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In search of the Unified Theory of Conservatism

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#TeaPartyFail in Nevada

April 24th, 2012 · 6 Comments

Party That Allegedly Opposes Unethical Payoffs to Political Cronies With Taxpayer Dollars Elects Unethical Tax-dollar Wasting Crony “Capitalist” to Lead Party

Taken in the kindest possible light, new GOP Chair Michael McDonald’s past and current “property development” activities proves that he’s all for government-forced redistribution of wealth.  A more honest assessment would be that he’s all about brazenly using positions of political power to enrich himself and/or his friends at taxpayer expense to the tune of millions of dollars.

Either way, he’s EVERYTHING the Tea Party Movement – and conservatism generally – is supposed to be against.  And yet he was elected supposedly as the tea party, anti-establishment, “true conservative” option to chair the Nevada Republican Party.  How did this happen?

The Nevada State GOP began hemorrhaging credibility back in October.  With McDonald’s election, they’ve officially eliminated it completely.  This will end badly for the state party, and for any politician stupid enough to get to close to Mr. McDonald.  When it does, I just hope there are enough Republicans left untainted by this to save the conservative movement from total irrelevance for the foreseeable future.


Back in 2000, Mr. McDonald was a City Councilman in Las Vegas.  McDonald’s employer (being on the City Council is a part time gig) made a bad investment in a piece of property, and was losing money.  It just so happened that the City had a few million tax dollars laying around for “economic redevelopment”.  You can read about the whole affair here, but you can see where it’s going.  McDonald used his position on the Council to lobby his colleagues to get the taxpayers to buy the  property and bail out his boss.  And it wasn’t small change – he was looking to spend over $7 million in Other People’s Money.

Fortunately, the rest of the City Council ultimately rejected the bailout, and the Nevada Commission on Ethics unanimously determined that McDonald violated the law and acted unethically.  (In spite of this, many McDonald supporters responded to concerns about his ethics issues on Facebook and elsewhere by falsely insisting that he was “fully exonerated” in this and other matters.  Either they were lying, or they carelessly bought someone else’s lie.)


This is exactly why these big economic development funds – and big government generally – are so dangerous.  They usually wind up being slush funds for political cronyism, and returns on investment are rarely seen (at least not by us unwilling investors).  Even in the most benign and well meaning of circumstances, they make little long term economic sense.

But let’s just pretend for a minute that McDonald legitimately believed that this “investment” would pay off for the taxpayers, and that he was acting with only the loftiest of intentions.  You still have to accept that he thinks nothing of Big Government taking money away from productive citizens and then redistributing wealth to other folks favored by government officials.

This is the guy who is going to “stick it to all the RINOs”?

That’s not conservative.  Indeed, it’s philosophically repugnant to any true movement conservative.  And in practice, this is exactly the sort of thing both parties have engaged in that have led to the trillions of dollars in debt and economic crises we now face as a nation.

But to be fair, maybe that was less obvious back in 2000, when we weren’t yet reaping the full economic hardship such waste ultimately produces.  Surely McDonald has learned since then, no?


Fast forward to this month.  McDonald approached the Las Vegas City Council with an “economic development” plan to build low income apartments.  (Remember, this is in a city so wracked by foreclosures and recession that 13.5% of the city’s apartments were vacant last year, the second worst in the nation – a lack of available housing units is NOT our problem.)  He wanted all-but-free land for the rest of his natural life (a $1 per year lease for 75 years) and nearly $4 million in Other People’s Money to get started.

The city’s Economic Redevelopment staff studied the proposal, and strongly recommended against giving the money to McDonald – (among other reasons, he’d defaulted on a previous redevelopment project with the city a few years back).

Inexplicably, the City voted to give him the money anyway, including the supposed firebreathing fiscal hawk Bob Beers. That’s right – in a broke city in a broke state with TOO MUCH vacant housing, we just spent $4 million bucks we don’t have TO BUILD MORE HOUSING.

Next thing you know, they’ll determine that what they really need to subsidize in Vegas is more sand.

At least now we know why McDonald spent so much time and money campaigning to be the state party chair.  Does anyone think the Council would have gone along with this absurdity if it wasn’t becoming clear that McDonald would be influential in state politics?

If this doesn’t offend you to your core, you aren’t a conservative.


These two incidents aren’t even close to McDonald’s only ethical issues, even just taking into account what we know.  (How many more of these million dollar boondoggles never got complained about or reported?)  He’s been investigated for corruption from everyone from the FBI on down, and his name seems to come up every time some sleazy Vegas character goes to prison.  In 2008, during a deposition regarding a case against former strip club owner and convicted federal felon Rick Rizzolo, McDonald was forced to plead the Fifth no less than ten times for fear that an honest answer about his financial dealings with Rizzolo would lead to his criminal prosecution.*

In 2003, Las Vegas voters booted him out of office for his apparent corruption.  And remember – this is the city who elected a mob lawyer as mayor for as long as they could, and then elected his wife to be the mayor when he was term limited out!

McDonald’s defense is that he’s never been indicted – whupti-do!  I’ve seen plenty of people brought up on felony charges with much less evidence than this, but good on the feds for not being arrest-happy.  Still, “not being charged” is a manifestly different thing than “being exonerated” (which is what McDonald supporters claim not being charged means).  What sane person would trust a guy with this track record to raise funds on your behalf and then direct the spending of that money wisely?

And why do it when we had a proven credible alternative in Dave Buell?  Because Dave is “the Establishment?”  What the Eff does that even mean?


The Las Vegas Sun’s Jon Ralston has spent a lot of time of late pointing all of this out, clearly incredulous that a guy with this track record could ever find a political toe hold again, and clearly disgusted with the latest waste of tax dollars McDonald is responsible for.

The response of McDonald and his supporters is that Ralston is (and I’m only slightly paraphrasing) a Big Fat Liberal Poopy Head With an “Agenda”.

Also that Ralston must have, like, a gay crush on McDonald.  No, really.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your new Nevada Republican leaders!

NONE of the allegations were addressed with a substantive correction, response, or explanation anywhere that I’ve seen.  Just vague insinuations that people aren’t being told the “whole” story (whatever the heck that is), and attacks on the messengers for daring to question the motives of anyone in politics.  I’m sure this post will be met (probably with cowardly anonymity) with similarly empty sturm und drang.

Here’s the thing – if McDonald was actually an ethical person who was in the wrong place and wrong time when felons were doing their thing, his response would be, “Look – I appreciate how bad this looks, and I know I have a lot of explaining to do.  I’ve definitely made a lot of mistakes in the past.  Please give me a chance to explain the full picture in detail, let you know what amends I’ve made, and how I’ve learned to be much more careful with my associations, reputation, and stewardship of tax dollars since then.”  Instead it’s, “How dare you!!!  YOU MUST BE A RINO/ESTABLISHMENT/LIBERAL/COMMIE-NAZI!!!!  YOU WILL BE PURGED!!!!!!!”  That alone is enough to convince me of McDonald’s irredeemable crookedness.

Haven’t conservatives been bitching for years that the press turns a blind eye to government waste and political corruption?  Ralston is hardly a Republican, but he’s one of the very few people in the press who actually investigates this sort of thing and exposes it (yes, from members of both parties) on a regular basis.


The tea party movement was supposed to be about defeating Big Government wealth redistributors, both the corrupt and the merely soft-headed, in both parties – so why did self-proclaimed tea party groups and the Ron Paul types who now control much of the state party actively get behind McDonald?

Well, we’ve already established that a few of the “takeover” nutters have no interest anyone’s individual liberty except their own, or in respecting the will of the people they claim to represent.  It stands to reason they would be similarly uninterested in safeguarding taxpayers who aren’t in their inner circle.  Maybe if supposedly reform-minded Republicans weren’t so focused on meaningless platform plank debates, they’d have time to see the millions in government waste they just enabled.

Or maybe that was the plan all along.  Distract, distract, distract, and then scoop up another $4 million tax dollars into your company’s private bank account when everyone’s all whipped up about the RINO Menace hiding under every sagebrush.

But I think there are also a lot of good people who are nonetheless new at the political process and susceptible (like all of us) to hearing what we want to hear.  By all accounts, McDonald can be personable and charming, but then so is any good con man.  Let this be a warning to tea party activists everywhere – people sense your frustration, and if you aren’t careful, some of those people will try to take advantage of you.

In other words, McDonald’s supporters either knew about his track record and are fine with government waste and likely corruption as long as it’s “our guy” doing it, willfully ignored the clear evidence right in front of them, or just uncritically took what he said at face value because it sounded good.  Whatever it is, though, not a one of them has any credibility at this point to attack government waste or back-room cronyism in politics at this point.  If you voted for Michael McDonald, then Solyndra shouldn’t bother you at all, and GSA wasting money in Vegas ain’t no thang at all!  It’s worse than just being tied to corruption by association – electing McDonald will significantly neutralize otherwise effective lines of attacks against Democrats from Obama on down.

It’s important and correct to shout about excess government spending and feckless politicians who claim to want to fix it but don’t.  But this is what happens when you throw a temper tantrum instead of getting serious, doing your homework, persuading instead of bullying, and actually try winning real elections with good candidates.  Instead of being Utah and effectively replacing old, worn out elected officials who forget where they came from, you elect a non-policy-affecting figurehead whose name is synonymous with corruption in politics.

And Republican elected officials, take heed – someday that picture of you grinning and gripping with McDonald will be on every one of your opponent’s fliers on every doorstep in your district trying to tie you to the latest scandal associated with a guy whose made a habit of scandal.

How does this win elections again?  And in McDonald’s case, even if it DOES win elections, how is this any different from what we’re trying to replace?


Not me.  I didn’t get involved in state politics, investing hundreds upon hundreds of volunteer hours over the years, so I could trade their corruption for “our” corruption.  I didn’t do two deployments in the hopelessly corrupt Middle East to tolerate such a culture here at home.  At the end of the day, we all lose that way.  I’m not going to “fall in line” behind this kind of thing in the name of a Pyrrhic “unity”.  Doing that only lets McDonald’s baggage taint my – and every other Republican in the state – reputation and motivations.  Getting on board the SS McDonald means we all sink together.  It’s one thing to get behind a political figure you have fewer substantive policy disagreements with than the other guy, but it’s quite another to do a full 180 on everything we as a movement have been railing against for the last several years because (like any good con man) he’s just so good at telling us all what we want to hear.

And honestly, why should we?  McDonald isn’t running for an actual office (yet).  I don’t have to chose between him and a free-spending and taxing Democrat.  I don’t need to hide my disdain for his crony-capitalism or his forced appropriation of my tax dollars into his personal bank account with no benefit to me (some would call that theft) in order to support good Republican candidates up and down the ballot.  The Washoe County party is still well led, well run, and effective.  There are plenty of ways to spend time and money on political causes without wasting it completely.

Still, now we miss out on the potential force-multiplying benefits of an effective statewide party.  And that’s a shame.  But I’m not going to pretend McDonald is either Conservative or Ethical, because it’s clear he’s neither.  (Insufficient conservatism I can deal with – insufficient ethics I simply can’t and won’t.)  And silence now will only earn us guilt by association later – like around Election Day, when it really will matter.

So good work, Nevada tea party movement.  You either failed to actually vet your candidate (did we learn nothing from Candidate Obama?), or you were willing to sell out your principles for some illusion of power.  I know there are great people in the various TP groups out there, but boy did you drop the ball.  Whether you just got sold a bill of goods because you wanted to believe what he said, or you’re in on the scam, it doesn’t matter – the effect is the same.  You are now everything you got into politics to oppose, and you’ve now made it harder to elect conservative Republicans (or ANY Republicans) in Nevada for the foreseeable future.

Count me out.

Update:  I’m glad I’m not the only conservative in the blogosphere speaking out about this travesty.  NPRI has more, along with some more details on McDonald’s history of enriching himself at taxpayer expense.


*(A word about “Pleading the Fifth”.  McDonald has whined that it’s unfair for us to hold this against him, but this is, of course, ridiculous.  I’m a criminal defense attorney, and am all about exercising one’s Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.  In an un-recorded, attorney-less confrontation with a cop, your quotes in a police report not be super accurate, but will be used against you as if they were in stone.  But in a deposition, where you know the questions ahead of time, have your lawyer present, and know everything is being transcribed to it can’t be taken out of context or misquoted later, the possibility of being somehow tricked into a false confession is pretty remote.  Moreover, in an encounter on the street, you don’t have to say a word to a cop, incriminating or otherwise.  But deposition witnesses are subpoenaed and are under oath – the only way they can refuse to answer a question is if the answer would tend to incriminate them criminally.

I don’t want the government being able to throw you in prison because of what you didn’t say, but I don’t have any problem with individuals exercising their Free Association rights based on the obvious.  There is some remote possibility, I suppose, of an innocent explanation for McDonald feeling compelled to take the Fifth, but it’s pretty unlikely under the circumstances.  And hey, if it exists, my comments section is always open – let’s hear it!)


Tags: Big Government · Campaign '12 · Corruption · Nevada Politics · Republicans · Uncategorized