Obama's Chicago politics: Thuggery, not civility

Pete Souza / White House

Article Highlights

  • #Obama campaign isn’t using AVS, and can wind up accepting illegal contributions from phony names or foreigners.

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  • #Obama appeared at more fundraisers in three and a half years than his six predecessors did in 35 years. @MichaelBarone

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  • #Obama likes to talk about the need for civility. He just doesn't like to practice it. @MichaelBarone

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It has been reported that the Obama campaign this year, as in 2008, has disabled or chosen not to use AVS in screening contributions made by credit card.

That doesn't sound very important. But it's evidence of a modus operandi that strikes me as thuggish.

AVS stands for Address Verification System. It's the software that checks whether the name of the cardholder matches his or her address.

If a campaign doesn't use AVS, it can wind up accepting contributions from phony names or accepting contributions from foreigners, both of which are illegal.

The 2008 Obama campaign pocketed money from "John Galt, 1957 Ayn Rand Lane, Galts Gulch CO 99999" and $174,000 from a woman in Missouri who told reporters she had given nothing and had never been billed. Presumably she would have noticed an extra charge of $174,000.

The Obama campaign is evidently happy to pocket the money. After all, this is the president who, according to political scientist Brendan Doherty, has appeared at more fundraisers in three and a half years than his six predecessors did in 35 years.

Obama has been to at least two fundraisers just in my apartment building. I often see police and Secret Service blocking traffic for a block around Washington's posh Jefferson Hotel at 16th and M streets.

Obama talks a good game on transparency and openness, but he's ready to flout the law by avoiding AVS and to break his high-minded campaign promises.

In the 2008 campaign cycle, he promised to take public financing for the general election. He broke that promise when it became apparent he could raise far more money on his own.

During much of this cycle, he's been criticizing Republican super-PACs as a perversion of the political process. But when he saw that Republicans might be able to raise as much money as Democrats, he broke that promise too and authorized Cabinet members to appear at fundraisers for the super-PAC headed by his former deputy press secretary.

Democrats outraised Republicans in 2004 and 2008. Evidently Obama considers it grossly unfair that they might not do so this year. That's not how things work in Chicago.

The "campaigner in chief," as the Washington Post's Dana Milbank dubbed him yesterday, also has a nasty habit of denouncing Republican and conservative contributors by name. He's followed lefty bloggers in trying to demonize the Koch brothers.

This, coupled with a propensity to make jokes about siccing the Internal Revenue Service on people, looks like an attempt to chill opposition political speech. Especially when there are reports that Tea Party organizations are getting hassled by the IRS.

Obama also indulges often in reckless political rhetoric. He likes to say Republicans want no regulations at all on financial institutions and businesses.

It would be more politically astute, I think, and would certainly look less thuggish to draw intellectually defensible distinctions between his own regulatory policies and those of the opposition. Attacks like this sound like debates late at night in the dorm.

"If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun," Obama said during the 2008 cycle. That sounds like something you might hear from a community organizer. Or a Chicago pol.

Chicago, Obama's chosen political venue, helps to explain this behavior. The mayor of Chicago -- the job he once aspired to before greater opportunity beckoned -- is an utterly dominant figure.
"Chicago pols assume they can endlessly plunder the local private sector without penalty. And business leaders quickly catch on that it's a good thing to be known as a personal friend of the mayor. Campaign money flows accordingly." - Michael Barone
Chicago pols assume they can endlessly plunder the local private sector without penalty. And business leaders quickly catch on that it's a good thing to be known as a personal friend of the mayor. Campaign money flows accordingly.

The local rule is "don't back no losers." Those who do are well-advised to do business somewhere else. You never know when the assessor is going to raise your assessment. And don't appeal in court unless you hire the lawyer with the right connections.

The mayor is also the one who gets all the credit for all good things that happen on his watch, as Obama is attempting to do on the killing of Osama bin Laden. Even though he opposed the interrogation methods that produced the information that led our special forces to Abbottabad.

Other campaigns have not disabled their AVS systems. But then their candidates are not from Chicago. Obama likes to talk about the need for civility. He just doesn't like to practice it.

Michael Barone is a resident fellow at AEI.

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