Jim Huffman wants campaign finance secrecy

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Whether you're one of those folks that wants to see strict limits on campaign donations, or one of those folks that loves Oregon's wide-open no-limits system, the one thing that just about everyone agrees on is that full disclosure is critical. At the federal level, we've got quarterly disclosures; and at the state level, each transaction 30 days after it happens. (Faster reporting near elections in both cases.)

Disclosure is basically a no-brainer.

Unless you're Jim Huffman -- the law school dean who got smoked by Senator Ron Wyden last fall.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Huffman argues that having to disclose his campaign donors was a strategic disadvantage.

Disclosure makes threats possible, and fears of retribution plausible. Within weeks of a contribution of $200 or more, the contributor's name appears on the public record. Contributors know this, and they know that supporting the challenger can, should the challenger lose, have consequences in terms of future attention to their interests. Of course no incumbent will admit to issuing threats or seeking retribution, but the perception that both exist is widespread.

Consider what Huffman is saying here. He's pointing out that he wasn't seeking donations from grassroots donors who shared his ideological viewpoint, or who believed that he was the best guy for the job. He was, apparently, primarily seeking donations from people that he believed were self-interested; people who support politicians primarily as a way of getting favors.

Now, I'm not stupid. I know that there are donors that make donations because they're hoping to get access to decisionmakers. But it's kind of stunning to see a (former) candidate outright admit that he was basically trying to sell himself to the highest bidder. (And complaining, since no one was buying!)

It's also a bit ironic, given that one of the big questions about Huffman's campaign relates precisely to his failure to disclose where his campaign funds were coming from. You see, despite only showing assets of $500k to $1m, Huffman loaned his campaign $1.35 million.

From Jeff Mapes at the O, back in October:

At last report, he’s now pumped $1.35 million into his own candidacy, with the last $400,000 coming on Oct. 13.

However, Huffman, a law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, is unwilling to say is where he gets the money.

And it’s unclear how he could afford to loan his campaign this kind of cash. ...

The biggest personal asset that Huffman lists is a TIAA-CREF retirement fund valued at between $500,000 and $1 million. If he liquidated that suddenly, he’d take a big hit in taxes.

The report doesn’t require him to list the value of his home. But if he took out a mortgage on his home to loan to his campaign, he would have to report that on his campaign finance report.

Strangely, one of Huffman's arguments (as noted by Jeff Mapes) is that "he doesn't think fear of corruption is a big reason to disclose contributions in federal races" -- that with a $2400 limit, no one is really buying too much access. But disclosure is the only way that we know that people are, in fact, limiting their donations to $2400.

Sorry, Jim, but once again, your ideology is blinding your logic.

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    My bet is that the bulk of the people blaming disclosure just didn't want to waste their money on Huffman and wanted a nice way to say no. Huffman just didn't understand that they thought he was a losing candidate and a bad investment. I bet he got lots of other excuses as well.

    Having said that, his intellectual position is bankrupt as you very nicely point out.

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    Oh, and full disclosure: My firm built Ron Wyden's campaign website. I speak only for myself.

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    Kari, I think Huffman has a point and you are missing it. In the part you quote, he does not mention who he sought contributions from. He could have been “seeking donations from grassroots donors who shared his ideological viewpoint, or who believed that he was the best guy for the job.” Probably so. And such potential contributors might make the self-interested calculation he suggests – that being on the wrong side in an election has consequences. It might. And maybe they then do not contribute. That’s politics.

    That concern does not, in my view, justify secret contributions. Our politics are best done openly and in public.

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      And isn't self interest what it's all about??

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      It all depends if you define "grass roots" as starting at $200. Remember there is no personal identification in the public record below that level. Besides I do not mind people knowing who I support because I do not ask politicians for business favors. If people agree with Huffman and are afraid to show it because they want political favors, then it is just wrong.

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      Funding a campaign is not the same thing as casting a vote. I'd be real skeptical of people trying to blur the two...

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    Maybe his potential contributors were afraid of being as embarrassed as his current employers should be...

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    if he was asking for any kind of campaign secrecy, it should be in the final vote count & how bad he got whupped.

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    Why is it always the right-wingers who want to hide where their contributions come from? What are they ashamed of?

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    Mr. Huffman as my torts professor in law school. One of his brainstorms was to get rid of the exclusionary rule, whereby illegally seized evidence is not allowed into court. He said rather than exclude incriminating evidence, why don't we just allow citizens to sue police officers who violate their rights. that would make sure the bad police are punished, but relevant evidence was still admissible.

    Even as a first year law student, I had to scratch my head about that. How could someone so intelligent be so dumb about human nature and the real world consequences of what he was proposing.

    This current idea of Mr. Huffman's is similarly as intelligent and dumb and impracticable. It makes some sense that if an officeholder or candidate themselves didn't know who was giving to them, that their decisions would be based not on donations, but on the merits and personal philosophy. But practically speaking, it would never work out that way.

    In theory Mr. Huffman could make a good Senator.

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