Sunday, April 06, 2008

Ed Fallon’s Ironic Campaign Finance Issues

Ed Fallon’s Ironic Campaign Finance Issues

Ed Fallon has always cut a Not Just Another Politician image, from his refusal to wear neckties during his legislative tenure to his deliberately modest earthy-crunchy lifestyle.

Leonard Boswell, on the other hand, even looks like he could have been sent from central casting to play the part of good old boy politician. And his campaign finance course has been traditional, too. He hauled in over $540,000 in PAC contributions during 2007.

So how come Fallon is losing ground on, of all issues, campaign finance?

Campaign finance was supposed to be one of Fallon's signature issues in his primary challenge to incumbent Boswell in the 3rd Congressional District. Fallon has long refused PAC and lobbyist donations, and during his legislative campaigns turned down donations of over $100.

But Team Boswell has the experience to live carefully within the letter of the law, while Fallon looks like he’s got his fingers in the till for paying himself a subsistence salary while he shut down his gubernatorial campaign. And his grassroots I’M For Iowa effort, while fully in the spirit of what campaign reform is supposed to be about, may not be within the letter of the current law. Campaign finance law is tricky about letting money and lists slop over from one effort to another.

There’s no good spin on this for Fallon. The worst interpretation of the salary question is hypocrisy, and his best defense is to embrace the charges. Community organizing (hot buzzword) takes time, he could say, and money, and isn’t a salary paid by small-dollar campaign donors preferable to an outside job with potential conflicts of interest? That may or may not fly. The money and list issues may be Fallon’s bigger problem, as it makes the campaign look like amateur hour.

The legislature’s relatively quick action on proposals to ban personal salaries from campaign committees could be in part due to Fallon’s relatively unpopular status under the dome. That's in sharp contrast to the amiable Boswell's personal popularity with legislators during his 20-year state senate career. The party power structure quickly united behind Boswell to fend off the Fallon challenge; note the quick endorsement of Boswell by party leaders who often stay out of primaries, with Tom Harkin topping the list.

Back in 2006 during his gubernatorial run, legislators expressed their off the record contempt for Fallon. "Grandstander" was the rap. Maybe some legislators were irritated by his lone votes on 99 to 1 roll calls.Most of them were backing Mike Blouin (the seeds of that particular mutual discontent may be sprouting in the collective bargaining standoff with Governor Culver). That grudge about Fallon's Ralph Nader endorsement in 2000 runs pretty deep too, even though Al Gore carried Iowa and even though Fallon has repeatedly apologized and denounced the endorsement. The Nader thing has allowed Boswell to undermine the whole premise of Fallon's candidacy by putting the "I'm a better Democrat" card in the incumbent's hand. Which is really funny, considering that in 2006 Boswell had a voting record to the right of Iowa Republican Jim Leach.

There’s a supreme irony here, that Ed Fallon is losing points to Leonard Boswell on campaign finance reform. But in the end, Fallon got into the mess himself. As he has his whole career, he was living on the edge of the acceptable, and Iowa’s Democratic establishment is eager to kick him now that he’s down.

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