Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 21, 2020
Using our tax money for political campaign strikes me as plain wrong, no matter who’s doing it — that unpleasant intersection between money and politics a recurring theme in this column.
When it is Donald Trump using the federal government — and our tax money — for political promotion, it seems doubly doubtful, since he has plenty of high-rollers –and his own money, of course — to back his play, and there has been plenty of pushback against the practice. Plus, Trump doesn’t appear to pay his legal bills or reimburse cities where he holds rallies for security costs, Politico suggested again this week.
President have always used Air Force One for transportation, Secret Service for security, unpaid daily television coverage and thinly guised presidential visits as outwardly political events during reelection campaigns.
Trump takes it all to the next level, by booking his large entourages into Trump-owned properties, by calling distinctly political events like his recent, illegal, post-virus White House lawn rally government business — and by sticking Trump labels on government largess in what are obvious attempts at political advertising.
Food banks across the United States are intercepting and removing a signed letter that Trump ordered to be included in every basket, giving himself credit for providing help during the pandemic — as if he were not dependent on bipartisan congressional votes. Drug companies are rebelling at distributing discount purchase cards to seniors, and even a Department of Health and Human Services lawyer is saying the practice may be illegal.
Now comes Politico.com with a report that “the farther behind Donald Trump has fallen in the competition for campaign dollars, the more he’s milked government resources to make up the difference.”
In Summary: Greed at Our Expense
What the story neatly outlines — themes that other news outlets also have noticed — is that millions of boxes of food to needy families have been stuffed with letters signed by the president taking credit or a late-inning call for an $8 billion program for drug-discount cards to seniors featuring Trump branding. The Department of Health and Human Services was ordered to launch a $300 million advertising blitz to “defeat despair” over the coronavirus pandemic, clearly a central issue in the election.
“Each of those initiatives have two things in common: They’re paid for with taxpayer money, and they are plainly intended to help Trump’s flagging reelection campaign. The actions are just the latest examples of how the president has eviscerated the traditional boundaries separating politics from government,” concludes Politico.
We should note that there have been many press accounts — some acknowledged by Trump and some disputed — that the Trump campaign has lagged in its fund-raising, as compared with the Biden-Harris crowd. The Trump campaign has stopped advertising in particular states like Michigan, as Biden is adding coverage, in accordance with polling that shows those states to be slipping from Trump’s potential win column.
Moreover, Biden apparently finds himself flush enough to buy enough air time in states like Arizona, Georgia, even Kansas and Ohio as to put those states in play.
As those trends spiral, Trump has become sharper about using federal agencies to promote him as well as his policies, as with the health department campaign, or his demands that the Justice Department find criminal fault with his opponents, and the specific use of political for distribution of money.
Another $13 billion just was committed to farmers who can make business claims from pandemic effects, as one example.
Nick Schwellenbach, senior investigator with the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight, told Politico, “I do firmly believe that Trump has blended his personal business and the functioning of government in a way we’ve seen perhaps never in United States history.”
It’s Gotten Worse
One could argue that this has been underway since Trump took office in 2017, but it certainly has increased this year. The Republican National Convention held its nominating ceremony on the White House South Lawn in August, and in the middle of the convention, Trump issued a pardon and held a naturalization ceremony, mixing government and political jobs.
Trump ignored Democratic complains about Hatch Act violations, and is paying no attention to requests for an investigation. Nor will he even raise an eyebrow over calls to investigate the attempted distribution of labeled drug-discount cards to 39 million seniors three weeks before the election — a move that was quashed by pharmaceutical companies who did not want to be used as political pawns.
It has all gotten worse since Biden-Harris started raising more cash than Trump-Pence in a politics-spending race that will pass a billion dollars before it is done.
Last month, the Justice Department moved to assume costs of a civil defamation case brought by New York writer E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of raping her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s. It means that we’re paying for Trump’s defense in a sexual assault civil suit.
What we have here is a moment of clarity: Trump is misusing his office for personal gain. It shouldn’t happen.