Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Listen to the money talk

George Will allows me to punctuate the discussion I sparked about campaign finance reform with a little history about the late Eugene McCarthy's 1968 bid to unseat Lyndon Johnson:

McCarthy's insurgency, the most luminous memory of many aging liberals, would today be impossible -- criminal, actually -- thanks to the recent "reform" most cherished by liberals, the McCain-Feingold campaign regulations. McCarthy's audacious challenge to an incumbent president was utterly dependent on large early contributions from five rich liberals. Stewart Mott's $210,000 would be more than $1.2 million in today's dollars.

McCain-Feingold codifies two absurdities: large contributions are inherently evil, and political money can be limited without limiting political speech. McCain-Feingold criminalizes the sort of seed money that enabled McCarthy to be heard. Under McCain-Feingold's current limit of $2,100 per contributor, McCarthy's top five contributors combined could have given just $10,500, which in 1968 dollars would have been just $1,834.30. But, then, McCain-Feingold was written by incumbents to protect what they cherish: themselves.


Blogger Ol' Froth said...

I don't have a problem with large contributions. I think any individual person should be allowed to commit whatever funds he has to any candidate that directly represents him. McCarthy was running for president, so any U.S. citizen could contribute under my proposal. However, let's say he's running for a congressional seat. Anyone within that congressional district should be allowed to contribute, but not persons from outside the boundries of that district.

3:35 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Even though I've disagreed previously with your idea to limit contributions in congressional races to residents of the district, what you propose represents a good compromise. If only we were in charge...

6:46 PM

Blogger djhlights said...

My disdain for David Brooks can only be overshadowed by my contempt for history lessons from George Will.

Regarding campaign reform and the 1968 campaign, I would have to point out that Will fails to mention that he is also comparing a primary campaign process for President before the major reforms from the McGovern-Fraser Commission.

The money amounts are interesting, but ultimately irrelevant at the time. It is very important to keep in mind that the primary process was mostly show because of the power and control the state party organizations held over the delegate selection process. Reform came after the 1968 DNC convention.

How much you spent in the primaries really meant squat because you could win a majority of primaries and still not garner the nomination.

Just ask Teddy Roosevelt. He won nine primaries compared to President Taft’s one in 1912 yet still lost the nomination to Taft.

9:15 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Nonetheless, it was Humphrey's showing in New Hampshire that proved the vulnerability of Johnson and prompted RFK to enter the race, and Johnson to withdrawal. I suspect that did require McCarthy to spend some of that money.

The fact that the primaries do play a major role in the nominating process now means that even establishment candidates must raise huge sums of money. Our confusing and byzantine fundraising system ensures, Howard Dean notwithstanding, that only incumbents and the already well-connected will have enough to make a serious run.

9:30 AM


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