Tim Kaine Suffers Backlash Over Acceptance Of Political Gifts

Aug 2, 2016
Originally published on August 2, 2016 5:46 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

As Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine enters the national political spotlight, he might have a political Achilles' heel - $160,000 worth of free travel and gifts he accepted as governor of Virginia. He disclosed all of it as required by law, and nobody has alleged he did anything illegal.

But in a year when candidates and voters are saying the system is rigged, a record of simply complying with the law might not be good enough. Here's NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Republicans seized on Kaine's disclosures as a way to define him. Here's how Donald Trump put it on Fox News.

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DONALD TRUMP: I mean gifts and trips and clothing and all sorts of things, and now he's running for vice president. I don't get what's going on here. He was not a good choice for her.

OVERBY: Also on Fox, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani compared Kaine to his successor as governor, Republican Bob McDonnell.

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RUDY GIULIANI: All the same stuff that happened to McDonnell, and McDonnell got prosecuted. And he's sitting there free and - just like Hillary (laughter).

OVERBY: This is an important argument for Republicans. McDonnell was prosecuted for taking even more than Kaine in loans and gifts and all from one benefactor - a businessman who wanted McDonnell's help in marketing a dietary supplement. A jury convicted McDonnell on 11 corruption charges. This summer the Supreme Court overturned the verdict. Democrats reject the Kaine-McDonnell comparison. Kaine told MSNBC he did nothing wrong.

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TIM KAINE: I reported everything I was given, even if I didn't keep - I did not keep the vast majority of it.

OVERBY: Most of what Kaine took was free travel, including political trips reimbursed by the Obama campaign - also trips to policy conferences on the private jets of corporations seeking his attention.

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KAINE: The key was disclosure, and nobody has ever raised a concern that anybody who contributed, whether a campaign contributor or a gift giver, ever got anything for it.

OVERBY: For Democrats, here's the problem. They treat this as a matter of complying with Virginia's disclosure laws. Those laws are famously weak. And anyway, the matter isn't up for polite debate. It's destined for attack ads. Jeff Berkowitz is CEO of a conservative opposition research firm called Delve.

JEFF BERKOWITZ: I would use this to further the narrative that Hillary Clinton cannot be trusted and that if she is put into the White House with Tim Kaine, they're going to work for the special interests and not for the American people.

OVERBY: After all, voters this year are rejecting old-style politics.

NICK PENNIMAN: You know, you got to kind of wonder what the people who were vetting Kaine for the Clinton campaign were thinking when they stumbled across this stuff.

OVERBY: Nick Penniman is the head of Issue One, an organization trying to build a bipartisan movement for campaign finance reform.

PENNIMAN: That's where the public is. The public, in poll after poll after poll, believes that the system is rigged, that the wealthy and large corporations have much greater access to it than regular Americans. And they're sick of it, and they want it cleaned up.

OVERBY: Now Tim Kaine waits to see if voters will punish him for playing by the rules of a system they don't like. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.