Monday, August 25, 2003

The Campaign Finance Mess: An old debate for us, Razor, but it rages on. The smart (and pro-CFR) Peter Beinart at TNR looks at why Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi would select the associate general counsel of the AFSCME government employee union (famously anti-CFR, like other unions) for one of the three Democratic slots on the Federal Elections Commission:
The answer is that Daschle had to publicly support McCain-Feingold--in deference to Democratic voters, who overwhelmingly believe unregulated "soft" money has corrupted our political system. But he is now trying to quietly gut it, because party strategists believe soft money is the only way Democrats can compete financially with the GOP, and interest groups like afscme are determined to keep running the bogus, preelection "issue ads" that give them influence over the party.

With another anti-reform vote on the commission, McCain-Feingold may be doomed. And it didn't have to be this way. Republicans never tire of saying that money is like water, that, if you prohibit one method of fund-raising, smart campaign finance lawyers will simply find loopholes and do much the same thing. But campaign finance loopholes, like tax loopholes, don't appear magically--they appear because enforcement agencies like the FEC don't close them. And they don't close them because Republicans--and Democrats like Daschle and Pelosi--appoint FEC commissioners who they know won't.

Aside from the true believers, nobody really liked McCain-Feingold. It makes it harder to get the money. But it doesn't make it impossible. The point here, of course, is that if the money will keep flowing anyway (with or without the guts of CFR after the courts and the FEC get done with it), why not make the central tenet of CFR to shine the most sunlight on the flow of political money as possible? The unintended consequence of CFR is to force money underground. Why not simply make and enforce disclosure laws that bring the money out in the open and allow Americans to see the trail it leaves? In the business world, we'd call this transparency.

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