Taxpayer-financed campaigning

The Republican National Committee has been borderline obsessed this morning with President Obama’s bus tour of the Midwest, with the focus on one specific aspect of the visits: they’re taxpayer financed.

As criticisms go, this seems pretty weak. When the president — any president — travels, it’s going to cost some money. It’s just the nature of the office, and for the RNC to whine incessantly about this seems rather petty. Indeed, it’s practically self-defeating — shouldn’t Republicans have more potent talking points than this right now?

Regardless, if the RNC really wants to go down this road, fine, let’s talk about it. In fact, let’s remind the RNC about the pernicious practice of asking American taxpayers to foot the bill for a White House’s campaign activities.

At least seven Cabinet secretaries to President George W. Bush took politically motivated trips at taxpayer expense while aides falsely claimed they were traveling on official business, the independent Office of Special Counsel said Monday night in concluding a three-year probe.

In a report on allegations that first surfaced before Bush left office, the agency condemned what it depicted as widespread violations of a law restricting political activities by federal workers and illegal use of federal funds to engage in electioneering. […]

This federally funded travel was organized, approved and closely tracked by Bush’s political office, the Office of Special Counsel found, describing the activity as leading to the illegal diversion of federal funds and workers’ time.

The report covered multiple areas of wrongdoing related to the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials from using their office to influence the electoral process, and found “a systematic misuse of federal resources” on the part of Bush administration officials.

Taxpayer-financed travel was one of the Bushies’ favorite moves. In one especially relevant example, at this point in 2003, the Bush White House sent three cabinet secretaries on a six-city bus tour — they even used the same luxury bus that Aerosmith used — to promote the administration’s tax cuts. Taxpayers paid for all of this.

The trips were all coordinated by the Bush/Cheney Office of Political Affairs, which was overseen by Karl Rove, and which was supposed to be prohibited from using public funds for partisan political purposes.

I can’t find any evidence of the RNC complaining about any of this.

For the record, I’m not suggesting Obama’s bus tour is inappropriate, but justified in a both-sides-do-it sort of way. I actually believe the opposite: the president is well justified in using public resources to talk to voters about the economy, but the Bushies almost certainly broke the law when they misused tax dollars to finance the politically-motivated travel of Bush cabinet secretaries.