DNC Chair Tim Kaine raised the rhetorical stakes surrounding the debate over anonymous political donors, saying that the funding revenues driving conservative groups in the 2010 elections could be the biggest scandal since Watergate.
"I think this is a huge story, it might end up being -- I'm not in the [journalism] business -- one of the biggest political process stories since Watergate," said Kaine. "As we see this trend toward funding campaigns through non-reportable entities, the Democrats stand squarely for requiring disclosure of who is funding campaigns.... And I don't think it is an accident that you are seeing this happen, happening in a major way now."
Speaking at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Thursday, Kaine's argument echoed a fear, expressed most often by good government groups, that the dismantling of 30 years of campaign finance regulations had created a Wild West-like electoral landscape, ripe for conflicts of interest and corruption. He predicted that at the end of the election, "non-reportable spending" would dwarf "the reportable spending" on the Republican side of the aisle. And he even went so far as to claim that Republicans were fostering a non-disclosure climate to lure in big donors.
"Not every development since Watergate in American politics has been salutatory," said Kaine. "But if you were to pick one with no downside and it's all been good I think the move towards transparency in campaign financing has been an enormously positive and a concerted decision by the other side to try and end-run that and frankly, try and use secrecy as a marketing tool - 'Hey if you are going to give, why not give to us, no limits and we can keep it secret' - I think that poses some very significant challenges to the institutions of democracy we have."
And yet, by raising the specter of Nixonian political tricks Kaine was offering clear bait for the political reporters in attendance. At one point, in fact, he recalled how few journalists, save Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, originally thought that the Watergate scandal was of any real significance - enticing those in attendance to dig in deeper on the funding debate currently being waged.
"There is this battered file cabinet [at the DNC] and you pass by it a million times a day and never know what it is," said Kaine. "It is the file cabinet that was broken into at the Watergate hotel in 1974 we just keep it around as a little memento. And we think about that recently because Watergate, you know, was a scandal that had a lot of tentacles to it. It was a break-in story that most thought was unimportant, but a couple of enterprising reporters thought it was important. But by the time it expanded it had its tentacles on a whole lot of areas including the financing of campaigns."
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