An Interview With Tom Campbell

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on February 24, 2010


Tom CampbellFormer Congressman Tom Campbell is running for the Republican nomination for the United States Senate seat currently held by Senator Barbara Boxer in California. He served in the United States House of Representatives for five nonconsecutive terms as the Representative from California’s 12th and 15th districts. He received his BA, MA, and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (where he was taught by Milton Friedman), and his JD from Harvard. He has taught at Stanford Law School, served as the Dean and as a professor of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and now is a visiting professor at Chapman University School of Law. In addition, Congressman Campbell served as a member of Governor Schwarzenegger’s Council of Economic Advisers, and as the Director of Finance for the state of California in 2004, and 2005.

Congressman Campbell served as a law clerk to the Hon. George E. MacKinnon, who served on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and for Justice Byron White of the United States Supreme Court. In addition, Congressman Campbell served as a White House Fellow in the Office of the Chief of Staff, and the Office of White House Counsel in 1980-1981, and as Director of the Bureau of Competition in the Federal Trade Commission from 1981-1983.

In addition, Congressman Campbell served in the California State Senate. He began to run for the GOP nomination for Governor of California, but withdrew from that race, and is now running for the GOP nomination for the United States Senate. The winner will face the certain Democratic nominee, the incumbent Senator, Barbara Boxer. (Full Disclosure: I contributed to the Campbell campaign when he was running for Governor.)

Yesterday afternoon, I had a chance to interview Congressman Campbell. The transcript follows.

PY: Let’s start by having you discuss why it is that you first got into the race for Governor of California, and then decided to switch to the Senate race.

TC: I’ve given my life to public service and to teaching. I wanted to help my state and my country once more in public service. In June of 2008, I stepped down from being Dean of the Haas School of Business at Berkeley and announced for Governor. At that time, George W. Bush was still President, and our deficit while high was one third of what it is today. In the intervening year and a half, the national issues skyrocketed in importance. The deficit tripled. The effort to nationalize health care was launched. The size of the federal government encroachment upon, and impeding of, private enterprise grew enormously. All these pushed me toward the national issues. However, there was also a practical reason. I could no longer hope to compete with two colleagues in the GOP Primary for Governor, both of whom had exceptionally high personal wealth. Public service requires a combination of will, ability, and opportunity. I have the will, I hope I have the ability, but the Governor’s race no longer afforded the opportunity.

PY: Do you think that you would make a better Senator, or a better Governor?

TC: I think I would have been a good Governor, I believe I will be a good Senator. Having knowledge and experience in both state and federal policy is good background for either.

PY: What do you bring to the table that Carly Fiorina or Chuck DeVore [Campbell's opponents in the Republican primary--ed.] do not?

TC: I have nine years’ experience as a US Congressman. That’s almost the perfect training for the US Senate. The issues, and the process, are almost identical. Also, for a winning campaign, a GOP candidate should show a contrast with Sen. Barbara Boxer. Because we served together 4 years in the House, and I served another 5 years when she was in the Senate, there are rating groups whose evaluations are perfect to establish a contrast. The strongest of these is the National Taxpayers’ Union Foundation. In the 102nd Congress, I was number 1 out of all 435 Members of the House, the single “most fiscally responsible” Member. Then Cong. Barbara Boxer was 412! Later, in the 106th Congress, I was once again number 1. Then-Sen. Barbara Boxer was 95 out of 100 Senators!! She has amassed one of the biggest spending records of any Member of the House or Senate in history. I achieved one of the most fiscally responsible. That direct contrast is hugely powerful; more effective, I believe, than simply promising to be fiscally responsible.

PY: You reference Barbara Boxer. She and her supporters might argue that in this time of economic distress, for California and for the nation, it is necessary to have someone fairly high up in seniority, and in the majority, to represent California’s interests. Indeed, Senator Boxer serves as the chair of a major committee. What do you say to people who argue that a junior Republican Senator in the minority would not be able to deliver as much as would a senior Democratic Senator in the majority?

TC: I don’t concede that the Democrats will stay in the majority. Indeed, their over-reaching with the health care bill caused Massachusetts to send a Republican to the Senate. Second, I was effective in the US House in both the majority and the minority. When I was a California State Senator, the California Journal rated me the single most effective State Senator, though I was in the minority. Finally, a single Senator can affect much more than a single Member of the House, because of the unanimous-consent rules regarding floor business, and other procedural rules. My record as a Congressman, State Senator, and as Finance Director of California, all point to my ability to work across the aisle. Please check with anyone familiar with my reputation, and Sen. Boxer’s, and I’m confident you’ll find that I was known as more able to work across the aisle than she.

PY: Which committees would you be interested in serving on, if elected?

TC: Appropriations. It’s the single most important committee for two reasons. First, because appropriations must pass, unlike the product of any other committee, you have a vehicle to implement good policy. Secondly, because of the 12 trillion dollar national debt, and the 1.6 trillion deficit this year, it’s clear we need to rein in spending. The most effective place to do that is on the Appropriations Committee.

PY: Let’s talk economic policy. What specific policies on the state and national level do you object to, and how do you propose to set those policies right?

TC: I object to spending our children’s money. I object to borrowing so much from overseas that we give power to other countries who can threaten to “call our loans.” I object to printing money at such a rate that a high level of inflation is threatening as soon as the economy recovers. My proposal for dealing with the deficit is set out in an alternative to the President’s budget. It’s on my website, at I cut the President’s deficit more than half: by almost 700 billion dollars. And, to hit zero deficit eventually, we need to restore Gramm Rudman. Because of Gramm Rudman, we actually balanced the federal budget when I was last in Congress. At the state level, I object to the absence of a rainy-day fund. We need to collect any revenues more than needed to fund the last year’s spending level, adjusted by inflation and population, and put it in an account that cannot be raided, unless the state’s revenues fall. We need to carry last year’s budget forward into the new fiscal year if there’s no agreement on a new budget, with across-the-board cuts if revenue has fallen and the Legislature can’t work out another alternative in 45 days. I drafted a constitutional amendment to fix the California budget permanently. It eventually became Prop. 76, in a slightly different incarnation, and was defeated at the polls in 2005, thanks to a massive amount of spending by the California public employee unions.

PY: Do you support any kind of a tax increase on the federal level, either via income taxes, corporate taxes, or the implementation of a VAT?

TC: I do not. I believe the federal government has spent far too much. The growth of the federal government is unsustainable, increasing taxes will only continue that growth.

PY: Back when you were in California state government, you proposed temporary tax increases to balance California’s budget. Why not consider tax increases on the federal level as well? What is the difference–other than the fact that we are discussing the federal situation, and not California’s? This refers, of course, specifically to your time as director of finance in California.

TC: I never proposed a state tax increase when I was director of finance of California. But on the question of the difference between the state and the federal budgets, I’d like to note that the size of the federal government is absolutely out of proportion to that of the state of California. For instance, last night, the Senate passed a “stripped down” jobs bill, of “only” 15 billion. That’s more than half of what it would take to close California’s budget deficit this year! The state cannot print money. It has obligations for schools, prisons, roads that have to be met. The federal government, by contrast, has the obligation of national defense, and the entitlement system we have created. I was able to find 700 billion to cut in the President’s budget. Just those cuts are equal to about 9 times the entire California state budget.

PY: Congressman, my question is based on a Daily Caller piece that references the temporary tax increases in 2004, and 2005, along with your support of Proposition 1A. I apologize if I didn’t make that clear.

TC: No problem! There were no temporary tax increases in 2004 or 2005. I started as Finance Director in November of 2004, and went back to the Haas School of Business in November of 2005. My support for Proposition 1A (and my opposition to Proposition 1B which allowed the CTA union to take from the rainy-day fund) was based on my having drafted the version of Prop. 76 back in 2005 that went to the Legislature. Prop. 1A included similar provisions for a rainy-day account, and a Gramm-Rudman like system for cutting across the board if there was a budget imbalance. It would have been permanent budget reform; and, had it been adopted, we would not be in the budget condition we are in today. However, Prop. 1A also included a temporary continuation of the sales tax and income tax increases from the FY 2009 budget. I had nothing to do with that, I did not draft Prop. 1A nor have any role in the decision to include the temporary extension of those taxes. However, I thought the long-term benefit was worth the short-term harm.

I also want to add a word about water. The Central Valley is suffering the highest unemployment rates of any part of our state. Six counties are above 17% , when the statewide average is 12.5%. The National Environmental Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act have been used to cut off deliveries of water to the Central Valley, and to Southern California. The latter statute has an escape clause for extreme hardship. That’s just what we’re experiencing now. Mitigation of habitat for species is achievable, especially the delta smelt. We need practical enforcement of all laws, not doctrinaire application that won’t respond to special circumstances. That’s especially true of our environmental laws. Without repealing them, we can reach the occasional accommodation in especially hard times, and this is such a time. If we don’t, we’ll lose tremendous value to our state, country, and the world by crippling the most productive agricultural area in the world: the San Joaquin Valley. As a US Senator, I would have been able to introduce legislation to make this kind of one-time accommodation. I know Senator Dianne Feinstein recently made such a proposal, but she was not supported by Sen. Barbara Boxer in that effort.

PY: What do you think of the ongoing health care fight in Washington? What would be your health care plan, and what is your opinion of the House, Senate, and White House plans that have been put forth, and are supported by varying coalitions of Democrats?

TC: I have posted an alternative to the Democrats’ health care plan on my website. So, I’m offering a positive alternative approach. I do not support the versions that have passed the House and were proposed in the Senate. The public option will inevitably be subsidized, and it will thus drive out private health care. Some Democrats, like Barney Frank, have admitted that they support the public option because it is the surest route toward a single-payer system in the US. I oppose it for the same reason. I oppose the government mandating what must be in our health insurance policies, and taxing us if our health care insurance policies are, by their lights, too generous. I especially oppose the exemption the President is proposing from such a tax for union members. It is an outrageous inequity. Suppose Republicans proposed paying for health care with a tax ONLY on union members–why is that any more offensive? What I suggest instead is that we provide for those who cannot get health care insurance because of pre-existing conditions, or because they are too poor, by inviting capitated bids from health care providers currently bidding on Medicaid contracts. We should open the field of supply by allowing interstate sale of health insurance. We should repeal the antitrust exemption for health insurance. We should lower the cost of health care by applying litigation-reform to the health care field, including a requirement that one who brings a lawsuit against a doctor or nurse or other health care provider and loses must pay at least some portion of the costs incurred by the party they sued. We can deal with the two needy populations: pre-existing conditions, and those too poor to afford health insurance, without creating an entirely new health care system in the US.

PY: Let’s switch to foreign policy, since a particular foreign policy issue is playing a role in the campaign, and that is support for Israel. Commentary and the American Spectator have run a number of pieces questioning your commitment to a strong relationship between the United States and Israel, and I want to bring a number of those pieces to your attention, so that you can respond. One has to do with a statement you made concerning the writer, Alison Weir, of whom, you are quoted as saying she is “an intelligent, careful, and critical” scholar. According to this piece by Jennifer Rubin of Commentary, Weir is something of a conspiracy monger, whose recent accusations concern alleged Israeli organ harvesting of Palestinians. Do you have a comment concerning these allegations?

TC: In Congress, I always voted for military aid for Israel. I voted to go to war when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and fired missiles into Israel and Saudi Arabia. Please see the David Frum analysis of my voting record at

I never stated any agreement with any statement made by Alison Weir. I cannot validate that she is or is not a “conspiracy monger.” And if she’s said something recently that is wrong, my quoted statement was from many years before any such statements of hers. This is a classic attempt to attack by association. Perhaps most tellingly, regarding the US Israeli relationship, is that I flew (on El Al) to Israel during the first Gulf War, arriving at Ben Gurion Airport the day of the last SCUD attack. I was issued a gas mask. I stayed at the King David Hotel. I met with Israeli government officials to express my solidarity with an ally under fire, and to express as well my gratitude that Israel did not retaliate to the SCUD missiles, as Saddam Hussein had wanted Israel to do. That kept the war from escalating throughout the Arab world, and saved the lives of many US troops. Then-Cong. Barbara Boxer not only voted against going to war when this was happening; she also demanded a “pause for peace” during the US aerial bombardment of Iraq. We now know that Saddam Hussein was only imperfectly targeting his SCUD missiles, and that, had there been a pause, he could have targeted them much more accurately. On issues of US support for Israel when it matters most–the security of Israel from attack–my record contrasts starkly with that of now Sen. Barbara Boxer. Lastly, let me note that I have publicly stated that if Israel needs to use military action to eliminate the threat of nuclear attack from Iran, the US should support that decision.

PY: Congressman, I don’t mean to attack you. I just want you to have a chance to respond to this.

A couple more questions on this issue; during your service in the House, you voted against an extra $30 million in aid to Israel–on top of a $700 million aid bill–because you didn’t want it to be taken away from spending on Africa. What is your general stance on economic aid to Israel? I understand that you are a supporter of military aid.

TC: Please note that the extra $700 million was on top of the 3 billion already appropriated. President Clinton asked for that additional amount and I agreed. The Republican House Leadership then proposed going even more above that, taking the money from the account for the neediest countries. It was to that step that I objected. American economic aid should go to the neediest countries. Israel is not among the economically neediest countries. So, while I didn’t vote against the entire aid package to Israel, economic and military, I also was careful not to take from aid to sub-Saharan Africa, and other areas of great need, to give to countries, like Israel, whose economies were much better developed.

PY: Related to the question of Israel, blogger Philip Klein of the American Spectator has stated that you believed that President Clinton’s foreign policy was one-sided in favor of Israel, and he seems to suggest that you were somewhat indulgent of the late PLO leader, Yasser Arafat. What was, and is your opinion of the Clinton Administration’s foreign policy concerning Israel, and what is your opinion of American foreign policy in general vis-à-vis Israel? Are there elements of American foreign policy on this issue that you believe deserve a rethink? And what do you think is the legacy of Yasser Arafat? How does he stack up against the current Palestinian leadership, headed by Mahmoud Abbas?

TC: I never said President Clinton’s foreign policy was one-sided in favor of Israel. I don’t know what is meant by the statement that I was “somewhat indulgent” to Yasser Arafat; indeed, I criticized Yasser Arafat’s rejection of the peace offer at the end of the Clinton Administration. I thought President Clinton made a good effort in that last year, and wish he had succeeded. American foreign policy vis-a-vis Israel is one of friendship between allies. Israel has made it clear to the world, and the United States agrees, that any attack on Israel will be met with force, and that the United States will supply the military assistance for Israel to make that response. A comparison between Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas requires much more space and detail than is possible here. Let me observe that Yasser Arafat allowed a substantial amount of corruption to characterize the PLO, and that, in the end, he missed the best chance for a permanent settlement that is likely to be presented to the Palestinian people. Mahmoud Abbas, by contrast, has not been able to negotiate effectively due to the coup in the Gaza strip, and the ascendancy of Hamas there.

PY: There have also been reports concerning an association with Sami al-Arian, who was an academic at the University of South Florida, and who pled guilty in 2006 to conspiracy to help “specially designated terrorist” organization, namely, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. According to Jennifer Rubin, Al-Arian approached you to help do away with parts of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Death Penalty Act which allow authorities to hold foreign terrorist suspects based on classified information, and to deny information to the suspect’s defense attorneys. You intervened on that issue, and al-Arian donated $1,300 to your campaign. How would you characterize your association with al-Arian, and how do you look back on your stance regarding the 1996 Act?

TC: I received no contribution from Sami Al-Arian. I believe the blog to which you refer spoke ambiguously as to whether I received a contribution from Sami Al-Arian or his wife. If I received a contribution from his wife, it was, obviously ten years ago. [UPDATE: Congressman Campbell has corrected the record. See the bottom of this post.]

My position on the practice of arresting individuals who were long-time residents of the US and holding them, sometimes for long periods of time, without showing them the evidence on which they were arrested, was detailed in the David Frum piece to be found at Please see his third-party analysis.

I disapproved of this practice on civil liberties grounds. A contribution of $1,300 (or any amount) would cause me neither to adopt nor to drop a view on a matter of public policy.

This is one of the reasons why it is so important to keep Guantanamo open. Enemy combatants do NOT have the right to see evidence against them, more than that they were captured engaged in hostilities against the United States. They should be kept incarcerated until those hostilities end, even if that’s a long time. It was, after all, their choice.

Those who have become residents of America, however, and lived here for many years, are entitled to what the Sixth Amendment guarantees, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” The Justice Department argued that this did not apply because, even though an individual might be put in jail, and stay there for years, deportation was a “civil” not a “criminal” proceeding. I disagree, because the Fifth Amendment applies guarantees that “No person … shall be deprived of … liberty … without due process of law.” The Fifth Amendment is not limited to criminal cases. A person kept in jail in the United States in a civil proceeding is denied liberty. “Due process of law” obviously involves the ability in a civil incarceration to see what the Sixth Amendment would guarantee if it were a criminal incarceration. The deprivation of liberty is the same.

Note that there is no limitation that the Fifth or Sixth Amendments apply only to citizens.

PY: Concerning Iran, what do you think is the best way to counter the Iranian regime’s seeming desier to obtain nuclear weapons? Will sanctions be enough, and if so, how should they be formulated? You stated earlier that you believe the United States should support a military action on the part of Israel to counter any effort on the part of Iranians at obtaining nuclear weapons. Do you believe the U.S. itself is close to having to launch a military strike to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed power?

TC: The time for expecting sanctions to have any effect is long past. I am sorry that is so, but we should not deceive ourselves. Israel has twice in the past destroyed nuclear capabilities of countries threatening Israel: Syria in 2008, and Iraq in 1981. By making it clear that we would support Israel if it took action against the Iranian nuclear threat, it’s possible that we can cause the Supreme Leader Khamani to rein in Ahmedinajad. I do not expect that result, however. I do not know if the US is itself close to launching such a military strike. As in the case of Syria and Iraq, however, it is more likely and feasible for this step to be taken by Israel, which faces the existential threat from Iran’s nuclear policy.

PY: Related to Iran, of course, a large number of Californians are Iranian-Americans (and I exaggerate only slightly when I write that it seems that half of them are relatives of mine). They are closely watching both the pro-democracy demonstrations in Iran, and the Administration’s response. What do you think of the domestic situation in Iran, and how do you believe that the Administration has handled the formulation of American policy concerning the demonstrations? Would you support talks with Iran, and if so, what kind of issues should be on the table? How would you propose helping the pro-democracy movement in the country?

TC: President Obama has pulled back from his campaign offer to meet with Ahmedinajad. He was wise to pull back from that offer. Ahmedinajad does not deserve the title President. He is oppressing his people, and jeopardizing world peace. He has called for the elimination of the State of Israel. He is dangerous. If the Iranian people can replace him, and end their nuclear weapons program, there is some potential for developing once again a positive relationship with Iran. I know this from my many Iranian-American friends. But I do not see that as long as he is in office. America needs to make it clear that we stand with the pro-democracy movement in Iran; just as we did under President Reagan, with the pro-democracy movement in Poland, that led to the eventual end of the Soviet empire. We did not sit down with the puppet government of Poland, or East Germany, in those days. Our position of principle was ultimately very effective. I’d follow that same approach here.

PY: Do you support the President’s Afghanistan policy? Would you have advocated for changes in the surge of troops? Do you believe that the Administration can really pull out those troops in August, 2011, as it claims?

TC: We need to finish the job we began in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban, Al Qaida was allowed to flourish. We cannot tolerate safe havens for Al Qaida anywhere in the world. The surge of troops was satisfactory to General McChrystal; I have no reason to doubt his judgment. He also believes we can pull those troops out on schedule; once more, I have no reason to doubt his assessment.

PY: Concerning China and Russia, both countries are asserting themselves in an effort to balance against American power. What do you think of the apparent effort on Russia’s part to re-establish itself as a European hegemon, and how should we reply? What would your Russia policy be, given both the nature of the Russian leadership, and the nature of Russian interests?

TC: American economic strength was instrumental in the fall of the Soviet empire, and it will be essential to balancing any resurgent Russian hegemony. I stress economic recovery in my campaign for many reasons, and this is certainly one of them. We are far less powerful with more than half of our national debt held by foreigners, and foreign sovereigns. I thought it unwise to have embarrassed Poland and the Czech Republic as we did with our announcement on repositioning our proposed missile defense, evidently without having consulted with them first. We need to repair our relations with those two countries, and with all former Soviet satellites, who have sought either NATO membership, or closer ties with the US. Russia hopes to intimidate us away from cementing such ties; by giving in on the missile defense placement issue without having obtained anything in return from the Russians, we conveyed weakness.

PY: As for China, how do you envision the development of Sino-American relations? Is it a rivalry? A partnership? Do you think that China will lap us as a global power, and what is your reaction to the harsh statements emanating out of Beijing concerning President Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, and arms sales to Taiwan (the last has caused the Chinese to promise to boycott the companies engaged in those sales)?

TC: The US did the right thing to sell arms to Taiwan, and President Obama did the right thing to meet with the Dalai Lama. The Chinese leadership needs to know that we will not abandon our support for self-determination on Taiwan, or human rights for the Tibetan people, by their boycott, or their threat of selling US treasury bonds. Nevertheless, we have ourselves to blame for becoming so endebted to China in the first place. We gave that leverage into their hands. That’s why I stress the budget so much; controlling our deficit is critical to our international relations. Putting such threats in perspective, there is no reason the US and China cannot proceed amicably in economic terms. I would, however, stress the need for China to make the yuan convertible, or, at least, to stop artificially depressing its value; and to protect American intellectual property. Also, I’d urge a rule of reciprocity in international trade. We should open our markets to China on the same terms that they open their markets to us. That is not the case today.

My thanks to Congressman Campbell for his time. I hope to have the opportunity to interview Chuck DeVore and Carly Fiorina as well.

UPDATE: A statement from Tom Campbell:

I apologize, but I made a mistake when you asked. I was aware that Sami Al-Arian had asked others to contribute to me, as I’ve stated plainly so no one can claim I am attempting to hide it. I did not realize that Sami Al-Arian had contributed himself. It was an honest mistake, with no attempt to mislead.

My thanks to the Campbell campaign, and to the candidate, for the clarification.

  • mamadiya

    It is unfortunate that this article repeats accusations against Alison Weir, the founder of If Americans Knew, who works tirelessly for human rights and for accurate media coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Alison Weir's two detailed, footnoted investigations into Israeli organ harvesting and theft are extremely valuable to read. (… and ) Her citations make it clear that the information these articles contain is to a considerable degree drawn from Israeli media. In addition, after the articles were published Israeli TV broadcast an interview with Israel's chief pathologist in which he admitted that he had taken Palestinian body parts.

  • mamadiya

    It is unfortunate that you repeat attacks against Alison Weir, the founder of If Americans Knew, without checking their validity. In fact, Alison Weir's work for human rights and accurate media coverage of the Israel-Palestine is highly credible and important. Her two detailed, footnoted investigations into Israeli organ harvesting and theft are extremely valuable to read. (… and ) It is clear from her citations, that the information contained in these articles is to a considerable degree drawn from Israeli media. In addition, after the articles were published Israeli TV broadcast an interview with Israel's chief pathologist in which he admitted that he had taken palestinian body parts.

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