Campaign Finance Idiocy

Kimberley Strassel points out in today’s Opinion Journal that McCain-Feingold isn’t exactly having its desired effect.

McCain-Feingold has proved more of an embarrassment than even its critics predicted, taking the “big money” that previously flowed to answerable politicians and neatly diverting it to unaccountable, shadowy groups, as well as stripping Americans of their free speech rights. But the farce hit an all-time low at the Democratic National Convention, where the groups that spent the past year quietly sidestepping the law felt confident enough of its loopholes to openly assume their place as the new fund-raising arm of the Democratic Party.

At the front of the parade were Mr. Ickes’ trust-fund babies, America Coming Together and The Media Fund. Both are “527s,” named after that portion of the IRS code that allows them to circumvent the money rules that now apply to politicians. Both rolled into Beantown along with the rest of the Democratic apparatus, warmed up the cash registers, and commenced targeting those rich Dems who’d maxed out on their hard-money contributions to candidates. Far from hush-hush, ACT and TMF set up shop down the hall from the DNC Finance Committee. “We can talk to them [donors] anywhere–and we find this a very efficient, effective place to talk to them,” Mr. Ickes told a reporter.


That isn’t to say 527s don’t have to bow to a few rules, not that they amount to much. Officially, 527s aren’t allowed to expressly advocate a candidate or to coordinate with an official party. Their answer to the first problem is simply never to allow “John Kerry” to pass their lips, even as they use every other word in the English language to make clear that it’s to him their millions are devoted. Example: “We’re going to win the election for Democrats up and down the ticket,” ACT President Ellen Malcolm told the press. Mr. Kerry is the top of that ticket, but since Ms. Malcolm dares not speak his name, no laws are broken. Easy, right?

As for coordination, Mr. Ickes, the fund-raising Svengali of the Clinton administration, would love to see someone prove it. So what if he is both the founder of 527s and a superdelegate to the convention? Just try producing one e-mail, one document, one phone call showing he’s harmonizing with party officials. As for his operational proximity to the DNC, well, that’s just coincidence.

While the Democrats have been at the forefront of exploiting this loophole, the Republicans aren’t far behind–and they have their own loopholes, too.

Steven Taylor has a new piece in TCS, “Campaign Finance Deform,” expanding on this theme:

However, the failure of such laws should be no surprise: as long as the federal government collects and spends over 20% of the GDP, the concept of “getting the money out of politics” is farcical. Not only is governing dependent on money, so long as the Congress, with the help of the President, is going to determine how trillions of dollars are spend, then the citizenry in its various manifestations are going to care how that money is spent. And given that the best way to affect electoral outcomes is through mass media, which costs money, the very notion of taking money out of politics falls flat. Politics, by definition, involves money.

While this isn’t surprising, it is incredibly hypocritical, since the Democrats have made “cleaning up campaigns” an huge issue for thirty years and the current Republican president signed onto this bill.

See also:

Brilliant: NRA Seeks Status as News Outlet
Another Hole in McCain-Feingold
The Shadow Parties
Campaign Finance Reform
Kerry Outraises Bush
Campaign Finance Futility

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Law and the Courts, Political Theory, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    However, the failure of such laws should be no surprise: as long as the federal government collects and spends over 20% of the GDP, the concept of “getting the money out of politics” is farcical.

    That bears repeating. Preferably from every rooftop.