Ticking time bomb in New Jersey
Ari Melber wrote up a nice concise piece last week about why New Jersey voters should be concerned about Corey Booker's "extracurricular" business ventures. The rap on them has been that he should have been more transparent and that it presents conflict of interest. Melber points out that while Booker failed to disclose his ties to the company in any official way, he's been tweeting about it and talking about it to the press so some interpret that be be transparent enough. (I think there's something very suspect about failing to note the huge sums of money your allegedly highly public business venture brought you on your financial disclosure forms, but maybe that's just me.)
The conflict of interest charges are something else. There is just no doubt that this is a problem:
Let’s start with why we have rules for campaigns. Donations to campaigns have a huge impact on politicians’ careers, so they are legally limited to reduce the risk of corruption.
Perhaps this could be overlooked if it weren't for this example of his public servility to the big money boyz what brung him:
It’s illegal to give a candidate $100,000 for his campaign, for example, because that much direct cash could make the candidate overly indebted to one person – or risk appearing too indebted. (The legal standard for this line is “appearance of impropriety,” the idea that politicians and institutions lose legitimacy if a conflict looks shady to the public, even if it’s only an appearance.)
Likewise, it’s illegal to give most politicians large gifts. You can buy a U.S. senator a T-shirt, if you’re not a lobbyist or foreign agent, but not a suit. (The gift cap is $50.)
But what about “giving” a candidate a large “investment” in his company?
The same concerns apply – the large amount of money can corrupt the candidate, with far more personal impact than campaign cash, or it could simply feed a public perception of corruption.
Depending on the company, the politician might garner “investments” because of his power in government, not actual interest in the company. Those “investments” might look more like gifts – a backdoor for people who want to get around rules on gifts and campaign donations. And those investor/donors could wield special influence over the candidate.
Booker’s bottom line
Do any of these concerns apply to Booker?
That partly depends what you think of Waywire. After reviewing its business model, reporter Tim Fernholz concludes that it probably didn’t “attract investments from Silicon Valley’s brightest on its own merits,” raising the prospect that Booker used his power “to raise money for himself.”
Plenty of financiers would object, however, that few ventures raise money on a pure “merit” test, sans rolodex. Especially for start-ups, investments can represent a bet on the people launching an idea as much as a bet on the idea itself. (That’s how Jay-Z explains his profitable brand: “I’m not a businessman – I’m a business, man!)
Still, that defense is less available to Booker, who stresses that he doesn’t run the company. In political terms, Booker was never Waywire’s campaign manager — he was its fundraising director.
As political readers will remember, because it was a huge deal at the time, Booker went on Meet The Press and defended private equity investors against criticism from the Obama campaign. Many politicos were mystified at why a top Obama surrogate would pick that moment to strongly defend Bain Capital. Booker said the president’s attack on private equity was “nauseating,” and equated criticism of its business practices on the Left to conservative attacks on Jeremiah Wright. The White House was livid, as was the Democratic base.
Let's just say that someone with this record and a willingness to publicly buck his own president and the Democratic Party in a hard fought campaign sounds like Wall Street's buying itself its own Joe Lieberman.
No one can read Booker’s mind, and to be fair, he’s not exactly the first politician who can be challenged for prioritizing the priorities of the donor class. But it’s fair to ask whether, faced with a democracy that already gives huge influence to political donors, we want politicians to dream up new ways to connect with elite investors, especially if it’s unclear what exactly they want to invest in.
It will not surprise me if there's more trouble brewing along these lines. He has no shame when it comes to courting the 1% and who knows what sort of deals have been made? (It was just reported that he failed to disclose long term payouts from his former law firm as well.) What else is out there? And even if it's all strictly legal, it sure looks like Booker doesn't care much about the appearance of being crooked which doesn't bode well for a US Senate candidate. It's not impossible that the Democrats' worst nightmare could come true and another big shoe could drop before the general election, allowing the Republican nightmare candidate to take this seat by default. He's a ticking time bomb.
And that sad thing is that New Jersey has real honest and progressive candidates for this seat who would do justice to Frank Lautenberg's legacy. And none more than Congressman Rush Holt.
Update: Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars has the full bill of indictment against Booker. It's worse than I thought.