The Republicans haven't even yet won control of the House of Representatives, yet the left-wing press is already racing to attribute the Republican Party's impending gains to criminal behavior on the scale of Watergate. A managing editor of the New York Times, Jill Abramson, wrote the cover story for yesterday's Times Week in Review section, quoting campaign finance advocate Fred Wertheimer and asserting, "the fund-raising practices that earned people convictions in Watergate — giving direct corporate money to a campaign and doing so secretly — are back in a different form in 2010."
Now Albert Hunt, Ms. Abramson's former colleague in the Washington Bureau of the Wall Street Journal who is the executive editor for Washington at Bloomberg News, has his own column invoking Mr. Wertheimer and predicting, "The U.S. is due for a huge scandal involving big money, bribery and politicians. Not the small fry that dominates the ethics fights in Washington; really big stuff; think Watergate."
It's one thing for liberal columnists to sing from the same playbook citing similar sources, but it's worth remembering that these folks aren't merely liberal opinion columnists — they are news executives with operational responsibility.
It's not even clear that Ms. Abramson is correct about secret corporate contributions. If the contributions are really secret, how does Ms. Abramson know they are coming from corporations? I think that a lot of the money flowing into the most high-profile political groups — not the Chamber of Commerce but these Karl Rove-affiliated "Crossroads" groups — is actually coming from individuals rather than corporations. Part of this is because, as Richard Epstein observed in the September 27 inaugural lecture of the Laurence A. Tisch Professorship of Law, corporations are "purposely and prudently pusillanimous." If they are in consumer-facing businesses, they aren't eager to anger half their customers by intervening in partisan politics.
Never mind that the New York Times is itself a corporation that, while not directing secret gifts to campaigns, nonetheless does an awful lot of participating in politics by publishing articles such as Ms. Abramson's and by endorsing candidates. It's almost as if the Times doesn't want other companies to be able to participate or compete.