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OBSERVATION:

Political Log Rolling in Clinton Country

by Walter Brasch
It is refreshing to see a politician publicly admit that he allowed his vote to be bought—this time for a speaking appearance by a charismatic, popular former President.

It was just an old-fashioned case of political log rolling. In this case, the Clinton campaign approached a Democratic county commissioner and held up a political carrot—if the commissioner, the only Democrat of the three commissioners, would endorse Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, they would do their best to provide President Bill Clinton as a speaker in the commissioner’s county.

“Well, OK. That’s a pretty fair deal,” the Bloomsburg (Pa.) Press Enterprise quoted Commissioner David Kovach as telling the Clinton staffer. Kovach told the newspaper he didn’t know whether to support Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama, but that the lure of the President’s appearance is what convinced him to make a decision.

The Clinton campaign later said it would neither confirm nor deny that such an offer was made, or verify any of the statements in the newspaper’s story. “As a policy, we do not comment on private conversations between the campaign and its supporters,” said Frank Rothman, communications coordinator for the northeastern Pennsylvania.

Rothman also would neither confirm nor deny that the campaign staff approached any other politician in Columbia County or any other county, trading personal appearances for endorsements. It didn’t have to.

“The director of the central Pennsylvania campaign contacted me about noon, Friday [April 11],” two days before the planned visit, says Bloomsburg Mayor Dan Knorr. “It seemed they already had a visit planned and were grabbing as much endorsement as possible.” However, Knorr was already committed to supporting Obama.

Allison Hirsch, Obama’s coordinator of volunteers for Pennsylvania’s north central region, says she’s “never heard of any offer to bring in a speaker in exchange for an endorsement” for Obama.

Kovach publicly supported Sen. Clinton; President Clinton came to Bloomsburg, the county seat, and spoke to an energized and enthusiastic crowd of about 800.

In political campaigns, it’s not unusual to use every tactic possible to gain even the smallest advantage. Trading favors is common. Less common is to lure an endorsement by dangling an appearance from a high-profile speaker. Even rarer is a politician who readily and publicly acknowledges that he traded his vote for an afternoon with a charismatic and popular former president.

But, overall, in the world of politics, in a nation in which almost every politician works behind-the-doors deals, it is refreshing to see a politician publicly admit that he allowed his vote to be bought.


Walter Brasch, professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, is president of the Pennsylvania Press Club. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available through amazon.com.


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This story was published on April 15, 2008.