IT’S HARD to think of a more tone-deaf political move lately than Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s unveiling of his Common Good Virginia PAC, which peddles dinners and sit downs with Mr. McAuliffe, a Democrat, his wife and unnamed “policy experts” for fat cats with a policy agenda for fees reaching $100,000.
How tone deaf was it? Let us count the ways.
Of all people, in all places and at all times, Mr. McAuliffe in Virginia right now is about the worst combination we can think of for this particular brand of fundraising. If Mr. McAuliffe, after fewer than three months in office, is intent on opening fire at his own feet, he’s seized on an effective way to do it.
Dating from his fundraising heyday in the 1990s as the chief money man for President Clinton, the rap on Mr. McAuliffe, fairly or not, is that he blurs the lines and plays the angles where access, policy and money-making intersect.
Although Mr. McAuliffe didn’t invent the idea of selling sleepovers in the White House’s Lincoln Bedroom during Mr. Clinton’s presidency, he advocated it, along with other novel means of connecting the president and deep-pocketed Democratic patrons. Why, as a new governor, would he give his opponents ammunition to reinforce such an unflattering view?
And why now? Mr. McAuliffe is in a no-holds-barred fight with Republicans over whether to embrace Medicaid expansion, which would unlock billions in federal dollars that Virginia badly needs. Mr. McAuliffe has called a special session starting Monday on the contentious issue. This can only weaken his own hand and blur the focus on his top policy priority.
Then think about the place. For the last year, Virginia has been in throes of one of its worst political scandals in decades — the shabby arrangement by which the previous governor, Robert F. McDonnell, accepted tens of thousands of dollars in gifts, cash and vacation home stays from a favor-seeking businessman. The McAuliffe PAC’s fundraising scheme may be perfectly legal, and presumably it would be more transparent than Mr. McDonnell’s largely off-the-books escapades, but why skirt the ethical line?
Yes, trading cash for access has become par for the course in U.S. politics. In 1987, people were shocked when The Post reported that Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.), then the new Senate Finance Committee chairman, was available for regular breakfasts with interested lobbyists for $10,000 a year — a scheme the humorist Mark Russell instantly labeled Eggs McBentsen. It turned out that Mr. Bentsen’s Republican predecessor on the finance committee, Sen. Robert Packwood of Oregon, had done the same thing — for a paltry $5,000.
Today everyone in politics does it, and no one is shocked — except when there is the opportunity for political gain by feigning shock, as the GOP is doing with Mr. McAuliffe. Still, that doesn’t mean everyone has to do it. And in Mr. McAuliffe’s particular case, there are excellent reasons to stand down.