Campaign Finance Reform is a flop.

When the McCain-Feingold law was being debated, many decried it. Some on the basis of free speech, but just as many because it’s stated goal of “getting the money out of politics” was naive to the point of stupidity. The river of money, we argued, would always find a path.

And lo, cometh the 527.

  1. 527s do not increase transparency, they decrease it by fogging the lines about who is or is not a contributor: you don’t give money to candidate X, you just gave it to an advocacy group which then just happened to campaign against candidate Y. The extra layers create plausible deniability for shady pols.

  2. 527s increase the negative tone of campaigns; they cannot say anything good about X, but they can say bad things about Y.

  3. They generally degrade the discourse by immunizing candidates from blowback. A 527 can produce an ad of dubious taste and/or accuracy attacking Y while X stands above the fray. X can even go ahead and distance himself from the anti-Y groups; he can even make a show of distancing himself if he wants. “I really deplore these ads depicting my opponent as a serial rapist of dead oxen. But I’m prohibited from “coordinating” with them, so, golly, what can I do?”
    The problem is not 527s per se: they are just the current manifestation, just as “soft money” was the last one. Attempts at limiting the amount of money spent on politics only serves to force the river of money underground and through other channels; it’s a fool’s errand and should be abandoned.

Furt, of course campaign finance reform is a flop. It could hardly be anything else. The people who make the rules lack the political will to enact an effective regime of reform and have a financial inclination to do a halfway job of it. In the meantime there are Big Money interests who are perfectly happy to have “the Best Congress Money Can Buy” or a “Parliament of Wohres,” to steal book titles from both sides of the political spectrum. As long as one Congressman represents a half million people the voice of the voters will count far less than the voice of a few of the people carrying bags of cash for the Congressman’s campaign fund. Any rational observer must concede that money lubricates the wheels of government and no rational politician can prudently adopt a system where those wheels are expected to turn without proper lubrication. All us plebeians can hope for is a government whose moneyed masters aren’t too greedy or have a healthy respect for the possibility that if they become too obvious they might end up decorating lamp posts. All we can hope for is a little restraint, a little attention to the public good while gratifying the private greed.

When you reach maturity, friend Furt, you too will grow cynical. In the mean time you may join us is grappling under the table for dropped scraps.

Hell, anybody with half a brain could have predicted this outcome. Of course, this explains why campaign finance reform is always popular on this message board. :wink:

The best that can be accomplished, in my view, is for politicians to be embarassed by their associations at times, to the point where they refuse or return donations. If a politician accepts money, he runs the risk of being portrayed as bought.

Pull out the stops, and let candidates accept money from whoever they want. You’ll probably find they’ll want to avoid being seen as being too beholden to any one person or group.

Thanks, pops. But cynicism’s a bit too close to despair for my taste. I got this thing with feathers in me and it won’t shut up.

Seriously! They haven’t prevented murder! Obviously then outlawing murder is a fool’s errand and should be abandoned! Indeed, we should pull out the stops and let everyone kill whoever they want!

Just my nonsense

Explain to me please, 2sense, how murder is protected by the First Amendment. You know, like political speech is.

That was a rather entertaining strawman.

Let’s keep our terms clear, Spavined Gelding. You are talking about money lubricating the wheels of electoral politics, not the wheels of government. Government needs money, but that’s what we pay taxes for. As for politics – there was a time, wasn’t there, when the cost of running an election campaign was much lower than it is today? How much did Lincoln spend to get elected? How much did Franklin Roosevelt spend? I have no idea, but I bet it wasn’t much. It was television, in particular the cost of television time, that changed everything. Solution: Require TV stations, as a condition of their FCC licenses, to provide equal free TV time to every candidate during an election season, and forbid them to sell TV time to any candidate or 527.

Bad solution.

What if we’re the NRA, the AARP, or a labor union. We should have the right to take out an ad to make our views known on the topics of the day.

The thesis in the OP is not just that the laws don’t work, but that they actually make the situation worse. If laws against murder created more murder, then I would agree that they should be repealed.

And yes, this is no surprise at all. The best way to deal with this beast is to require full disclosure so everyone knows who is paying whom for what. The folks with the money will find a way to use it. If the 527s were outlawed, we’d get a whole marquee of “Fahenheit 9/11” movies, a best seller list worth of new book titles, and Bruce Springsteen cutting a politically based CD.

Not only is campaign finance reform unconstitutional (IMO), but it makes the situation worse. It’s like the war on drugs-- a hopeless endeavor.

Murder laws certainly reduce the incidence of murder; I do not think that the influence of monied interests has been lessened.

I will pass on the numerous other inconsitiencies in your analogy.

All candidates, or just pubs and dems?

So no advocacy commercials at all? What if the AFL-CIO wants to run anti-outsourcing spots? What if a religious group wants to run a pro-monogamy ad during a campaign in which one candidate is an adulterer? How do we know whether or not it’s political?

ISTM it just encourages more non-explicit political speech.

Good point.

During the recent CA governor recall election, there were something like 125 candidates on the ballot… I for one, would like watch something other than political discussion on TV. If all those candidates had free TV time, I’d be crying for “The Simple Life IIV”. :slight_smile:

I do like ads having to say who paid for them.

There is one add here showing this guy waiting for the mail to phone to ring, and the voice over tells us that there are all these judges that are just waiting to be confirmed but mean old congress won’t do it. It asks the viewer to write their congressmen. When it is over it says “Paid for by Wisconsin Right to Life.”

I don’t think that being forced to say who you are when using free speach is a bad idea.

Are you saying the law bans this?

Cite, please.

I think the law has been far more successful than I dared hope. Politicians and parties can no longer take “soft money”, so they must depend on the contributions of flesh-and-blood human beings. This should draw a tighter connection between each party’s popular support and its financial support. If this happens, this is good for the people who support each party, since they can be more sure that the party represents their agenda, and not that of some other group that writes the checks.

In the case of the Democratic Party, this is already happening, and it’s one of the reasons I’m optimistic that things will start changing for the better if the Dems do well this fall: in this election, the Democratic officeholders will have been funded by Democratic voters, and not by assorted business groups. Our party will have reason to represent us, for the first time in decades.

I don’t see the same thing happening quite as quickly on the Republican side, because the bulk of GOP voters are Southern and rural whites whose support is about God, guns, and gays, while the money’s still been coming from the people on the Rolodexes of GWB’s Pioneers and Rangers. But give it time.

Now as time passes, the natural tendency of money to flow to politicians will undoubtedly find cracks in the law through which money can flow. No one campaign finance law will ever suffice for all time. But hopefully this will give us a breathing spell in which our politics can be more representative of the people, less representative of the money, and laws can be written to plug the next hole in the wall before the whole river comes through it again.

I think it’s too soon to call campaign finance reform a “flop.”

About the only downside I can see so far is the deluge of 527s, but despite all the noise they make ( vs. Swift Boat Veterans, take your pick), I’d rather have them out there as a venue for ordinary citizens to participate in the political process. And for all the mud they sling, as long as they follow the rules and don’t advocate for a particular candidate, the door remains open for the candidates to take a stand and denounce the 527s accordingly.

It’s still too early to say CRF is a failure – and I like what I’ve seen so far.

Explain to me why it matters, please.

I’m glad you were entertained. Would you care to inform me why you think my post missed the mark?
( Unless it is the point I am about to concede to John Mace. )

Ah, quite so.

Who cares if people make tons of political movies, books, and music? More power to them! People seek out that kind of infotainment if it appeals to them, it’s not pushed on them like TV advertising. So long as moviemakers don’t start taking money to insert political ads into regular movies like they do for product placement then I don’t see how it’s a problem.

Compared to what? Compared to the 1970s when CFR was already decades old? I suggest some reading on the politics of the Gilded Age.

The interests should have some influence, just not a disproportionate share of it. CFR has reduced the effect of money on campaigns. It used to be that when you bought a politician it was just that simple. You put as much as you had to into their campaign chest and if they had a few million left over when they retired they just took it with them. That kind of out and out bribery has been outlawed.

It is a sad time indeed, Brain, when the cynic must defend his cynicism. Money is likewise the lubricant of both governance and elections. To think that any Congress will ever force any TV station to air political ad without charge or compensation is simply fantastic. There are two things that make anything happen in this world – the prospect of making a Buck or the fear of getting a bullet in the brain. I cannot imagine a representative of the Federal Elections Commissions telling the Channel 7 station manager that if he doesn’t run some ad for free the station manager is likely to catch two in the ear.

I am still persuaded that, first the example of FDR is unenlightening and that, second, real campaign reform is contrary to the interests of people seeking election to public office.

time to “WAKE UP AMERICA!”

to the flavor of frosted mini…

Seriously, Here’s the document from the FEC (warning, it’s a PDF) which states that there is a limitation upon communications regarding candidates for office within 30 days of a primary election and within 60 days of a general election. Basically, the prohibition is against advocacy organizations speaking about the candidate’s record, stance on certain issues and the like.

But don’t take my word for it, read it yourself.

Our freedom of speech guaranteed by the first amendment has just been infringed.

I also believe that campaign finance reform has done something even more insidious than the creation of ‘527’ groups - it has corrupted the media. When a candidate is limited on how much money he can spend on advertising, the next best thing is to simply control the media itself and spin the content.

Look at “Air America”. Losing money hand over fist, but it soldiers on with financing from big-money liberals. Any bets on how long it stays on the air after the election?

The Republicans are probably doing the same thing. There have been more partisan books, movies, and programs this year than I can remember. Maybe it’s just a natural trend, but maybe campaign finance is pushing the partisan operatives into new venues.

Considering that Clear Channel says their “progressive talk” stations (Air America + The Ed Schultz Show) have received spectacular ratings in NYC and Portland, and they’re likely to expand the format to more stations, I think it’ll be around for a while.