The generosity of Pataki lovers

William F. Buckley
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Posted: Oct 21, 2002 12:00 AM
My brothers in defining conservative orthodoxy have taken a position on election-spending legislation. The thought tends to be that it is unconstitutional to attempt regulation, and fruitless to attempt to do so. From there they (we) reassuringly conclude that just as long as you know who gave what to whom, mischief can't really be done, because the public firehose will beam in on attempted malefaction, spray it with Lysol, and civic virtue will prevail.

Last week, The New York Times did a story on the financing of the New York campaign of Gov. George Pataki, who is being challenged by State Comptroller Carl McCall. Do you want to know who/what is the largest contributor to the Pataki campaign? It is given as "Kawasaki, Tokyo." How much? $220,000. Under "Relationship to the State Government," we have, "Builder of railcars for the state-run New York City subway system." We have, also, LCOR Inc., "State-backed developer at Kennedy Airport, Queens West and Jamaica." Down the line we see such as Easco Boiler, "Manufacturer of heating equipment purchased by the state."

So what prompts Kawasaki to come in for a quarter of a million dollars? Such questions were put to Michael McKeon, a spokesman for Gov. Pataki. He is reported as having said that "there was no relationship between the state contracts and the contributions." More specifically, gifts are coming in because he (Pataki) "is doing a good job, and people want to continue it." Is that a simple answer? Ask McKeon. "It is as simple as that," he elucidates.

The Pataki camp gives as an illustration of the surviving independence of Albany under Pataki the relative economic fate of the French-owned Alstom company. It contributed a mere $37,500, and it is in the business of subway cars, just like Kawasaki. When time came to designate the primary contractor for a state deal that could be worth as much as $2.3 billion, who was the No. 1 beneficiary of the contract? Alstom. Kawasaki came in as secondary supplier.

Kawasaki was there to confirm the disinterestedness of Kawasaki in coming up with $220,000 for Pataki. "It would be the cynic who presumes political contributions are going to leverage favors," said Gary Lewi, a spokesman for Kawsaki. If you call a skeptic a cynic, what do you call someone who really believes that Kawasaki is giving a quarter of million dollars to Pataki because he is such a gorgeous governor?

What the let-everybody-give-whatever-they-want dogmatists can't really answer is the question: What are the engines of political hygiene going to do about the Kawasakis of this world? The New York Times story goes on to discuss the gratitude of political appointees, giving as an example, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Edward Dunn, the chairman of the MTA finance committee, "along with his wife" has donated $34,000. The authority's chairman, Peter Kalikow, contributed, together with his wife, "at least $80,000." How much are Messrs. Dunn and Kalikow paid, that they can handle five-digit contributions? Or are they using their wives' money?

Yes, it's certainly true that it's better to know that Kawasaki has contributed heavily to the Pataki campaign, but it isn't true that merely knowing this gives the public an effective opportunity to do something about it. Do something like what?

In California, the exact same story is being repeated, and it just happens that the profiteer on that scene, incumbent Gov. Gray Davis, is a Democrat. Money pours in. In New York there is irony abounding because Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-2. But it is fair to generalize that nobody is very much concerned about these swollen gifts by manifest postulants for government preference. Only the Libertarian candidate, who is a mere cipher in the election, makes the point that the principal way to eliminate excess election spending is to limit patronage.

That isn't going to happen. Somebody is going to pick the contractors who build subways, and those somebodies are going to be appointed by the governor, so that the Kawasakis of this world are always going to find special strength and virtue in any incumbent governor, including Ivan the Terrible. Emphasis should be on reducing gross expenditures, which means: targeting television.