The law never seems to phase Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt. Within weeks of taking the Cabinet post last year, he was off and running, telling city officials their federal aid applications would not be handled expeditiously if they supported anyone other than Jimmy Carter for president.
Playing political reelection hardball with the taxpayers’ money happens to be illegal, since Congress did not appropriate funds for such purposes. Together with other Carter administration officials, Goldschmidt was the object of a lawsuit brought last December by Senator Kennedy’s supporters. The courts dismissed the case because, the judges said, the plaintiffs had no legal standing. The federal courts’ message is that only the attorney general would have standing to challenge such alleged violations.
Since the attorney general hardly ever is going to take after his own president, the courts really are telling the American people there is no enforcement mechanism to prevent these unlawful campaign practices and the political corruption and unfairness they produce.
Now, Secretary Goldschmidt is at it again! Instead of spending his time fulfilling his regulatory duties to seek safer, more fuel-efficient cars and safer railroads (whose deadly chemical tank cars have been overturning frequently), Goldschmidt is preparing to campaign during regular working hours.
His own public affairs assistant, also paid by the taxpayers, exuberantly admits it. In response to questioning, Bob Marx said Goldschmidt is “going to be very active in the campaign” for the next two months. “He will be a very active surrogate” for Jimmy Carter, Marx added.
The White House and Jimmy Carter clearly are behind the decision that Cabinet officials will devote substantial portions of their working tine to the reelection campaign. Although there is no congressional appropriation for such purposes, as required by the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Code, government-paid employees, resources and supplies are being used for an election campaign.
Ronald Reagan, who in 1976 properly but vainly complained to the Federal Election Commission about President Ford using White House staff, has not yet objected. There are two likely reasons for this reluctance. First, both parties engage in such practices when they are in power. Second, if Reagan did take the matter to court, the judges would not decide the case in time. Even if they did, they probably would say that he had no standing to sue or that the question is a political one and beyond the purview of the judiciary.
So the rampant illegality by high government officials sworn to uphold the law continues. The Wall Street Journal quotes one Carter strategist as saying the Cabinet will be used “like it’s never been done before.”
Of course, there will be some show of propriety. When a Cabinet member goes campaigning, along with the president, for example, the Democratic National Committee will pay the transportation fare. But its very limited compensation only highlights the charade.
If Cabinet members want to campaign, they should take leaves of absence from pay and office facilities. Otherwise, the violations make it unfair for challengers, who cannot use the U.S. government to elect themselves. Because the courts make the violators immune from accountability, disrespect is brought upon the law and the courts.
Unlawful acts beyond the reach of the law constitute a condition that calls for corrective legislation. Congress should move to establish a clear basis for law enforcement in this area and provide aggrieved citizens with the legal standing necessary to challenge such repeated outrages to our constitutional and electoral systems.
In the meantime, you can only watch the campaigning Neil Goldschmidt misuse your tax monies, because he knows you cannot do anything about it.