Even the New York Times's reliably leftish columnist Gail Collins is now mocking Senator Schumer:
Before the budget document even went out, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York had issued a scathing press release attacking plans to eliminate $5 million in grants to manufacturers of worsted wool.
"I will fight to make sure this proposal never sees the light of day," said Schumer, who claimed that dropping the grants could ruin "Rochester's iconic Hickey Freeman," a men's clothing company. It turned out that Hickey Freeman gets a different wool-manufacturer break entirely. Rochester is saved!
The Schumer press release is here. The press release leads to the money trail that, in matters involving Mr. Schumer, is more or less inevitable. Hickey Freeman is owned by HMX LLC, which used to be Hartmarx. Federal Election Commission records show that the Hartmarx Corporation Government Relations Fund donated $2,000 to Mr. Schumer's campaign on April 22, 2009, following up a $500 contribution that was made on May 6, 2003. Senate lobbying records indicate that HMX LLC also spent $40,000 in 2009 to employ a Washington lobbying firm, Williams and Jensen, whose partners also make significant campaign contributions. We're not suggesting that Mr. Schumer and his fellow senators wouldn't care about the jobs in Rochester or fight to save them even if there were no campaign cash involved. The sums pale in comparison to what Mr. Schumer raises from other industries and firms.
But the function of Washington (and Albany) as a kind of giant vending machine, where interest groups insert money in the form of campaign contributions and lobbying fees and, in return, extract taxpayer funding is part of the reason that President Obama's proposed budget for 2011 is $3.8 trillion, which is more than double the $1.8 trillion that the federal government spent in 2000. That's not a laughing matter for the taxpayers who will be stuck with the bill. And the disclosure of the contributions to Mr. Schumer from the the Hartmarx Corporation Government Relations Fund do cast Mr. Schumer's denunciation of the Supreme Court ruling allowing corporate political adverting -- "This activist and far reaching decision is even worse than we had feared. This opens the floodgates and allows special interest money to overflow our elections and undermine our democracy. The bottom line is, the Supreme Court has just predetermined the winners of next November's election. It won't be the Republican or the Democrats and it won't be the American people; it will be Corporate America." -- in a new light.
The Schumer press release is illuminating in other ways, as well. The "wool trust fund" he is at the ramparts to defend, according to an article in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, "provides tariff relief for domestic makers of wool clothing and fabric on the wool they import." Rather than simply getting rid of the tariff altogether, a small-government solution that would get Washington out of the business of telling tailors where their fabric should originate, the Wool Trust Fund approach leaves the tariff on the books and sets up a second government program to provide "relief" from the consequences of the first government program. This approach, while more complicated, allows Mr. Schumer and other like him to continue raising money from those affected by both programs, and from the lobbyists they hire.
The end of the Schumer press release is also illuminating for the big picture. It says, "In 2009, Schumer successfully urged Wells Fargo to keep credit flowing to Hickey-Freeman's parent company, Hartmarx, so the people employed by the company would not be at risk of losing their jobs. Later that year, Schumer led employees of Hickey-Freeman's at a rally designed to keep up the pressure on Well Fargo to continue to provide Hickey-Freeman's parent company with the credit they need to continue manufacturing operations." Mr. Schumer, a member of the Democratic leadership in the Senate and a member of the Finance Committee that writes laws affecting the banks, called up the chairman of Wells Fargo and asked it, in essence, to keep loaning money to a firm that was in bankruptcy. That may or may not have been the right move for Wells Fargo, but don't we want lending decisions in America to be made on the basis of generally applied rules, rather than favors to powerful lawmakers? If Hickey Freeman doesn't make it, it will have been a wealth transfer from Wells Fargo shareholders to Hickey Freeman workers, not on the basis of a law openly debated and passed by Congress, but on the basis of a phone call from a senator to a bank chairman.