Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Money like water

A pair of election law attorneys argue persuasively that the nation's labyrinth campaign finance laws not only fail to cleanse politics of corruption but merely protect the incumbent lawmakers who voted for the regulations in the first place:

The law is not only increasingly complex but, in many cases, counterintuitive, requiring ever more nuanced clarifications from regulators. ...

Many politicians favored McCain-Feingold because it prohibited certain advertising that mentioned opponents’ names, or because it authorized them to raise more money if they were challenged by wealthy, free-spending opponents. The bill also attempted to strike at “negative” political speech — known to ordinary Americans by its other name, “criticism”— by requiring candidates to publicly approve their ad content.

In 2004, the first election year during which McCain-Feingold was in effect, negative campaigns overwhelmed the government’s efforts to discourage them, and fund-raising records fell beneath the frenzied pace of collections by candidates, parties and interest groups.

By 2005, a rash of scandals, including the Abramoff and Cunningham cases, had answered the question of whether this legal crusade would quash corruption.

I've discussed this previously. Our campaign finance laws make money harder to trace, thus reducing the accountability of candidates and donors, and they also make money much harder to raise, which puts incumbents at an advantage over newcomers. I fail to see how this state of affairs is good for democracy.


Blogger djhlights said...

Just Wondering what your thoughts are regarding H.R.3099, which would provide full public financing for House candidates.

It is similar to election law in several states, seven or eight I believe, that have it in some shape or form.

I generally think it is the only way to go to make elections more for the common good instead of special interests and allow small unknowns the abilty to actually get a foot in the door. Regrettably, in my opinion, because public funding can't be manditory to garner how well it could work instead of the system we have now we are really just stuck in campaign contribution limbo. Unless Buckley vs Valeo is overturned we are stuck with the system we have.

4:21 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Legislative language makes my head hurt. I probably need to read this a few more times to be able to speak intelligently on it, but that never stopped me before.

I like that it would provide a mechanism for unknown or third-party candidates to get enough funding to have a fighting chance. I also like that it requires candidates to demonstrate a minimum level of support without favoring the two major parties. (Of course, the authors of this bill can rest easy knowing that most states' regulations regarding nominating petitions no doubt favor Democrats and Republicans.)

I'm not thrilled with the requirements for broadcasters, although I have to admit that beyond the equal time provisions, I know little about what requirements, if any, broadcasters now have regarding political advertising. I realize that the airwaves are considered public property, but to me that is a legal contrivance that serves at least one good purpose--managing spectrum space so that broadcasts don't interfere with one another--and one bad purpose--allowing the government to regulate content.

I also think that well-heeled candidates and powerful incumbents will opt out of the system. Reform candidates might opt in as a badge of honor, but I don't think major party candidates like John Kerry or George W. Bush currently pay much of a price for forgoing matching funds in order to spend as much as they please.

7:59 PM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

okay...i'm going to be a pain in the ass here...but wouldn't publicly funded campaigns amount to subsidies? and requiring broadcast venues be heavy-handed government interference? isn't that the type of government intervention that you vehemently oppose?

honestly, if a candidate can't afford to outspend his rich opponent, then maybe he needs to find another way to make himself known...or should there be a cap on spending...not the amount that candidates can receive in any single payment.

as far as that public funding...what level does it reach down to...the local school board...or mayor's race in bellevue...and who decides if the al-qaeda in mckeesport candidate gets a chunk of campaign money to run for the state house...okay, let's get real...does the white supremacy candidate get funding to run for president...just because he can? and just how many candidates, regardless of affiliation of beliefs, receive funding?

like i said, maybe there should be a completely transparent cap on total spending, with an elimination of loopholes such as free rides on corporate jets, gratis hotel stays and all that other evasive stuff. that way, if the limit was $50 million, the candidate could get it anyway he wanted, from whatever source.

but as i said, how far down the line does public financing go?

8:33 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

This particular bill pertains only to the U.S. House of Representatives. And no, I'm not an advocate of public financing, but it's unlikely we'll ever see

My preference is no limits on contributions and no limit on spending. But I could live with some public financing if it was relatively transparent.

9:04 PM

Blogger djhlights said...


All of your points are the reason I feel that it should be mandatory. Ultimately that cannot occur until Buckley v Valeo is overturned.

Interestingly though your thoughts that there should be no limits at all is the reason Chief Justice Burger dissented the case originally and was the logic used by Thomas and Scalia in their dissent regarding the McCain Fiengold challenge that could have overturned Buckley v Valeo.

Still as we see it use slowly growing in state legislatures, Arizona has a majority of its state house and a Governor who use the system and Maine has a overwhelming majority who use Clean Campaign funds. It can work if it is used and can hopefully ultimately lead to more time in the legislature instead of shilling for dollars for those who are supposed to be working for the citizens who elect them.

12:23 PM

Blogger djhlights said...

Sean -

but wouldn't publicly funded campaigns amount to subsidies?

Yes. A subsidy is a monetary grant given by government to lower the price faced by producers or consumers of a good, because they are considered to be in the public interest. Why not use the same power of the government to lower the cost faced by consumers of the largest public good in a "democracy"?

if a candidate can't afford to outspend his rich opponent, then maybe he needs to find another way to make himself known...

Some have made the case that if they can't afford to get their political speech known that their 1st amendment and 14th amendment rights are being violated. It is known as the Wealth Primary. You can read more about it here. It is very similar to the thoughts of John Rawls after Buckley v Valeo was decided.

12:47 PM

Blogger Mark Rauterkus said...

At the Economic Club of Pgh meeting, I called for "Transparent PAC Accounts" as a great next step in the campaign finance reform saga.

I want to look straight into the transactions (deposits and payments) for all politicans in real time -- much like a TRUST has TRUSTEES who can watch but not instigate transactions.

10:47 PM

Blogger John Morris said...

Isn't this blog media? And if it is and it is more popular than mine is that fair to me? I demand equal time on all blogs and in all conversations since they unfairly exclude me and also in all movies books and TV show since they may affect political opinions.

There is just know end to a lunacy like this.

10:27 PM

Blogger John Morris said...

And don't you type while I am sleeping and deprive me of my equal time.

10:38 PM


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home