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John Kerry: Man of the Special Interests By: Mark Landsbaum
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Even as John Kerry prepared to position himself before a national electorate as the arch enemy of “special interests,” he was exposed for receiving more campaign cash from lobbyists than any senator over the past 15 years.

Since 1989 Kerry has received $638,358, according to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit organization that analyzes Federal Election Commission campaign records.


Add to that reports that Kerry’s largest contributor, the Boston law firm of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Golovsky and Popeo, represents telecommunications interests and that he has carried its legislative water while interceding with government agencies on its clients’ behalf. And that Kerry sought SEC help for a woman with ties to the Chinese military and got a fund-raiser in return. And that Kerry supported a contracting loophole for American International Group insurance company, which repaid him with donations. And that Kerry recommended individuals for positions at federal home loan banks just before or after they gave him political contributions.


Were these interests not special?


It is becoming increasingly clear that Kerry, the self-described enemy of special interests, hypocritically has been lapping at the special-interest trough himself, and in no small way.


To those unfamiliar with the Massachusetts Democrat, it may appear curious that Kerry claims to be one thing, but actually is the opposite. But those familiar with the flip-flopping leading Democratic presidential candidate aren’t surprised. It’s perfectly in sync with Kerry’s say-one-thing-do-another track record.


After all, Kerry touts himself as a veteran who fought for his country in the Vietnam War, but he made his public debut as leader of a veterans’ group protesting that same war, and even labeled his fellow GIs as murderers, rapists and torturers. Three decades later Kerry voted to go to war in Iraq, but then voted against funding the war. Kerry insists he has always supported the military, but he has voted against nearly two dozen major weapons systems appropriations, weapons integral in the U.S. victories in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not surprisingly, Kerry’s latest anti-trade position also is a reversal. In 1993 Kerry voted for NAFTA, but has since said he wants a 120-day review of all trade pacts, and draconian measures to curb what he calls “Benedict Arnold” CEOs, as if it’s suddenly treasonous to do business in other nations to benefit U.S. stockholders and customers.


Consistency is not Kerry’s strong suit. Playing both sides of an issue for gain is.


“Our position is that the American people are going to discover that John Kerry has a long, long list of issues where his record doesn’t match his rhetoric,” said Kevin Madden, Bush-Cheney 2004 spokesman.


The short-term political upshot is that Kerry’s claim to be the anti-special interest candidate is neutralized somewhat, potentially robbing him of one of the stars on his resume to distinguish him from President George W. Bush.


The Kerry campaign predictably complained that he is not a tool of “special interests,” and indeed that he has refused contributions from Political Action Committees, which is true. But that simply fogs the picture.


There are two things going on in the Kerry campaign’s disingenuous defense and opportunistic offense.


First, Kerry wants to be the one to define which interests are “special,” while dismissing interests as not so “special” when they happen to be aligned with him.


Are the ACLU, the AFL-CIO, the People for the American Way, the Sierra Club, for that matter the entire complex of environmentalists’ lobbies, abortion backers, trial lawyers and other assorted Democratic constituent factions some how not “special interests”? What then? Generic interests?


Indeed, the Democrat’s sacred cow, the McCain-Feingold campaign finance “reform” law, has resulted in piles of cash being channeled through what can only be called “special interest” groups that are now prohibited from giving directly to political parties. These are groups such as the radical leftist MoveOn.org, and America Coming Together, a pro-Democratic Party organization run by labor, environmental and abortion rights activists armed with pledges of $55 million. Are they not “special interests”? Will Kerry disavow such interest groups and urge them not to spend money on anti-Bush ads?


Or will John Kerry be the sole determiner of what constitutes “special interests”?


While the voting public may not notice such sleight of hand, it isn’t lost on political observers across the spectrum.


George Will wrote that it’s hardly cricket for Kerry to claim he’s opposed to special interests influence peddling while being financially supported by outfits like the NEA and AFL-CIO. “Is ‘special’ a synonym for ‘conservative’?” Will asked.


The New Republic’s Peter Beinart acknowledged “…virtually every governor or member of Congress which is to say, virtually every presidential candidate, has raised money from people with an interest in legislation and at some time or another has written a letter, or voted for a bill, on their behalf.” Moreover, Beinart conceded, “Kerry has occasionally helped out his financial backers, sometimes at the public’s expense.”


The truth is a case can be made that Kerry is very much a kept-man by his own interest groups, despite his desire to cast President George W. Bush as the one beholden to “special interests.”


Kerry clearly had hoped for a pre-emptive attack that would have pinned the derogatory label of “special interest” candidate on President Bush. But the label turned out to be just as easily applied to him. He not only accepts special interest money, he leads the pack in the Senate in lobbyists’ cash.


It is as Brown University political science professor Darrell West observed: “Every politician has to raise money and so every candidate is dependent upon some type of special interest.”


The second thing going on is Kerry’s method of operation, which is ironically rooted in the philosophy of pre-emptive attacks. This is ironic not only because Kerry was pre-empted on the special interest issue, but also because he has for months criticized the Bush Administration’s military pre-emptive attack on Iraq.


The President’s plan of pre-emption, the Kerry camp would have you believe, was improper, presumably because it would be better for the United States to have waited for another skyscraper to be devastated by terrorists financed, armed or otherwise backed by Iraq’s blood-thirsty dictator.


Kerry finds pre-emption distasteful when directed at murderous despots like Saddam Hussein. But it is his operating method of choice in politics. For example, the Kerry attack on President Bush’s National Guard service clearly was intended to pre-empt the anticipated attack by Bush on Kerry’s anti-war and anti-military record. Likewise, Kerry hoped to pre-empt the debate over what constitutes a “special interest” by defining the phrase to exempt his situation, and condemn the president’s.


Political campaigns can turn more on tactics and public perceptions than on facts, which explains both things that are going on in Kerry’s camp. It would be refreshing to strip away the buzz words – words like “special interest” – to reveal instead exactly who is beholding to whom insofar as that can be determined by political campaign giving.


A little truth in advertising is called for. The same integrity demanded of tooth paste commercials would serve the voting public far better than a war of nebulous buzz words, especially when the words’ meanings hinge on who speaks first and loudest.


Speaking of commercials, the Republican National Committee immediately pounced on the Kerry-lobbyists connection with a scathing ad on the RNC website harpooning Kerry’s double talk about “special interests.” Democrats naturally complained that it is President Bush rather than Kerry who is the “special interest” candidate. But they missed the point.


The Republican ad was not complaining – at least not yet – about Kerry receiving special interest funding. The complaint was that despite receiving special interest cash, Kerry claims to be the anti-special interest candidate.


It’s the lie, not the subject of the lie that was the point.


The question ultimately may (and perhaps should) come down to which “special interest” camp voters prefer to have their candidate. But first things first.


Will John Kerry concede that the groups he receives millions of dollars from are “special interests” in their own right? Or will the pot continue to call the kettle black?


If this “special interest” flap accomplished anything, it highlighted once again Kerry’s duplicitous nature. As President Bush’s campaign manager Ken Mehlman put it, Kerry is a candidate “who says one thing and does another.”

Mark Landsbaum is a freelance writer, author and former award-winning Los Angeles Times reporter in Diamond Bar, California.

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