Can Kerry Come Back?

Does John Kerry understand that winning the Democratic nomination is the beginning, not the end, of the campaign? Ever since Mr. Kerry won a majority of the delegates to the Democratic convention two months ago, he has stumbled, literally-first falling on the ski slopes, then falling off his bike last weekend, and most of all failing to convey energy and enthusiasm for the job he is supposedly seeking. What’s more, George W. Bush’s operatives have improbably succeeded in turning a decorated war hero into a dodgy, Jane Fonda–loving hippie who threw away his medals.

The Kerry candidacy lacks an agenda that addresses the problems facing this nation: a federal budget out of control, an economy that has lost more than two million jobs since George Bush took office, and a growing trade imbalance with record deficits that could threaten the nation’s recovery. John Kerry has failed to highlight the reckless fiscal policies of the Bush administration, its ongoing assault on the environment and its anti-choice position that threatens a woman’s right to control her body. Where is Kerry? We do not know, and neither do the American people. He seems to be conflict-avoiding rather than confrontational. Rather than hitting the Bush campaign on its glass jaw, Mr. Kerry is on the ropes, spitting out shifting positions-he doesn’t own an S.U.V. but, well, his “family” does, etc.-that do not reflect the abilities or backbone of a man who served two decades in the U.S. Senate and who bested feisty contenders like Wesley Clark and Howard Dean in the Democratic primary. Where are his political instincts? There is no sense of mission or calling. Rather than seeing photos of a strong leader, Americans are treated to effete images of Mr. Kerry snowboarding or riding a fancy bicycle clad in spandex.

And so, despite the daily international humiliations and loss of American lives in Iraq, and despite George Bush’s inability to answer any serious question without his master puppeteer, Dick Cheney, by his side, Mr. Kerry is trailing the President in the polls. Mr. Kerry will not get elected by being the smarter candidate; Al Gore tried that. You cannot outsmart a shrewd and genuinely ignorant man like George Bush. Simply put, you must outwit him, outgun him and attack him. You must play harder and tougher than the Bush team. Is it too late? In a move that can only be seen as a desperate Hail Mary pass, the Kerry campaign is spending a record $27.5 million to purchase advertising that will blanket the country with 60-second ads to try to convince the American people that everything they’ve heard about John Kerry in the past month is wrong.

Can Mr. Kerry’s team put back together a candidate that the Bush campaign has dismantled and desecrated? Buying up TV time, and cozying up with John McCain, won’t convince voters. He needs to start telling the truth about the damage George Bush has done to America, at home and abroad. Only then will John Kerry find his moment. Meanwhile, the Senator should stay away from spandex.

Pataki’s Pay-to-Pray Scam

Lobbyists, contractors, would-be power brokers and other members of the government industry are called on regularly to fork over big bucks to support the re-election campaigns of state lawmakers. The name of the game is pay-to-play-if you want to be considered for state contracts, you have to show your appreciation through regular campaign contributions.

Pay-to-play is a sleazy, horrid little game. But the Pataki administration has managed to drag it further into the muck. State political insiders are calling it pay-to-pray. As revealed in the New York Post, Mr. Pataki runs something called the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast Trust Fund. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it. Until recently, neither had State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. That’s pretty significant, because the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast Trust Fund has never registered with the State Attorney General’s office. Charities that solicit money from the public are obliged to file with the State Attorney General.

The Governor’s Prayer Breakfast Trust Fund certainly doesn’t stint in the soliciting department. Its latest venture is a prayer breakfast on May 11 featuring First Lady Laura Bush, whose qualifications as a preacher have remained as hidden as the trust fund itself. Pious lobbyists are being asked to pay up to $1,000 for tables at the event. Among those soliciting these prayerful individuals are government employees. They do their soliciting, no doubt, on their own time, for the love of God and Governor.

According to the Post, the Prayer Breakfast Trust Fund has been raising money since 1995 to pay for prayer breakfasts on state property. Nobody knows precisely how the money was spent, because the fund didn’t register with Mr. Spitzer’s office, which means it did not file paperwork showing how the funds were used. At first, Mr. Pataki’s people insisted that this worthy organization wasn’t required to file unholy paperwork. But now, perhaps after searching their souls, they say they’ll do what needs to be done.

It says something about the state of state government that a prayer breakfast can become enmeshed in the unseemly world of pay-to-play. Mr. Spitzer is right to ask questions about this little-known outfit. Who has been paying for these events, and how has the money been spent? At the moment, only God knows.

Feds Slap Sharpton

Al Sharpton’s failure to make any impression outside New York City in his pompous bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination was no surprise. His charade doesn’t travel well, despite being given a free pass by journalists who were too cowed to challenge the candidate on his long association with virulent anti-Semites. Now the Federal Election Commission has decided that it, too, is not buying Mr. Sharpton’s act: In an apparently unprecedented, and unanimous, decision, the commission has voted to deny Mr. Sharpton matching funds in taxpayer money for his abandoned campaign. The F.E.C. had previously agreed to give the candidate $79,000, to add to the $100,000 it had already made available to him. Not only is the commission putting a stop on the $79,000 payment; it is also considering demanding back the original $100,000. Talk about a victory for good government.

What brought about the change? The F.E.C. ruled that the good reverend violated campaign-finance laws by spending approximately $100,000 of his own money on the race-double what is allowed if a candidate wants to receive matching funds. Of course, Al Sharpton’s finances have always been smoke and mirrors, and this time it’s no different: He’s claiming that some of his own money was spent for non-campaign-related events. And true to form, having flouted laws and rules that other candidates must obey, he is hinting that the commission is singling him out because of his race.

Needless to say, Mr. Sharpton’s campaign left behind a string of debts-at least $600,000 worth, including salaries to staff members. Not that the candidate worried about the little people during his cross-country jaunts. Unlike most candidates, who sleep in budget hotels, Mr. Sharpton blew thousands of dollars of campaign money on four-star accommodations: over $7,000 for three days at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles; over $3,000 for one night for himself and a few aides at the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. All this while he was going out and comparing himself to Nelson Mandela. The campaign also paid thousands of dollars in airfare and hotels so that Mr. Sharpton’s personal filmmaker could record his every move.

It’s no wonder that the F.E.C. decided that taxpayers should not have to contribute to the Al Sharpton publicity tour. Mr. Sharpton promises a court challenge to the F.E.C’s decision. In fact, he claims he’s owed a grand total of $250,000 in matching funds. It’s one thing when Al Sharpton uses up his own hot air on his self-promoting junkets. It’s another when he tries to use taxpayer money. How low will he stoop?