money is a sign that people are engaged in the process this time around, that is a very good thing for democracy. In fact, it’s the essence of democracy.

HH: Ben Ginsberg of Patton Boggs, thanks for adding a little bit more light to all the darkness out there, and we will see you a week from Friday in Orange, California at Chapman Law School. Thank you, Ben.

BG: Great. I look forward to it, Hugh. Thanks.

End of interview.

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