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March 10, 2004
The Folly of Campaign Finance 'Reform'

This year, we all will have front-row seats to watch the folly of campaign-finance reform in a nation whose first ideal is freedom of speech. Round One kicked off this week, as the New York Times reports:

Three advertising campaigns by political groups harshly critical of President Bush are getting under way in 17 states, in an effort to counter Republican commercials that began showing last week.

The largest campaign opens on Wednesday, paid with $5 million in unlimited donations that political parties can no longer collect. Republicans say the tactic is an illegal way to support Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, contending that it violates campaign finance laws.

Stepping in to help Mr. Kerry's campaign offset what has been Mr. Bush's 10-to-1 fund-raising advantage, these groups are part of a handful of committees that some critics call a "shadow" political party.

Since Congress passed McCain-Feingold as the latest act in a thirty-year battle to get money out of the political system, we've seen a growth industry in various tax-related interest groups that qualify for the money instead of the actual principals involved: the candidates. It represents an overwhelming silliness on the part of everyone involved: political parties who can collect some money and not others, the candidates who give speech after speech about their policies and motivations but somehow must avoid "coordinating" with shadow groups, and the electorate that insists on these elaborate dances -- except when their candidate winds up with less money.

Thirty years after Watergate and the initial attempts to outlaw money in politics, all we're doing is spreading the problem further and driving it further underground. It's like trying to put out a grease fire with water.

It's time that everyone involved grew up and realized that attempting to restrict donations is wrong on free-speech grounds as well as pointless in practical reality. Both parties rail against "checkbook politics", but Kerry wrote himself a $6 million check earlier, and George Soros has been up front about buying the presidency for almost a year now, and there are plenty of other examples on both sides.

Eliminate these artificial distinctions and simply require all political donations to be a matter of public record. Now that we have the Internet, require all candidates to maintain a public website that lists the name and address of everyone who donates money to their campaigns. Quit creating criminals out of people who want to participate in the political process by setting up arcane and esoteric legal barriers that even the FEC doesn't clearly understand. Emphasize that freedom of speech is paramount, especially for political speech.

Politics has enough hypocrisy in its natural state; there's little sense in creating it artificially as well.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 10, 2004 6:47 AM

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