Mitt Romney’s campaign kicked off a new effort on Monday accusing President Obama of engaging in “crony capitalism” that rewards people who donated to his campaign. But when asked to name one single policy reform Romney would implement that would prevent such corruption, a top surrogate demurred.
“I don’t think you can do this with one overarching rule,” Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) told TPM on a conference call organized by the Romney campaign. “It hasn’t worked with prior administrations. You really need to elect someone who is committed to weeding it out and not making political bundling the top requirement for a job application.”
Cuccinelli repeatedly attacked Obama for appointing “bundlers,” or top campaign fundraisers, to his administration, but offered no assurance at all that Romney would institute a policy restricting their appointments. Even if Romney did insist on keeping bundlers out of his administration, it would be impossible to tell. Romney, unlike Obama, John McCain and President George W. Bush, won’t release a list of his bundlers, according to campaign finance advocates. The only ones publicly disclosed so far are bundlers who are also registered lobbyists, since they’re governed by disclosure requirements. Obama, by contrast, does not allow lobbyists to raise money for his campaign.
A spokeswoman for the Romney campaign did not immediately respond to requests for further details on ethics reforms the Republican nominee would implement to keep donors from affecting policy. Romney has not pledged to maintain new standards instituted by Obama, including a restriction on appointing lobbyists to Cabinet positions.
Cuccinelli, who is running for governor of Virginia in 2013, said he was unaware of Romney’s position on the DISCLOSE Act, which is scheduled for a vote in the Senate on Monday and is expected to be blocked by Republicans. The bill would require anonymous big-money groups to disclose their top backers with the intention of preventing wealthy donors and corporate interests from influencing the political process via multimillion-donations without voters’ knowledge.
“I don’t know if he’s taken a position on the DISCLOSE Act or not,” Cuccinelli said. “What I do know is he has committed himself to weeding out the kind of cronyism that we have talked about today in the executive branch.”
The attorney general seemed to suggest that, like Romney, Congress should also take a voluntary “I’ll-know-corruption-when-I-see-it” approach to ethics. He said that Romney might veto bills he felt had been swayed by special interests.
“It’s reasonable to expect, and it’s certainly my understanding from the governor, that he’s going to try to hold Congress to the same sort of standard and would like to see them systematically hold themselves to the same standard as well,” he said. “If they don’t, they’re going to put bills at risk.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.