Bangert on Rokita and God-Given Gun Rights

Dave Bangert has a column in the Lafayette Journal & Courier about an exchange between Congressman Todd Rokita and a constituent that speaks to a bigger problem with political discourse.

A constituent asked him about the government’s role in regulating firearms. Rokita says, apparently, that government has no such role, “See, that’s why you’ll never be able to communicate with me this way, because you have a fundamental different perspective on who gives someone the rights found in our Constitution.” The facile reasoning here being that because God gave us the Second Amendment or the right to bear arms, Congress has no role in regulating such rights. It immediately falls apart if, say, Congressman Rokita recognizes a role for Congress in regulating the broadcast spectrum through the FCC or otherwise despite our “God given” right to free speech.

This is a variation of “‘Shut up,’ he explained.”

I’ve taken the unpopular view that when someone speaks of “natural” rights (God-given or otherwise), from Thomas Jefferson up to and including Congressman Rokita, it suggests that the individual is appealing to authority either to foreclose further discussion or because the proponent’s claim to a right is on less stable ground than he or she would like to acknowledge. For example, in 2010 on the subject of god-given gun rights, I wrote:

I’m not really sure what a “god given right” might be. Those strike me as less enforceable than those rights protected by government force.

But, in any event, I’d argue that your right to protect yourself and your family doesn’t extend to putting me and my family in danger. So, if you start blasting away when you feel threatened, the corollary would be that I have a right to set you on fire or otherwise subject you to physical harm until I feel like I’m safe.

And then we’re back to a state of nature, with man in a war of all against all where life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Without government, there are no rights, just a Hobbesian war of all-against-all with individuals being able to bring greater or lesser levels of force to bear, protecting or obtaining what they want.

But, that’s straying a bit far afield for the incident noted by Mr. Bangert. What’s really going on in this particular case is that there is no real upside to Congressman Rokita in discussing the issue. Wavering on gun rights might prompt a primary challenge which, in his District, is the only real electoral concern he has. Foreclosing further conversation on gun rights in the name of God carries no political downside for him.

IN-04: Congressional Candidate Debate Tonight

Tonight (Thursday, October 7) on WLFI, Channel 18, there will be a debate between Congressional candidates, David Sanders (D), Todd Rokita (R), and John Duncan (L).

You can also listen on WBAA AM 920/FM 101.3/ or online.

Panelists will be:
Jeff Smith, of “WLFI-TV 18?,
Mike Loizzo, of “WBAA Radio”,
Ron Wilkins, of “Opinions Page Editor for the Journal and Courier”.
The moderator will be Gina Quattrocchi, “WLFI-TV 18?.

IN-04: Education & Federal Policy

The Journal & Courier is probably the best place to go for information about the extremely crowded ballot for Indiana’s Fourth Congressional District. Steve Buyer decided to step down, leaving an open seat. This started a run to fill it. The Journal & Courier asked the candidates about federal education spending.

On the Democratic side, Tara Nelson suggested that the federal government should be available to shore up shortfalls locally, particularly ensuring things like language, arts, music and sports as well as providing for four year community colleges for middle and lower income families. David Sanders recommended more equitable funding, eliminating unfunded mandates and giving local control to the schools. Federal loans should improve affordability and reliance on standardized tests should be reduced.

On the Republican side, Jon Acton says stakeholders should be “held accountable for future success.” He is also against unfunded mandates, and thinks communities that desire local control should not be punished.

I didn’t really understand Cheryl Denise Allen’s response, but here it is: “I am pleased with the grant programs issued by the government. Any student that needs money is provided for through this program. Some funds similar to these are initiated through K-12. Maybe make tuition programs for the lower grades might be a possibility.”

Jim Hass wants school boards to set standards for themselves, wants parents to set standards for their children, and wants children to govern their own behavior. He thinks the federal government should encourage efforts in math and science and thinks that experimentation should be allowed by lower levels of government.

Brandt Hershman says that, for the most part, he wants state and local government rather than the federal government setting standards for education. (That’s pretty much the status quo, right?)

Todd Rokita’s answer started off pretty boilerplate then got a little garbled: ” I support expanding the affordability of higher education, simplifying the financial aid system and undoing the government takeover of student loans to increase access to financial aid.” The federal government made changes to the federal student loan program. Not sure how the federal government can “take over” its own program. There are efforts afoot to cut out the middle man for federally guaranteed loans. So, the most charitable I can be is to conclude that Secretary of State Rokita doesn’t understand the issue terribly well.

Mark Seitz says that federal funding should be used to support K-12 education but money accepted comes with a requirement that certain standards should be met.

PJ Steffens & Eric Wathen want to get rid of the Department of Education and unfunded mandates.

Daniel Dunham, Charlie Henderson, and Mike Young think the federal government has no business doing anything with education. Henderson supports “states rights.” (Follow up for Mr. Henderson or any states’ rights purist: does the sanctity of states rights extend to drug legalization?)

IN-04: Republican Primary Candidates

May 4, 2010 primary:

Jon Acton (twitter) – According to his website, he’s a member of the Brownsburg School Board, has been a U.S. Government teacher at Avon and Edgewood, an assistant principal at Speedway and Edgewood, and head football coach at Avon and Edgewood. He is campaigning as Everyman.

Cheryl Denise Allen – I haven’t found much information on her yet. She’s from Martinsville, and I believe she’s an artist. But Google wasn’t turning up a web page.

Mike Campbell – I wasn’t immediately able to find information online I was confident had to do with this person.

Daniel Dunham – He’s from Mooresville. (And there is a guy with the same name from Idaho who is apparently very active on right wing Internet sites.)

Jim Hass – Again, nothing online that I could find. (This post isn’t turning out to be anywhere near as informative as I had hoped.)

Charlie Henderson – Mayor of Greenwood and former police chief. He is also, I believe, the uncle to state senator Brent Waltz. The mayor of the Indianapolis suburb wants to be “a voice of small town America.”

Brandt Hershman – He is a state senator and manager of Hershman Farms and was District Operations Director for Representative Steve Buyer since 1992. He also apparently worked at the White House from 1989-1991. He has to be counted as one of the top prospects for this seat.

LaRon “Formerly known as firefighter?” Keith – He looks to be a perennial type candidate, challenging Buyer last cycle when he couldn’t get the signatures needed to run for governor.

Todd Rokita – Our current Secretary of State. He’s a big name in this race. The knock against him seems to be that he’s in office for the sake of being in office – looking to the next big thing. (My big knock against him was that “faith-based voter fraud” warning paid for on the public dime where he made sure you knew his name and made sure to talk about “The Lord” in case you didn’t know he was a Christian.)

Mark Seitz – Mr. Seitz is pro-“Common Sense” (which, to me, always sounds like anti-“fancy book learnin.”) Looks like he’s been a Bloomington restaurateur, stock broker, mortgage industry service provider, and now works out of Greenwood where he “manages services that provide continuous emergency power to municipalities.” Stock market and mortgage industry? Not saying that Mr. Seitz had anything to do with it, but that’s like a who’s who of how our economy got wrecked over the past decade. He’s a Lambda Chi Alpha. I don’t have anything particular against them.

PJ SteffenI don’t have any information on him. Mr. Steffen was kind enough to send me a link to his web page. He lives in the Avon area of Hendricks County and currently works for Rolls-Royce as an Assistant Chief Engineer and Manager in the Future Programs group. He describes himself as a social and fiscal conservative who believes the role of government should be limited. (This raises an interesting point in my mind. Typically, it seems to me, fiscal conservatives are intent on limiting the role of government whereas social conservatives often seem to envision a more active role for government in promulgating their vision of the proper morality.)

Eric Wathen (twitter) – A 6th generation Hoosier out of Brownsburg. (6th generation is something – I’m 5th generation, and that ancestor got to Indy in about 1850 or thereabouts) and another Lambda Chi. He is a civil engineer with a degree from Rose-Hulman and a Hendricks County Commissioner. Not bad for a 35 year old. He might be a dark horse to keep an eye on. He describes himself as “very conservative” and is also a fan of “common sense.”

Mike Young – A state senator out of Indianapolis. Among many other things he’s done as a state senator, one that jumped out at me is that he has proposed that the state government form a committee to study the “principles of firearms freedom.” Specifically “Firearms, firearm accessories, and ammunition that are manufactured in Indiana from basic materials without the inclusion of any significant parts imported from another state and are retained in Indiana should not be subject to federal law or federal regulation.” That’s a two-fer, states’ rights and guns. Bravo, sir, bravo! Of course, forming a government committee on the subject erodes the “small government” side of the ledger.

Busy Primary Season

There is some unrest in the air, making this a busy primary season. The Lafayette Journal & Courier has a list of people who will be on local ballots.

Don Bates, Jr., Richard Behney, Dan Coats, John N. Hostettler, Marlin A. Stutzman
Coats is a former Hoosier, lobbyist, and very retro – I don’t think he captures the mood of the Republicans. Behney has come off as a blowhard, talking about playing with his guns if he doesn’t get his way. Hostettler is a wingnut. I don’t know much of anything about Bates. Stutzman has been a state legislator, giving him a veneer of respectability, who has a reputation as very conservative, which will play well in the primary.

D: Peter J. Visclosky*, Woody Wilcox
R: Adam A. Dombkowski, Ric Holtz, Mark Leyva, Peter Lindemulder III, Eric L. Olson, Robert Pastore, Michael Petyo, Jayson Reeves

Visclosky has some ethics issues dogging him, but, so far as I know, it’s just investigatory at this point. He has to be regarded as a heavy favorite at this point.

D: Joe Donnelly*
R: Martin A. Dolan, Jack Edward Jordan, Jackie Walorski, Tony Zirkle
Any primary fight that involves Wacky Jackie battling with a disbarred (pdf) Illinois Nazi supporter should be one to watch. I don’t know anything about Dolan and Jordan – they might be credible challengers.

D: Tara E. Nelson, Mark Powell, David Sanders
R: Jon Acton, Cheryl Denise Allen, Mike Campbell, Daniel L. Dunham, James T. (Jim) Hass, Brandt Hershman, LaRon Keith, Todd Rokita, Mark Seitz, Ed Soliday, Phillip J. (PJ) Steffen, Phil J. Thorpe, Eric L. Wathen, R. Michael Young

David Sanders is a Purdue professor and a great guy, but has not, historically, been able to raise the kind of funds necessary to compete against Steve Buyer in this district. He threw his hat in the ring when nobody else was going to, which is good because it would have been a shame if Rep. Buyer had gone completely unchallenged in the wake of his Frontier Foundation shenanigans. Off hand, I don’t know anything about Mark Powell or Tara Nelson who will compete with him in the primary. The real action, at this point, is in the Republican primary. IN-04 is a heavily Republican district and would-be Congressmen came out of the woodwork when Buyer announced he was stepping down. Right now, I’d probably give Hershman and Rokita the edge in this crowded field. Rokita because he has name recognition, and Hershman because the Fourth is his turf probably more than the others, as a state Senator from the Lafayette area and as someone very involved in Buyer’s campaigns. I’m not sure how well the Indianapolis types will fare in this sprawling district.

D: Brad Ellsworth*, W. Trent Van Haaften
R: Bud Bernitt, Larry D. Bucshon, Billy J. Mahoney, Kristi Risk, John Lee Smith, John K. Snyder, Dan Stockton, Steve Westell

This one is interesting because Ellsworth is probably going to take a stab at the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Evan Bayh which would leave Van Haaften as the Democratic candidate. Trent is a state representative who has been known to read and even comment on this blog from time to time which automatically makes him a man of discerning tastes. I am not immediately familiar with the Republican candidates.

There are also plenty of state and local races. I won’t comment on the local races because I live and work here and don’t like crapping in my nest, so to speak. But one item of interest, I see that for Indiana House District 15, currently occupied by Don Lehe, there is someone on the Democratic ballot going by the name of, and I quote, “John (The Man) Malan.”

IN-04: Steve Buyer to Retire

RTV 6 is reporting (and I saw it from Abdul first) that Rep. Steve Buyer (R IN-04) will not seek re-election. He cites the health of his wife as the reason for his retirement. I have not had any love for Rep. Buyer’s representation of my district, but regardless, I hope his family’s health situation, whatever it is, improves. In fact, I hope it’s just one of those things politicians say when their real reasons are less sympathetic. Family illness is just one of those devastating things. (I’ll even avoid, for the moment, my inclination to veer off into a discussion of how important access to adequate health care is.)

Rep. Buyer was under fire recently for his non-charity, the Frontier Foundation, which had not been providing scholarship money but been taking in money from corporate donors with business before Congressman Buyer’s committees; usually through a golf outing at nice places. But, unless there are some more spectacular skeletons in the closet, I kind of doubt that added a whole lot to his decision to step down. He is in a very safe Republican district and, with no real primary challengers, has been largely unaccountable for his performance as a Congressman.

I would now expect a lot of Republican interest in the seat. I expect the chances of a Democratic pick up to be very slim but chances of an improvement in the quality of representation for the District as very good.

But, again, even though my differences with Mr. Buyer’s politics couldn’t be more profound, I hope he and his family regain their health and live long and happy lives.

(The Indianapolis Star has the story now as well.

CREW wants investigations of Buyer’s “scholarship” foundation

Maureen Groppe, reporting for the Indianapolis Star, has an article on a complaint to the IRS from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). CREW wants the IRS “to investigate whether the foundation violated federal tax law by “failing to operate for its stated public purpose of helping needy students and by doing little more than paying for the congressman to play golf with donors with interests before his committee.”” (More on Buyer and the Frontier Foundation.)

CREW has also asked the Office of Congressional Ethics “to review whether Buyer violated ethics rules “by abusing a charity for private purposes and by trading legislative assistance for donations to the charity and a job for his son.””

Buyer created the Frontier foundation in 2003 for the stated purposed of handing out scholarships once the fund reached $100,000. The foundation has raised more than $880,000 — primarily from companies and trade organizations with an interest in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which Buyer serves.

The foundation hasn’t awarded any scholarships, which Buyer has said is because the foundation later decided it needed at least $1 million to be self-sustaining. The foundation has paid for fundraising golf outings at luxury locales.

(Buyer has offered the defense that these golf outings “weren’t fun” for him.)

CREW press release and links here.

My favorite Buyer video here:

Update TPM Muckraker’s Justin Elliott continues his excellent coverage of this matter.

Poor Poor Pitiful Steve

I’d lay my head on the railroad tracks
And wait for the Double “E”
But the railroad don’t run no more
Poor, poor pitiful me

Poor, poor pitiful me
Poor, poor pitiful me
These lobbyists won’t let me be
Lord have mercy on me
Woe is me

(With apologies to the late, great Warren Zevon.) The Indianapolis Star finally gets into the act and covers Rep. Steve Buyer’s uncharity, the Frontier Foundation. In response, Rep. Buyer goes to the “woe is me” routine he first trotted out in the puff interview with the Monticello Herald Journal. He works so hard and so selflessly for this charity, you see, that he is wounded by critics who would suspect him of anything unpleasant. This is a jarring departure from his previous position — one not apparently pursued in the Indianapolis Star article — that the Frontier Foundation was not an organization with which he had any special involvement.

June 2008. The Frontier Foundation is just another charity Rep. Buyer helps:

In an interview, Buyer said “there is no connection” between his legislative actions and donations to the foundation. “I’m not an officer. I’m not a board director,” he said of his role in the non-profit. “Do I help the foundation? Yes, I do. Do I help other charity groups? Yes, I do.”

October 11, 2009. Still in denial.

Attempts to reach Buyer for comment were unsuccessful. His press secretary referred questions to Frontier Foundation and said there was no connection between Buyer and the foundation.

“It’s not Congressman Buyer’s foundation,” press secretary Anjulen Anderson said.

Buyer is, of course, inseparable from the Foundation. With no Buyer, there is no Foundation. Its board is made up entirely of Rep. Buyer’s friends and family. It shares office space with his campaign office, etc. Aside from letting him off the hook on this abrupt about face, the Indy Star article does a pretty good job of describing where the money comes from and where it has gone.

Sources are:
• Pharmaceutical interests: $465,000.
• Telecommunications interests: $215,148.
• Tobacco and alcohol interests: $65,000.
• Health insurers: $60,000.
• Other: $53,124.
• Unknown: $25,000.

There have been $10,500 in distributions, primarily to a foundation run by an Eli Lilly lobbyist, the NRA, and a guy in Monticello who had a fire. The “charity” is purportedly for providing scholarships to Hoosier students with a 2.75 g.p.a. An advertisement for the scholarship was attached to the 2007 tax return (page 22 or so). It said two scholarships of $10,000 were available. However, a total of $0 (not a typo) has been devoted to scholarships for the period 2003 – 2008. Most of the expenditures have been expenses, including a lot of what are described as fund raising expenses in the form of golf outings in swanky locations:

In 2004, the first Frontier Foundation golf fundraising event was held at the Fenwick Country Club in New York. In 2005, 2006 and 2007, Buyer said, the golf outings were held at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas. The outings in 2008 were at Atlantis and the Boulders resort in Phoenix, and at Boulders and Disney World this year.

But if we think the Bahamas or Disney World are “fun,” we are sorely mistaken, says Rep. Buyer. It’s hard work! And for this selfless labor, what does Rep. Buyer get? (Aside from the trips — which he hates). He is made to suffer the slings and arrows of journalists, Democrats, and random bloggers. The Indy Star article quotes a fundraising professional who suggests it’s not out of line to try to stockpile a bunch of cash before handing out money in order to make the charity sustainable; though, apparently, staffing the board with family members and fund raising through destination golfing isn’t typically the best way to do things.

But, the big problem in all of this is the source of the funding. It’s coming from people doing business with the United States Congress for whom Buyer is in a position to do favors. He says he’s not. And, I very much suspect that Rep. Buyer would be favorably inclined toward these huge corporate interests even without the giving. But you can’t expect people to trust their Congressman when an organization entirely controlled by him is taking in large sums of money from lobbyists and not distributing it except to go golfing.

Deny, Deny, Deny: Steve Buyer & the Frontier Foundation

Back in college, I had a friend. Let’s call him “Dom.” Dom wasn’t one who was much given to following society’s “rules” or obeying its “laws.” He had a simple rule when it came to potential repercussions for his transgressions: “deny, deny, deny.” One time he told me, “I don’t care if they have you on tape. Deny it. ‘I don’t know what this is! That isn’t me!'”

So, naturally, I thought of Dom when TPMMuckraker followed up on its coverage of the Buyer/Frontier Foundation story:

And the award for boldest denial in the face of evidence of financial mischief goes to … Rep. Steve Buyer!
. . .
He and his office have repeatedly denied that the Frontier Foundation has any special connection to Buyer.”

To recap: There are campaign finance laws in place. They exist to avoid undue influence by individuals and corporations over elected officials who are in a position to do them favors. One dodge to these campaign finance laws is for moneyed interests to contribute to non-profit organizations closely associated with the elected officials. Those organizations can, in turn, employ family members, pay for travel and dining expenses under the guise of helping the organization, and, potentially, create a nest egg the elected official can use after retiring from office – perhaps becoming employed at a nice salary to “manage” the organization. In Buyer’s case, the Frontier Foundation was ostensibly created for the purpose of providing scholarships to Indiana students. Despite taking in donations from lobbying organizations having to do with the pharmaceutical and broadcast industries for years, the Foundation has yet to provide a scholarship.

Buyer’s claims that he has no special connection to the Frontier Foundation is ridiculous. TPM Muckraker has provided a handy list of some of the reasons why:

*The foundation shares an address and phone number with Buyer’s campaign headquarters on North Main Street in Monticello, IN.

*Buyer’s daughter Colleen was the president of the foundation until August 1 of this year.

*His son Ryan is a director of the foundation, according to filings with the Indiana Secretary of State.

*Answering the phone number of the campaign office (and foundation) today, Stephanie Mattix, until recently the secretary-treasurer of the foundation, told TPMmuckraker that the foundation shares the office but works out of “a separate room.”

*The real estate company that owns the space says the lease is for Buyer, and adds that the foundation is not subleasing the space. Mattix told TPMmuckraker, though, that the foundation does pay rent.

*While drawing an annual salary in the $12,000-$17,000 range from the foundation, Mattix also served as the executive director of Buyer’s Storm Chasers PAC. She is currently the finance director of his campaign and the webmaster of the campaign Web site.

*Buyer was listed as the “honorary chairman” of the foundation on a 2004 donor solicitation, sent from Buyer’s office, the Lafayette Journal & Courier reported.

*Companies have made donations to the Frontier Foundation “in honor of” Buyer.

One of the amazing things is just how little effort Buyer has made to dress this foundation up into something that looks vaguely above board. It would take very little to put a veneer of plausible deniability on this thing. Get a P.O. Box. Sign up for a different phone number. Give out a couple of scholarships. Do that, and suddenly you’re in the gray areas of how close a relationship is “too close” and how little scholarship money is “too little.”

At the moment, he looks like he is being just a little too greedy and a little too brazen for his own good. As a resident of this district, it seems too much to ask to get new representation. It’s very unlikely that a Democrat will win in this district. For good or bad, that’s just the nature of the district drawing game. More frustrating, in my opinion, is the acquiescence of the local GOP. There are plenty of honest, smart Republicans around here. One of them should really be moving to take his place.

Update Looks like Rep. Buyer is changing his tune about having a special relationship to the Frontier Foundation. In a soft ball piece run by the Monticello rag, Buyer is suddenly very closely involved with the Foundation.

June 2008. The Frontier Foundation is just another charity Rep. Buyer helps:

In an interview, Buyer said “there is no connection” between his legislative actions and donations to the foundation. “I’m not an officer. I’m not a board director,” he said of his role in the non-profit. “Do I help the foundation? Yes, I do. Do I help other charity groups? Yes, I do.”

October 11, 2009. Still in denial.

Attempts to reach Buyer for comment were unsuccessful. His press secretary referred questions to Frontier Foundation and said there was no connection between Buyer and the foundation.

“It’s not Congressman Buyer’s foundation,” press secretary Anjulen Anderson said.

But, now that the heat is on, October 14, 2009 in an “exclusive interview” with his friendly hometown newspaper, the Monticello Herald Journal, Buyer is “creating a sustainable foundation.” He founded the organization. Everything in the article speaks to (now that it’s abundantly obvious) an extremely close relationship between Buyer and the Frontier Foundation. He says that he didn’t give out any scholarships or really advertise its existence because he wanted the organization to stockpile a bunch of cash. That part I believe. It’s the part where he intended to give out a bunch of scholarships with no intent of enriching himself or his family where I get a little skeptical, particularly given his rapid shift in stories about his involvement with the organization.

More on Steve Buyer & the Frontier Foundation

Blue Indiana has posted video from a Channel 13 story on the Frontier Foundation which follows on the heels of the Journal & Courier story a few days ago. The short version is that industry groups with an interest in currying Rep. Buyer’s good favor are contributing to this Foundation which is ostensibly devoted to raising scholarship money. The Foundation shares office space with Buyer and has employed Buyer’s daughter and campaign manager. It has not, apparently, provided any actual scholarship money to students.

My previous entries are here (10/11/09) and here (6/16/09). The USA Today article that seems to have kicked off the whole thing is here (6/10/09).

Update TPM Muckraker is getting in on the party as well.