09.01.2008 0

Rube Goldberg Campaign Finance

  • On: 09/30/2008 12:17:02
  • In: First Amendment
  • Rube Goldberg would be proud.

    When campaign finance “reform” was enacted in 2001, it was under the guise of “cleaning” up the political system by getting the “dirty” money out of politics. The “reform’s” greatest proponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), made it the centerpiece of his 2000 presidential campaign. And now this year as the GOP’s nominee he has to find a way around the convoluted, confused system that he (and Rube) created. In short, he made this bed. And now he’s trying desperately to crawl out of it.

    Admittedly, McCain has been not doing very well at fundraising from individuals for his campaign compared to his Democrat counterparts. So much so that he is going to utilize the Federal public-financing in the general election, and as noted by The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley A. Strassel in her April 25th piece, “McCain’s Campaign Finance Revelation”, he is taking “creative” advantage of that system to maximize his campaign’s financial intake:

    “While Democrats absorbed the lessons of Pennsylvania this week, John McCain was coming to a few realizations of his own. For one, ‘big money’ in politics isn’t so bad after all… That’s the takeaway from the presumptive GOP nominee’s new fund-raising strategy, which his campaign has quietly rolled out these past few weeks. The McCain camp is teaming up with the Republican National Committee to tap into big, big donations from big, big donors – hoping to close the big, big money gap with Democrats.

    “Their effort to do so will involve some creative abuse of the campaign finance restrictions Mr. McCain authored a few years back. Whatever. The Arizonan may not yet fully understand that money is speech. At least he has come around to the view that more of the stuff is better when it comes to winning the presidency.

    “Whatever has driven the shift – conversion, pragmatism, desperation – Mr. McCain’s new financial determination is welcome news to his supporters. GOP voters had worried their candidate would unnecessarily fetter himself with self-imposed finance restrictions. Instead, he looks eager to win.”

    The irony comes with how he plans on getting his message out beyond the $84 million that the general election public-financing system allows him to directly spend, and which is a drop in the bucket compared to what the likely Democrat nominee, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), is taking in (he could raise $84 million in two months at the rate he is going), and also pales in comparison to what the left-wing 527 organizations are amassing:

    “[T]he McCain camp has come up with a plan that it hopes will tighten the score. It has filed to create the ‘McCain Victory ’08’ fund, a ‘hybrid legal structure’ that includes the campaign, the Republican National Committee, and four battleground states… Mr. McCain’s own law restricts individuals to donations of $2,300 per candidate, but those individuals can also contribute much bigger amounts to different party funds. So, with ‘McCain Victory ’08,’ donors can write a check for $70,000… Technically, the money is divvied up between Mr. McCain, the RNC ($28,500) and the four states ($10,000 each). In reality, it will in effect all be used for the candidate’s benefit.

    “Such are the contortions of our twisted campaign finance system [emphasis added], loopholes Mr. McCain must be happy exist today.”

    Of course, McCain has every right to be creative about ways to raise funds for his campaign, and hopefully it gives him the idea that such convoluted structures of campaign financing are silly for what they try to accomplish. McCain’s wrong-headed approach to this issue has even reached down to the state level, as ALG News reported to you last week on Colorado’s onerous campaigning regulations. Here is George Will’s incisive take on this critical issue:

    “Sen. John McCain bears principal responsibility for legitimizing the idea that government should have broad powers to regulate political activity in the name of combating corruption.”

    Money is free speech, and a free market system of political campaigns with unlimited donations and expenditures would work much better than the system that exists today, and would prevent the need for such creative engineering on McCain’s part to compete in the media markets. He would not need public financing – an obnoxious, wasteful practice that gives Big Government too much control over politics – if the system were free, because he could take as much in donations as he needed to get his message out.

    After all, big money does not necessarily win elections, especially at the national level. Just ask President Nelson Rockefeller. Or President George Romney. Or President Ross Perot. Or, more recently, ask Mitt Romney how well it worked to secure the GOP nomination, or Ron Paul. Or ask Barack Obama how well it worked in Pennsylvania, where he outspent Hillary Clinton 3-to-1. McCain himself is a testament that big money is not necessary to secure his party’s nomination.

    And that’s the way it should be. Candidates are not buying votes, after all. They have a message, and they need to connect to voters. And citizens should be able to support the candidates they like with as much of their own funds as they choose.

    Instead, America is saddled with this Rube Goldberg machine of campaign finance. And unlike his machines, we’re not necessarily sure where the ball even gets inserted – thanks to contrivances like McCain’s convoluted new “Victory” fund – or exactly where it’s all going to come out.

    ALG Perspective: Hopefully the nightmarish experience McCain is having with fundraising will teach him a lesson about putting such severe restrictions on campaign donations. He has obviously been hoisted by his own petard. A free system by contrast is the best option, and is in truth the only constitutional option.

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