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Corruption in Campaign Finance

Campaign Finance is a funny subject. You have blatantly illegal and corrupt behavior or you have violations grounded in arbitrary restrictions on spending.

There has been a lot of posturing on the topic of campaign finance violations in the last few years. Some believe that Citizens United and those who support it want a free-for-all in campaign spending. The norms that guide us to eschew corruption would still prohibit some of the more outrageous or blatant campaign finance violations.

While the past few years urged us to look into the campaign policies of Trump and his alleged violations of campaign finance regs, some were able to bring up violations by the Obama campaign. That of course was dismissed as whataboutism.

But whataboutism is useful in drawing distinctions.

Cue Rep Ilhan Omar.

According to Fox,

“Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., repeatedly violated state rules when she used campaign funds to pay for personal out-of-state travel as well as help on her tax returns and must reimburse her former campaign committee nearly $3,500, Minnesota campaign finance officials ruled Thursday.

Omar had called the claims politically motivated. In a statement, her congressional campaign said she is “glad this process is complete” and that she intends to comply with the board’s findings.

Now let’s compare that to Trump and Obama.

Trump: Spends his own money to pay off a porn star. Politicians and lawyers wonder whether this was done to influence the election. Cohen’s testimony said this would have been done regardless of the election.

Obama: didn’t notify the FEC for some stuff, didn’t give excessive donations back to donors in time (excessive amounts that weren’t illegal but for arbitrary caps).

In neither Trump’s case nor Obama’s did anyone actually misuse campaign funds. Trump paying off a porn star is tacky and immoral. Paperwork errors by the Obama campaign are petty.

But! Not all campaign finance violations are so petty. If an employee were to use company funds for something other than company business, we might call that embezzlement. It’s not just an employment finance violation.

Omar’s alleged violations are problematic for that reason.

Fox added,

“Rep. Omar must personally reimburse the Omar committee $3,469.23,” the report concludes. “This reimbursement payment is the total amount of campaign funds that were used for purposes not permitted by statute in 2016 and 2017. Rep. Omar must provide documentation within 30 days from the date of this order showing the deposit of the reimbursement into the Omar committee’s account.”

But the alleged violations are problematic for another reason. That reason is intellectual consistency. I have explained how the Trump and Obama violations were different. While some want impeachment to follow alleged campaign finance violations, they will surely not vote to expel Rep Omar for campaign finance violations.

I’m not saying they should, but they should consider how seriously they take the issue of campaign finance when mixed with corruption. After all, some in the Senate worry about dark money in politics every day and night. They lose sleep at the thought of individuals spending money in politics. Let’s hope the corrupt use of campaign funds makes them lose sleep too.

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