Post Politics Hour

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John Solomon
Washington Post Money and Politics Reporter
Wednesday, August 22, 2007; 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest in politics? Start each day with The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and Congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post money and politics reporter John Solomon, washingtonpost.com political blogger, was online Wednesday, Aug. 22, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

Political analysis from Post reporters and interviews with top newsmakers. Listen live on Washington Post Radio or subscribe to a podcast of the show.

The transcript follows.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Winnipeg, Canada: What do you make of the ABC online poll after the Democratic presidential candidate debates? It showed Dennis Kucinich with a wide lead over Barrack Obama, and almost doubling Hilary Clinton's total. Granted, online polls are not the most reliable sources, but it stands to reason that the two frontrunners would have more resources available to stack the results than Rep. Kucinich. Does this mean that Kucinich's candidacy must be taken more seriously?

John Solomon: I don't know the specifics of how that online poll worked -- and what I'm about to say isn't a reflection at all about Kucinich's performance at the last debate, which has won some favorable reviews -- but generally, online polls and instant reaction polls can be easily hijacked and therefore aren't a good measure of true long term candidate support. A candidate or his supporters -- or even an opponent -- easily can orchestrate an effort to ramp-up vote totals on a specific Web site for a specific online poll. I think the best polls for gauging true support are those done within the careful confines of professional polling and statistical science. Our last poll in Iowa had Kucinich with just two percent support. The best way to gauge if Kucinich helped himself with his most recent debate performance is to see how he fares in the next national or Iowa/New Hampshire polls.

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Arlington, Va.: I don't get this election-law lawsuit against Fred Thompson. According to the blogger who sued: "He has been presenting himself as a candidate for president, he has been raising large sums of money beyond what would be required to explore a possible candidacy, and he has signed a long-term lease on a headquarters for his campaign. He has even spent advertising dollars."

This is illegal? And some random blogger has standing to sue him?

John Solomon: There are lots of folks who seem to have tired of the drawn-out Thompson testing-the-waters campaign. I think it will end shortly because we expect him to jump in the race around Labor Day or just after. That said, Thompson clearly has challenged the limits of how long a candidate can stay unofficially declared and still raise money, give speeches and do other things that resemble candidate activity.

The fact of the matter is the subject of testing the waters with a 527 political group is a fairly gray area. Most anything short of formally advocating that people vote for you falls in that gray area. And Thompson likely is getting good advice because his lawyer, Michael Toner, is the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission.

On the issue of the complaint, just about anyone can file a complaint that election laws have been broken. The Federal Election Commission and the courts will decide whether the complaint has merits.

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New York: John, if John Edwards had his way and no presidential candidate took lobbyist money, how would that change the financial picture? Who besides Clinton now accepts such donations? Thanks.

John Solomon: In the first quarter of the election, John Edwards and Barack Obama had bans on taking money from lobbyists currently registered to lobby at the federal level -- but even those bans have limits. In Obama's case, those who lobby at the state level or who work for Washington lobbying firms but currently are not registered to lobby in Washington are free to donate. So, too, are spouses of lobbyists. In the first half of the year, lobbyists at all levels accounted for less than one percent of the $265 million raised by all the presidential candidates. So ending all lobbyist donations -- while symbolic -- wouldn't change the fundraising machines much.

Lobbyists are even more important as "bundlers" who collect donations from clients and deliver them to candidates. On that front, a big change is forthcoming in Washington. The ethics reform package Congress just passed will require lobbyists to identify the donations they bundle and deliver, giving us the most complete glimpse to date of their fundraising prowess.

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Atlanta: Hi, John. I've been asking this question that either doesn't get posted or the reporters don't know the answer. Given that you are a money guy, what happens to any money that Fred Thompson has raised, if he decides he is not going to run? He reminds me of Rockefeller in 1968: Wants the nomination, but not bad enough to go through all the campaigning.

John Solomon: Because Thompson currently is raising the money via what is known as a 527 political group, he can exit the presidential scene and still use the leftover money to engage in politics at a later date. Such 527 groups often spend money on ads touting their favored party's record or the records of favored candidates. They can run issue ads designed to influence voters. And they often help organize get-out-the-vote efforts or other election activities. Thompson would be free to do all that even if never declares as a candidate. The 527 group gives him maximum flexibility, which is probably why he chose it. Newt Gingrich -- another Republican mentioned as a sidelines presidential contender -- similarly created a 527 group in the last year and is raising and spending money from it.

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Baraboo, Wis.: Any word on which congressional districts will be targeted by the $15 million advertising blitz from that new pro-war group? Do you feel that these ads will have any effect leading up to the Sept. 15 Iraq progress reports, or is it simply too little too late to turn back public opposition to the war?

John Solomon: I'm very interested in seeing what impact outside groups' advertising on Iraq will have in the coming months. If Iraq is one of the defining issues of this election, as most pundits and candidates say, then it will be enlightening to see what messages resonate with voters or are rejected. As with all ad campaigns, measuring impact always comes down to the specific images and subtle messages the actual ads promote.

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Washington: Any word on the fundraising (or lack thereof) numbers for Sen. Warner (R-Va.)? A lot was made of the fact that he "raised" something like $500 in the first quarter; any information on what he has raised to-date now?

John Solomon: Warner has raised less than $74,000 so far this year -- just a pittance of what a Senate candidate will need to spend on a re-election. And that has added to the speculation about whether he will run again. He has about $700,000 in the bank total. This is a Senate seat watched closely by both parties. Virginia, usually a solid Republican state, has elected two consecutive Democratic governors, and now a Democrat for senator in Jim Webb.

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San Francisco: I thought Mitt Romney's blind trust was going to get picked apart by all you "money and politics" reporters. When's the story coming on that?

washingtonpost.com: Romney and Blind Trusts: Candidate Uses Justification That He Once Criticized (Post, Aug. 15)

John Solomon: Actually I wrote a front-page piece just 10 days ago that detailed how Mitt Romney made his millions as a investment fund manager and highlighted the assets in his blind trust that continue to earn him millions. A key element was the fact that years after leaving Bain Capital, he continues to collect millions from that firm because his previously undisclosed severance package left him as a passive investor in the firm. To read that story, just click onthis.

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John Solomon: Thanks for all the great questions. Look forward to chatting again soon.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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