It was bound to happen eventually. Soft money’s back. And it’s bursting onto the political scene through massive loopholes in the broken campaign finance system.
Campaign finance reform, while still a twinkle in John McCain’s eye, was intended to stop unregulated soft-money donations to the national parties. Sure, it’s done that, but it hasn’t stopped the influence of soft-money on any person involved in the political process, period.
Take those on the Left, for instance. While the media sang kumbaya at the passage of campaign finance reform, uber-left political organizations calling themselves “groups” started to pop up. These “groups,” “funds” and 527’s began eliciting massive soft-money contributions- none of which are subject to Federal Election Commission regulation. Campaign finance reform wasn’t even signed into law before the money was diverted to a “group.”
Can you believe it? Billionaires like George Soros, who has pledged 10 million dollars to defeat President Bush, can funnel their money to such “groups” whose only accountability is filing a tax return. It’s no secret, the Democrats boast that their ultimate goal is to raise $421 million through these “groups.” Talk about one magic loophole.
So while unregulated soft-money donations to the Democratic National Committee are “bad,” unregulated soft-money donations to say, MoveOn.org are “ok.” Clearly, money is not the target of the campaign finance reform. If these reformers were serious about taking money out of politics, they would ban it. Making donors jump through a few hoops to make their donation is just a gimmick.
But hey, can you blame the liberal interest groups? Their position on the issue may be hypocritical, but they’re playing by the rules. George Soros isn’t the problem, campaign finance reform is.
It’s increasingly clear that money can never be taken out of politics. Nor should it. Money talks and Americans like to talk. Americans are also guaranteed the right to free speech by the Constitution. The Supreme Court recently made clear that free speech cannot be limited, even in a political arena.
In its decision in Buckley v. Veleo, the court ruled that, “the First Amendment denies government the power to determine that spending to promote one’s political views is wasteful, excessive, or unwise. In the free society ordained by our Constitution it is not the government, but the people - individually as citizens and candidates and collectively as associations and political committees - who must retain control over the quantity and range of debate on public issues in a political campaign.”
But proponents of campaign finance reform would still argue, regardless of the “Constitution,” that candidates and parties that fundraise and spend more money would have unfair advantages in an election cycle. Ask Steve Forbes, Ross Perot, and Michael Huffington if their combined $171 million got them elected to anything.
In fact, when Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 1994, their average spending per candidate was significantly lower than their Democratic opponent. Then when Democrats picked up seats two years later, their average spending per candidate was significantly lower than their Republican opponent.
At the end of the day, campaign finance reform is arguably nothing more than incumbent protection. By restricting many avenues of free speech, upstart candidates do not have the means of communication granted to incumbents. For example, while a challenger begs supporters to suffer through miles of daunting red tape and regulations to make a single donation, the incumbent can fire off a few glowing press releases (paid for by taxpayers) and then take the afternoon off for lunch.
Campaign finance reform even bolsters the power of the media in a similar way. As the American Civil Liberties Union says, “if campaign finance reform was taken seriously, the only entities that would be free to comment in any significant way on candidate’s records would be the media, PACs and the candidates themselves.” When you tie the hands of corporations and unions, you effectively eliminate citizen group advocacy.
See that? Campaign finance reform does not reform the political process, it tries to control it.
The real focus of any campaign reform should be on political participation, transparency, accountability and corruption - these are the areas in which our political process suffers the most. Yet these issues are not even on the radar screen.
While Congress stopped the rotation of the Earth to hammer out campaign finance reform in Washington, dead people were voting in Chicago. It’s almost funny.