Even before they were sworn into office, Republican freshmen in the 112th Congress had already shocked the political press corps in the nation's capital.
A group of the incoming GOP representatives scheduled a fundraiser with country singer LeAnn Rimes as the star attraction and this event was treated by Politico reporters Ken Vogel and Marin Cogan as the biggest scandal since Teapot Dome.
How dare those Republicans try to raise money to get themselves re-elected?
This kind of ginned-up controversy typifies the political double standards that suffuse the work of America's political journalists. Anything can be portrayed as scandalous as long as it involves Republicans, because the GOP is presumed to be The Party of Wrong and Evil. Yet no Democrat's words or deeds, not even the most heinous crime, can ever qualify as evidence that the Democratic Party is anything but a force for all that is Good and Right.
Call this the Mary Jo Kopechne Memorial Principle of Journalism: Ted Kennedy's drunken Chappaquiddick revel that resulted in the death of a young campaign aide never prevented reporters from hailing him as "The Lion of the Senate" who was, among other things, taken seriously as an advocate of women's rights. And really, who could find anything amiss in a "waitress sandwich" between two Democrats?
By way of comparison, former Sen. George Allen once made a sarcastic remark, which is why he is now called a "former Senator."
Democrats can go to prison for corruption (Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana) or be censured for ethics violations (Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York) and no reporter ever considers this a reflection on the Democratic Party in general. Yet every would-be Woodward and bush-league Bernstein knows in his heart that GOP politicians are all crooked, so that an army of intrepid investigative journalists stands eternally ready to pounce on the Pulitzer Prize to be won by exposing a Republican scandal. And while they wait for the next great "-Gate" to come along, they amuse themselves by making nefarious Nixonian mountains out of the routine molehills of politics.
This attitude of the press puts Republicans permanently on the defensive and induces a flinch reflex to accusations of wrongdoing. So it was with the LeeAnn Rimes fundraiser, hosted by 11 recently-elected Republican lawmakers led by California's Jeff Denham. Two weeks ago, conservative blogger Matt Lewis reported that tickets to the event were $2,500, with $50,000 "Platinum Sponsor" packages for VIPs who bought eight tickets. For good measure, Lewis added some juicy tidbits about the featured entertainer, who had recently performed in a "Sexy Santa" costume and once admitted to having an extramarital affair.
Headlined "LeAnn Rimes Headlines Pricey 'Swearing-In' Event for GOP Freshmen," Lewis's item at AOL's Politics Daily site was enough to send Republicans scurrying for cover as if they had themselves been caught in flagrante delicto with Rimes. A spokesman for John Boehner said that the incoming Speaker of the House wouldn't be attending the suddenly scandal-tainted event, and the Politico reporters had no trouble finding anonymous Republican consultants to tut-tut the very idea of hosting a fundraiser that was "in direct contradiction to the image that leadership is trying to portray," as one of them said.
Raising large sums of campaign money at big events with famous singers would damage the Republican image. Apparently, GOP consultants are advising congressmen to beg for tiny sums at small events featuring obscure entertainers.
The idea that it's wrong for Republicans to raise campaign cash was a favorite theme of the press corps during the recent mid-term election. In the final weeks of the fall campaign, reporters parroted accusations made by the Democratic National Committee that "secret foreign money" was funding the GOP. Voters in key congressional districts were bombarded with TV commercials that warned: "Karl Rove. Ed Gillespie. They're Bush cronies. . . . They're stealing our democracy, spending millions from secret donors to elect Republicans to do their bidding in Congress." Reporters who actually bothered to check out those accusations never found any smoking guns and the voters didn't seem the least bit scandalized, handing the GOP its biggest House majority in more than 60 years.
Lost amid all the headlines about Republican fundraising, meanwhile, was the fact that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised over $162 million in the 2010 election cycle -- some $30 million more than was raised by the National Republican Congressional Committee -- and in district after district, Democrat incumbents significantly out-raised their GOP challengers. In Pennsylvania's 10th District, for example, Democrat Rep. Chris Carney raised more than $1.6 million for the campaign and was beat by Republican Tom Marino, who raised less than $700,000. Marino was one of the freshmen who co-hosted Tuesday night's LeeAnn Rimes fundraiser and, like other Republicans in swing districts, he knows that when he seeks re-election next year, he'll face a well-funded Democrat opponent whose sources of campaign cash will never be treated as a headline-worthy scandal by the political press.
Beyond the shocking news that Republicans were raising money to get re-elected, there were no immediate reports of scandalous wrongdoing at Tuesday's event. There were evidently no drunk-driving incidents, nor any reported fatalities among GOP campaign aides. And Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment.