Sometimes people just think themselves cleverer than they are. Twitchy highlights this leftover from yesterday involving the most prominent House Democrat grandstander in a House Oversight Committee hearing. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez played a “corruption game” with a panel of ethics experts that ignores basic civics and, as one witness later noted, the actual facts of campaign finance.
But AOC’s supporters were certainly stoked about the first “lightning round” of game:
Oh my god. This is just sensational. Please watch and retweet. pic.twitter.com/ackPHwAUce
— James Corden (@JKCorden) February 7, 2019
“Let’s play a lightning round game,” Ocasio-Cortez began. “I’m gonna be the bad guy and I want to get away with as much bad things as possible, ideally to enrich myself and advance my interests, even if that means putting my interests ahead of the American people.”
“So,” the 29-year-old asked the panel, “if I want to run a campaign that is entirely funded by corporate political action committees [PACs], is there anything that legally prevents me from doing that?”
“No,” one expert, Karen Hobert Flynn, the president of the government accountability watchdog group Common Cause, said decisively.
“So, let’s say I have some skeletons in my closet and I need to cover it up so that I can get elected,” Ocasio-Cortez continued. The New York representative did not hide the fact that she had some very specific “skeletons” in mind, immediately turning to an article written by one of the panelists on hush money payments made shortly before the 2016 election to women who alleged they had sexual affairs with President Donald Trump.
Note well that the clip does not include the response from the author of that article, Brad Smith, a former FEC commissioner. The very next questioner from the Oversight panel offered Smith a chance to rebut Ocasio-Cortez — and he ended up demolishing her:
Here's the follow up to Ocasio-Cortez's comments, it's amazing how this was conveniently left out of that 5-minute video pic.twitter.com/L9nOIIZrnN
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) February 8, 2019
Most of Ocasio-Cortez’ premises in this argument were just as poorly applied. In the first place, it already appears that the Department of Justice will pursue campaign-finance charges through Michael Cohen in relation to the payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, so it’s clearly not “legal” or hunky-dory to use “dark money” to that purpose. It may come via a civil action while Trump is president or an indictment after he leaves office, but it’s pretty clear that they’re not dropping the matter — and that they used it to squeeze Cohen pretty hard, too. (Also, the money turned out to be Trump’s own, not “dark money” anyway.)
The rest of Ocasio-Cortez’ argument is equally nonsensical. Yes it’s true that Congress has ethics committees, but the executive branch has ethics officers and inspectors general that operate on an independent basis to confront corruption. When they get ignored, they can — and occasionally do — report their findings directly to Congress. Congress has the authority to oversee the executive branch and to respond to allegations of corruption with hearings and referrals to the Department of Justice. In fact, as Ocasio-Cortez spins this “lightning round,” her Democratic colleagues are launching a whole fleet of investigations into Donald Trump, including his taxes and his business operations. Why? Because they can.
It doesn’t work in reverse, however, thanks to the doctrine of co-equal branches in the Constitution. The executive branch faces high hurdles in dealing with corruption in Congress — remember the case of William “Dollar Bill”/”Cold Cash” Jefferson and the efforts by Denny Hastert and Nancy Pelosi to block the FBI’s corruption investigation? Congress mainly has to police itself, and usually does a poor job of it. Or does Ocasio-Cortez think Robert Menendez reflects the Senate Ethics Committee’s fine work in self-policing?
Ocasio-Cortez overlooks another constitutional defect in her argument. Presidents don’t write laws, as Ocasio-Cortez suggests. The executive branch can issue regulations with oversight from Congress using a long and involved process requiring public commentary, but legislators write laws — and often in the dead of night without any prior public scrutiny at all. Which party leader once promised that we’d have to wait for a bill to pass before we found out what was in it? Hint: She’s holding the gavel again in the House.
Smith’s parting shot was perfectly crafted. Ocasio-Cortez may have thought she was indicting “dark money,” but instead she was throwing everyone in Congress under the bus. If they’re unduly influenced by “dark money” and its miniscule portion of campaign spending, then those members of Congress should look to themselves. Rather than constructing “corruption games” based on ignorance, Ocasio-Cortez should take some time to learn something about the Constitution and the actual facts in campaign financing.