Robert F. Bauer, who will take on part of the responsibilities of Norm Eisen, the departing Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform, has a long and storied career in Washington. He has represented the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Kerry and Obama presidential campaigns, and 527 organizations like Vote Now and America Coming Together. He’s defended Democratic politicians who ran into ethics trouble, including former Rep. Tony Coelho and former Sen. Robert Torricelli—both of whom were forced to give up their offices as ethics charges mounted against them. He’s filed ethics complaints against Republican and Republican-leaning organizations, most spectacularly when he prepared a complaint alleging racketeering on the part of former Republican Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay for extortion (for his aggressive fundraising), money laundering and illegally coordinating with section 527 groups to evade campaign finance laws. The suit was later dropped.
Thanks mostly to Lexis-Nexis and his own blog, here are a few choice quotes from Robert Bauer over the years. In reverse chronological order:
Dec. 26: …it is useful to reflect from time to time on the facile acceptance of disclosure without any sensitivity to the costs for those whose political preferences, expressed perhaps with only a handful of dollars, are exposed to the wired world, along with precise information about where they live or work. “Downsides”, for sure.
— responding to an article by John Lott and Bradley Smith on 12/26/08 suggesting that disclosure of campaign contributions harms the donors.
March 27: …[V] oters keep responding to “negative” messages: for better or for worse, they pay attention to them. To some this is unacceptable, an example of malfunction in the marketplace for “deliberative democracy.” Since the voters can’t be changed but the law can be, reforms, including McCain-Feingold, strike at the source of the questionable speech with the goal of limiting its supply.
— discussing the anniversary of McCain-Feingold
Aug. 7: …disclosure is a mostly unquestioned virtue deserving to be questioned.
—writing on anonymous donors
Dec. 20: …some of the interest in more detailed disclosure is, in effect, an interest in more regulation. With more data, there is more “oversight”; and with more of this oversight, there is more rulemaking, to address “problems” revealed by various readings of the data. …
But the public does seem engaged with stories about political skullduggery, and the press and reform advocates regularly cater to this interest in accusing politicians and political committees of suspicious secretiveness and “closed-door deal-making.” In this respect, the insistence on disclosure—which is the converse of the suggestion that disclosure is being withheld—is another way, understood by the public, that politicians and parties are pictured as forever trying to get away with something. For this, there is a market, its product cheaply
manufactured and cheaply sold.
— commenting on new regulations put forward by the Federal Election Commission requiring political committees to disclose more information about their expenditures
March 8: If it’s not done with 527 activity as we have seen, it will be done in other ways. … There are other directions, to be sure, that people are actively considering as we speak.
Without tipping my hand or those of others who are professionally creative, the money will find an outlet.
— testifying before the Senate Rules and Administration hearing on whether Congress should restrict activities by section 527 organizations, including SwiftBoat Vets for the Truth and MoveOn.org.
May 1: It is a distrust of politics, even a disdain for it; and a belief that if not controlled and even subdued, it will foster only corruption. The myriad understandings, bargains, associations, and forms of communication fundamental to political life represent in this view the means of effecting corruption–not something “intricate” and “many-faceted,” nor the expression of “organized complexity.”
— in the Fordham Urban Law Journal, describing the rules barring coordination between 527s (which can take unlimited funds from any source) and political parties and candidate committees. May 1, 2005.
Feb. 2: “This is about the FEC pursuing a cockamamie theory that they cannot sustain in court against a candidate who did nothing but conduct, in coordination with other candidates, lawful grassroots activity through the 17th district committee in his Congressional district.”
Bauer said that even under the restrictions of the new campaign finance law, it isn’t illegal for federal, state and local candidates to work together to turn out votes. “It wasn’t illegal then and it’s not illegal now,” said Bauer. It is illegal in Belarus, but not in the United States.”
–to Roll Call, Feb. 2, 2004, about an FEC case alleging illegal coordination among three campaign committees, including that of his client, Rep. Lane Evans. Evans’ campaign later paid $186,000 in fines, but did not admit to any wrongdoing.
Aug. 25: I think the expenditure of huge sums of money, while it’s often derided in the media and elsewhere, is a mark of people’s commitment to the political process. They’re excited, they want to be involved. They’ll raise, they’ll spend, and I think that’s exactly what ought to happen. I don’t find the total amount of money raised and spent at all shocking, given the stakes.
— on MSNBC’s Hardball, defending spending by 527 groups in the 2004 election. Bauer served as counsel to the Kerry campaign and to America Coming Together, a 527 organization.
Oct. 11: We disagree over the significance of blocking the access of soft money
donors to the Lincoln bedroom or golf tournaments with Senators, but I
am prepared to allow for the possibility that some will feel better that
special interests will have to find their lodging and entertainment
— debating election law scholar Rick Hasen about the effectiveness of McCain-Feingold, in Legal Affairs.
May 25: “All candidates ask their supporters to help raise money from friends, family members and professional associates. This is a completely standard, appropriate and legal practice,” said Bauer. “Neither Senator Torricelli nor Adam Crain asked Mr. Supor to do anything improper.”
—to the Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.), responding to the revelation that then Sen. Robert Torricelli, who would later drop his reelection campaign rather than face voters angered by charges of corruption, had received straw men donations from Joseph Supor, head of a trucking company. Supor claimed Torricelli aides had pressured him to raise $20,000 for the New Jersey senator; Bauer represented Torricelli.
June 25: If corporate contributions were made, they would not only have been legal but very commonplace in federal campaigns, from those of President Bush to President Clinton and to virtually every federal campaign.
— to the Bergen (County, N.J.) Record, on Torricelli raising money for his Senate campaign directly from corporate treasuries and redirecting the funds to local party committees.
Aug. 18: The political parties are entities in and of themselves that play a very constructive role in American politics, they always have, and we want to encourage them to do the vast range of activities they conduct quite extensively all across the United States. If we put them on a $1,000 contribution limit, they would whither away and die, and as a matter of fact, the parties have had to struggle anyway under the post Watergate reforms. There really hasn’t been this flow that some imagine of money to the political parties, permitting them to do whatever they like. So generally speaking, I think we need to encourage giving to the political parties because they need all the help that they can get.
— arguing on behalf of unlimited soft money contributions to political parties on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
April 4: “I did closely review the matter with the Senator and did advise him in the clearest terms that nothing in the document even suggested a violation of Senate rules or ethical standards.”
– to Roll Call, after reviewing a memo written by the then-chief of staff to Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Eva Lubalin, in which she appeared to link fundraising to official business in four separate instances.
May 14: From a Washington Post story quoting a 16-page report that “exonerated” Rep. Tony Coelho, who would later resign over the incident, of ethical wrongdoing in his failure to disclose a sweetheart deal with corrupt brokerage firm Drexel Burnham Lambert:
The congressman said that he decided not to reveal the unreported $50,000 loan at the time of The Post inquiries because he wanted to receive a complete account of the transaction first. Robert F. Bauer, Coelho’s attorney, finished that review Friday and Coelho said he is sending it to the House ethics committee. Coelho said he also will amend his financial disclosure statement to report the loan and hire a large accounting firm to review his tax returns.
Coelho asked Bauer to review four legal questions, including the possibility that the transaction violated securities laws or was a gift or loan from Spiegel that should be reported on Coelho’s disclosure statement. Bauer concluded, in a 16-page report to Coelho, that the transaction, while complex and marked by “difficulties” and “mistakes,” was legal and ethical.
Jan. 28: Bob Bauer, attorney for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee…called Common Cause’s request for tougher restrictions on soft money “a fairly typical exercise in trying to solve a non-problem.”
— from the Associated Press