When I was at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., my wife called. Three high school students from Italy were visiting, and they were fascinated by the presidential campaign; could I pick up some buttons or bumper stickers?
So I wandered across the convention center to the Obama-Biden area and picked up an assortment of buttons. The bill came to $19.50. When the cashier asked for my name and address, I figured I was going on somebody's mailing list.
The Italian kids were delighted by the tchotchkes. The button with Bo the presidential dog was a big hit; so was one with Michelle Obama, toned arms and all. They even liked the toothy-grinned Joe Biden button.
Then I noticed the fine print on the store receipt. "Your purchase of Obama campaign merchandise will be a contribution to Obama Victory Fund 2012, a joint fundraising committee," it said. Uh-oh: The Times, like most newspapers, forbids its staff from donating to political campaigns. What to do?
I couldn't send the buttons back; the Italian kids took them to Rome. So I sent a letter to the Obama Victory Fund, sternly informing them that my purchase was not intended to be a contribution. Then I bought exactly $19.50 worth of equally attractive tchotchkes from the Romney-Ryan campaign to even things out. Two wrongs don't make a right, but at least I can't be accused of tipping the balance in the Electoral College.