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Some pondering on the WP's Davis story

Some thoughts on the WP's big story about Rep. Tom Davis.

First off, unlike some other stories that touch on our community, this story seemed well reported. God knows -- it was more then 4,350 words long, so they should have a lot of stuff in there.

But I think the WP allowed Davis to present his side of the story -- perhaps not as completely as either Don Upson or Davis and/or his staff may have liked, but it was in there. (I have heard a lot of mumbling particularly about the number of ICG events that Davis has appeared at. The WP chose not to include the total number of events at which Davis spoke, which is significant.)

There is some stuff that I think is the way that Washington works -- is anybody really surprised that lawmaker's staffs use materials provided by lobbyist and consultants. I think it is unfortunate that Hill staff don't have the resources to focus on issues more completely, but the truth is, they don't. Just about every agency trying to get money for a program know that. Therefore, you make your materials concise and to the point and help the overworked staffers as much as you can. Industry knows that too.

And I think even Upson would say that he wished he had registered as a lobbyist earlier, even if only a small percentage of his work is related to that area.

I guess the question I was left with is given what the reporting found, is this worth a page one story let alone more than 4.350 words? A blog called "Not Larry Sabato" asked exactly that question and some of the responses are interesting.

Just a few other things:

* The WP.com does a good thing by working with a site called technorati.com, which provides the WP with blogs that have commented on various stories. Here is the link that provides blogs about the Davis story.

* Styles? I can't tell from the piece how much she actually contributed to the piece -- she and Davis were not friends, to put it mildly -- but actually have respect for Style's viewpoint. But I hope she wasn't part of a group seeking to take Davis down by spurring these ethics issues.

When I see these kinds of stories, I often try to read between the lines to see if there is any indication as to how the story got started. And in today's world, opponents will often use these kinds of stories to go after somebody they disagree with.

I hope you will allow me an editor's point of privilege, but part of this, it seems to me, is part of the coarsening of our politics. I remember in the heat of the last presidential campaign, I traveled up to Hershey, Pa. for IAC's ELC conference and, while on the drive, I was listening to talk radio -- mostly because I never listen to talk radio. And I was really shocked -- on both sides. It was bitter and caustic, and it seems that this distracts us from real issues. In our world, there are real issues. And we ought to debate them. But it seems to me that companies making profits is not unethical.

One other aside: I'm the first to admit that I don't really take many of these so-called money scandals very seriously. I generally am a big free speech guy and I have generally agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court on the campaign finance issue: The idea may be altruistic, but it just doesn't work and the result -- it restricts people's Constitutional rights to free speech -- are too costly. Even that aside, I just don't think it works. Every time they put some effort in place to restrict money, we discover that it doesn't work.

Instead, I have always been a big believer in transparency. All contributions should be fully available near real time. Then citizens can see where a person is getting campaign funding and make their decisions accordingly. That seems much more effective to me.

I generally don't believe that many people change their positions based on campaign contributions.

Here is a graph from the WP's Davis story:

In the past five years, technology and telecommunications companies have been the largest contributors to Davis's and his wife's separate campaigns and political action committees. Those companies and their employees have donated more than $1.1 million of the $6.4 million given to the couple's campaigns, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Virginia Public Access Project.

Does anybody really believe that Davis was influenced by those campaign contributions? He is a big proponent of IT and of outsourcing more government IT work to the private sector. Therefore, he gets a lot of support -- financially and otherwise -- from that community. I understand the chicken-and-the-egg aspect to this debate, but Davis's positions have been fairly clear on this issue.

So, it will be interesting to see what effect, if any, this story has.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Jul 30, 2006 at 12:15 PM


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