Pompeo story needs correction, analysis

A Wichita Eagle news story concerning a candidate for the Republican Party nomination for United States Congress from the fourth district of Kansas has sparked controversy for its reporting of some factual issues, and also for its coverage of the politics surrounding the campaign.

The story (Big D.C. names host Pompeo fundraiser, May 16 Wichita Eagle) reports on a fundraising event held in Washington DC for Mike Pompeo. The event was held at the home of Robert “Bud” McFarlane, and was attended by, according to the Eagle article, “former federal officials, lobbyists, consultants and political action committees.”

Readers with long memories may have trouble with the Eagle story when it reports “He [McFarlane] was convicted of lying to Congress about the administration’s plan to sell arms to Iran and divert proceeds to the Contras, a guerrilla movement then waging war against the leftist government in Nicaragua.” As a guest on KPTS public affairs television program “Kansas Week” on Friday, Dion Lefler, the author of the Eagle story, repeated the assertion that McFarlane was convicted of lying to Congress.

The actual facts are that McFarlane entered a guilty plea. He was not convicted, as reported by a contemporaneous New York Times story: “Robert C. McFarlane, President Reagan’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty today to four misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress and agreed to serve as a prosecution witness in the criminal investigation of the Iran-contra affair.” (“McFarlane admits withholding data on aid to contras,” March 12, 1988 New York Times.)

There’s a distinction between being convicted of a crime and pleading guilty. While some may view it as a distinction without a difference, it was certainly important at the time, and is part of the historical record.

The Eagle story also reports on McFarlane’s current involvement in Sudan, specifically with the people of the Darfur region of that country. The United States has called the actions of the Sudanese government against these people genocide. In the Eagle story, congressional candidate and Kansas Senator Jean Schodorf noted that the Kansas legislature voted to divest the state of any business interests with Sudan. McFarlane, however, disputes the contention that he is working for the government of Sudan. Based on her interview with McFarlane, State of the State KS’s Rebecca Zepick reported: “McFarlane said he was disappointed the story was virtually wrong in all elements about his testimony on the arms sale deal and on his work overseas. McFarlane says he works to coach the tribal leaders of Darfur, often the victims of ethnic cleansing, as they prepare to negotiate a peace agreement with the central government.” (Former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane Speaks Out On Support for Mike Pompeo, State of the State KS, May 17.)

The politics of the article deserve discussion, such as the role of lobbyists at the fundraising event, and in the campaign in general. Pompeo’s opponents have criticized him for accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists. Part of the problem we have is understanding and even appreciating the role of lobbyists both at the federal and the state government levels. I spent quite a bit of time in Topeka this spring observing the Kansas legislature and surrounding activity, and I came to understand the role of lobbyists more clearly. While it’s true that the popular perception of lobbying — described by one writer as “sinister influence peddling by pressure groups with reckless disregard for the general welfare” — contains an element of truth and is an important area of concern, lobbyists do play useful roles.

For one, lobbyists play a useful role in gathering and transmitting information to their clients and others. While this is also the job of the news media, many clients require more detailed and specific information and analysis of what’s happening in the legislature or Congress as it regards their interests.

Second, many lobbyists are simply trying to protect their clients from harm. They are not necessarily seeking anything from government except to not be harmed.

I also observed times where legislators rely upon lobbyists for technical abilities such as analyzing the effect of a change to legislation on the insurance industry, for example.

While advocates of limited government such as myself wish for a day when government is so inconsequential that lobbying is neither necessary nor productive, that day is not here. In fact, with the actions and policies of the Obama Administration — Bush’s too, for that matter — government is becoming larger and more intrusive, meaning that lobbyists are going to play a role.

To simply pretend that lobbying does not exist is naïve and does not take into account the realities of the current political environment. Further, while one of Pompeo’s opponents, Kansas Senator Jean Schodorf, has apparently not received contributions from lobbyists or political action committees in her campaign for the nomination for Congress, she has accepted many such contributions for her Kansas senate campaigns.

Examination of Schodorf’s campaign finance reports from the last time she ran for office (her campaign for the Kansas Senate in 2008) shows that she received campaign contributions from many political action committees. Some of these PACs are controlled by groups such as the Kansas National Education Association (the teachers union) that also extensively lobby the Kansas legislature for increased spending — which Schodorf accommodates, as she did in the current legislative session. She voted for a budget that increased state spending partly for schools, and voted for the bill that raised the state’s sales tax to pay for the spending.

A further issue that deserves discussion is the source of campaign contributions. The story itself — certainly the quotes from Pompeo’s opponents — paints a picture of Pompeo raising large sums of money from Washington sources. In a phone conservation, Pompeo said that this characterization is not accurate, that over 80% of the money he’s raised is from Kansas. While the other Republican candidates have not raised much money from outside Kansas, one candidate has: Democrat Raj Goyle, the likely opponent for the Republican nominee in the November general election.

For Goyle, the proportion of in-state versus out-of-state contributions is roughly reversed from Pompeo’s. A quick analysis performed by myself on Goyle’s campaign contributions through March 31 showed 33% of the dollars coming from donors in Kansas. The remaining donations came from donors outside of Kansas. This analysis is confirmed by analysis available at the website OpenSecrets.org, which showed Goyle’s campaign contributions from Kansas at 32% of his total.

The same analysis from OpenSecrets.org showed that for the Pompeo campaign, 82% of contributed funds came from donors within Kansas, with 18% from outside of Kansas.

Interestingly, the OpenSecrets.org analysis showed that the leading metropolitan area that has contributed to Goyle is the Washington DC area, with donors there having contributed about $149,000 to his campaign. The Wichita metro area was just behind at $148,000.

For the Pompeo campaign, donors in the Wichita metro area contributed $434,000. The next metropolitan area was Chicago at $16,500, and contributions from the Washington metro area were just below $10,000. For Pompeo, this figure does not include contributions from the fund-raising event that is the subject of the Wichita Eagle article.

While Pompeo is not running against Goyle at this time, the Wichita Eagle has shown a tendency to paint Goyle in the best way possible for someone running for Congress in a fairly conservative district. My post Raj Goyle is not moderate or conservative, even for a Democrat highlighted the Eagle’s characterization of Goyle as a blue dog Democrat, meaning a fiscally conservative Democrat. Such a description would be helpful to Goyle in his campaign against the eventual Republican nominee.

As my story reported, “fiscally conservative” does not describe Goyle’s past voting record in the Kansas House of Representatives, although this year Goyle voted in a more conservative way. In my new edition of the Kansas Economic Freedom Index, Goyle scores quite well, better than 30 Republican members of the House. Voters will have to judge for themselves whether this change in voting represents a true change in Goyle’s governing philosophy or is merely election-year posturing.

In the end, the criticism leveled at Pompeo by his election opponents as a Washington insider may simply be a reaction to his success at fundraising not only in Washington but elsewhere. Eagle reporter Lefler, again speaking on the most recent Kansas Week, said “The real irony in all of this, is that four five years ago, having an event like this would have been an absolute plus for a candidate. This was the kind of thing that that showed you have the gravitas to actually go to Washington and actually get some things done.”

12 Comments

  • Dion Lefler -

    Bob,

    You are correct that pleading guilty and being convicted are not exactly the same thing.

    However, in the case of Mr. McFarlane, both things occurred.

    After Mr. McFarlane pleaded guilty, he was convicted and sentenced by U.S. District Chief Judge Aubrey E. Robinson, Jr., and subsequently pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.

    As to Mr. McFarlane’s dealings with Sudan…

    I wrote:

    McFarlane resurfaced last fall in Washington Post reports that he had signed a deal with the Middle East nation of Qatar to help broker a peace settlement on behalf of the government of Sudan.

    The Post wrote:

    Former Reagan Aide Robert McFarlane’s Dealings With Sudan Raise Questions

    By Dan Eggen
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, September 30, 2009

    The government of Sudan, eager to curry favor with a U.S. government that accused it of genocide, sought help last fall from an unlikely source: a former Reagan administration official known for his role in the Iran-contra scandal.
    The approach by Sudanese officials led to a $1.3 million contract for former national security adviser Robert “Bud” McFarlane, who went on to meet with two of the Obama administration’s top policymakers on Sudan and its strife-torn Darfur region, according to documents and interviews.
    The unusual talks between Sudan and McFarlane featured meetings in Middle Eastern capitals, clandestine communications with Sudan’s intelligence service and a final agreement with the government of Qatar, which is employing McFarlane as part of its peacemaking role in the eastern African region. …

    full story at:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/29/AR2009092903840.html

    I’ll leave it to your readers (and mine) to decide whether I accurately summarized the Post’s report.

    Dion Lefler
    Staff Writer
    The Wichita Eagle

  • Thank you Bob.
    The truth is all that matters, and the truth is so easily lost in contested political races where everyone is trying so hard to promote one candidate over another.
    I happen to be a Jim Anderson supporter in that particular race, but when I saw that Eagle article on Pompeo, I was both impressed and appalled… impressed by the amount of research that Dion did for that article, and appalled that he did not say anything about the fundraising of the other candidates in that race.

  • LARRY DOSS -

    THANKYOU FOR YOUR COMITTMENT IN CLEARING THE NEWS STORY BUT I MYSELF STILL SAY WE NEED A FRESH START AND WINK HARTMAN WHO DOES NOT WANT ANY ENDORSEMENTS FROM ANY ONE IS THE GUY I BELIEVE THE MAJORITY OF KANSANS WILL ELECT.

  • So, Lefler’s big source for the hit-piece on Pompeo was the Washington Post? OMG. Talk about biased. There is no new source more biased than the WaPo, except maybe, the NY Times. No wonder…

    That is one problem with journalism today. They live in a bubble with people who all think alike, and report the same. No one seems to go to the trouble to find out facts for themselves. Investigative journalism is dead.

    One journalist just reads another journalist to get his story now? Pretty sad.

    Thanks for your great REPORTING and INVESTIGATION Bob. It is becoming a bit of lost art, so it seems.

    I just can’t get over the fact that Dion’s source was WaPo. No bias there. (heavy sarc.)

    I am sure he will get right on that 80% out of state donation thing with Goyle though…not!

    BTW, lobbyists come in all forms. They represent a lot of “individuals” who group together to protect themselves from government intrusion. The Sierra Club, Right to life groups, teachers unions to name a few, all have lobbyists. To paint them with the “They are all bad” brush is silly.

  • Dion Lefler -

    My apologies, Sue.

    I probably should have pointed out in my original comment that I also obtained, and quoted in my story from, Mr. McFarlane’s contract with the government of Qatar. It is on file with the Justice Department as an attachment to his disclosure form as an agent acting on behalf of a foreign government, and it confirmed the basic factuality of the Post’s report.

    I was trying to keep my comment brief.

  • Booksnake -

    Based on his communication skills alone, it’s easy to see that Larry Doss is a Wink Hartman kind of guy. The things he says don’t make any sense, but by saying them with all those capital letters, you just have to be impressed. It’s the opinion-page equivalent of the guy who sits behind you at a basketball game cleverly blowing an air horn. Or, more on topic, he’s like the guy who uses his inheritance money to put his jowly old face on ten thousand TV commercials every hour of every day so he can to toot an even more repellent kind of horn – his own.

    The statement that Wink Hartman doesn’t want endorsements should be passed along to the folks at Merriam-Webster as the definitive example of “sour grapes.” The truth is that Hartman does, in fact, seek endorsements and support. It’s just that when he comes calling, nobody’s home. Even Hartman sycophants turn out the lights and hide behind the furniture until Wink gets back in his car and weaves on down the road. As a fund-raiser, Hartman fails almost as miserably as he failed in his home-building business, which wound up costing his suppliers almost $6 million.

    Hartman fought hard to get the endorsement of the Club For Growth in Washington, D.C. – and lost to Pompeo. He lost because it was clear to the CFG people that when it came to fostering freedom and limiting government, Pompeo was the real deal and Hartman was the poser.

    Hartman has sought the support of city leaders all across the 4th District and – as far as the public record reflects – he has failed to get the backing of even one. Why are there exactly zero public figures supporting Mr. Hartman? Do they already know something that the rest of us have to wait to find out?

    Hartman’s endorsement failures are forcing him to spend his inheritance from Grandpa at an obscene rate, throwing easy money by the carload at a doomed candidacy that promises to garner even fewer votes than Bill Warren’s did.

    We would all be so grateful if Wink would bring his sweating polo pony to a stop, remove the fine, hand-tooled Corinthian leather saddle from the animal’s perfectly muscled back, and leave the campaign trail to those who live and work in the real world and actually care about our community and our country.

    For the love of God, Mr. Hartman (or at the very least, the love of public sanity), will you kindly step away from the television and put your ego where we it won’t embarrass us in full HD every time we turn on Jerry Springer?

  • Dear Dion,

    You’re commenting and trying to defend your story? Usually, when someone gets defensive that means they are typically wrong and don’t want to admit it.

    Also, I happen to know for a FACT that YOU, sir, did NOT do your own research. This story was handed to you by another campaign and now you’re trying to play it off as your own story. That, my friend, is the sign of a poor journalist who has lost sight of what’s important.

    As a journalist myself, I am embarrassed for you and ashamed that you are part of a profession whose job it is to at all times tell the truth.

    May God have mercy on your soul for lying.

    Sincerely,

    Holla

  • Dion Lefler -

    While it’s a relatively new development in journalism, the emerging trend is for reporters to be willing to engage in a dialog with readers about what we do.

    Bob and Sue raised what are in my view valid questions of fact and I’ve done my best to answer their concerns.

  • Thank you, Dion, for your comments and explanations.

    Articles like this are not easy for me to write, and I suppose probably not easy for others, too. I remember George F. Will once describing newspaper reporting as “the first draft of history.” The first draft may not be the entire, accurate story, and events like these are subject to interpretation influenced by many things, including the subtle biases that we all, including me, possess.

  • Dion, thanks for the dialogue and discussion on this story.

    Although I seriously object to your Pompeo article, and found many flaws in it, I do think you are a stand up guy to come and “talk” with us.

    Even though I disagree with your piece on Pompeo, you have earned my praise for engaging with us! Thanks :)

  • Wise Chick -

    Goyle is obviously The Eagle’s “golden boy” receiving only positive coverage since he moved to Wichita in 2006 and announced his intention to become a candidate for the Kansas Legislature. No mention of his ties to the Soros machine through his affliliation with the Center for American Progress, the liberal think tank headed by John Podesta, and, prior to that, as an attorney for the anti-American ACLU. Never a mention of all the D.C. dollars that have flowed into Goyle’s coffers; yet, The Eagle makes a big issue of Mike Pompeo’s D.C. fundraiser. From the get-go, Goyle has reinvented himself to be someone he is not to fool Kansas voters. If the voters know what and who he really is … a liberal and an avid Barack Obama supporter … he has no chance in the 4th District race. It is obvious that The Eagle is now going after Mike Pompeo because he appears to be the Republican front runner. Look for the newspaper to be Goyle’s public relations cheerleader until the General Election in November. It is unfortunate that Wichitans only have an “unfair and unbalanced” newspaper.

  • Anonymous -

    I read with interest some apparent criticisms of Wichita Eagle reporter Dion Lefler reporting that the host of a fundraising event for Congressional candidate Mr. Mike Pompeo was convicted of a crime. Robert (Bud) McFarlane, in whose home the fundraising event took place, was convicted of a crime. Some folks complained they believe there is some difference between pleading guilty to a crime and then being convicted of a crime. Factually and legally Mr. McFarlane pleaded guilty and in accordance with the law was convicted by the judge of those criminal acts to which he admitted wrongdoing. In the law this is about as solid as a conviction gets. Mr. Lefler’s reporting of the facts is and was correct. It should be of concern to most rational Kansas voters that a convicted criminal sponsored a fund raiser for a candidate running for Congress from their state as this calls into question Mr. Pompeo’s fitness for public office. If Mr. Goyle had accepted campaign contributions through a fundraiser in the home of a convicted criminal, Mr. Goyle’s political opponents would be demanding that campaign fundraising by the convicted criminal be investigated and reported.
    While Mr. Pompeo’s supporters no doubt would prefer that Mr. Lefler not have written this piece, if some folks can’t handle the truth of the matter, that is a reflection on them and their candidate, not Mr. Lefler.
    Mr. Lefler has nothing to apologize for in this story.
    Mike

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