Captain's Quarters Blog

« Rove's Analysis: Kerry Voting Record Sealed The Election | Main | How About This: Kerry Was A Lousy Candidate? »

November 8, 2004
Campaign Finance Reform Lays A Very Expensive Egg

The New York Times performs a post-mortem on the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act as implemented in the 2004 election cycle, and while Glen Justice never mentions the word "failure" in his analysis, the data more than suggests that verdict:

The McCain-Feingold law, which did more to change how American political campaigns are financed than any legislation since the 1970's, got its first real-world test in this year's election. And now its critics are more emphatic than ever in arguing that the law has fallen short of its goals, and even some supporters are calling for revisions. ...

The major advocacy groups at work in this year's elections, called 527 groups after the section in the tax code that created them, raised more than $350 million, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, which tracks campaign finance.

While it is axiomatic in politics that each race will cost more than the last, and while final numbers will not be in for weeks, the figures posted through mid-October set records even though candidates and parties were restricted for the first time to only hard-money donations.

The field of presidential candidates raised about $851 million (including public financing), a 70 percent increase over 2000. National political parties raised more than $1 billion, 12 percent more than when they were able to gather six- and seven-figure soft-money checks.

In total, this year's races for Congress and the White House are estimated to have cost roughly $3.9 billion, about a third more than they did four years ago, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.

John McCain promised at the time his eponymous act passed that the new law would eliminate "checkbook politics" and lead to cleaner elections. Within two years, in the very next election cycle, McCain was proven to be as wrong as possible. The richest people in America wrote checks like crazy -- George Soros spent $29 million alone, and he wasn't running for office.

McCain and the rest of the campaign-finance reformers make the same mistake in assuming that money corrupts the system. The corrosive effect of money comes from the secrecy in which it passes through the hands of politicians, not from the money itself. By setting up artificial and silly categories of money, all that the government has done is forced the financing out of the hands of people who exercise the most responsibility for its use -- the political parties themselves -- and into groups with no political accountability whatsoever. The result was the meanest, ugliest presidential campaign in recent memory.

McCain insists that the FEC simply didn't adjust to the new uses of campaign cash quickly enough, but that can't be done without authority from Congress. The truth was that McCain's bill was poorly written and allowed a number of loopholes, and the nebulous nature of the bill guaranteed that the FEC could do little except allow events to run their course. Nor will suggestions for excising these loopholes correct the main problem, and chances are these ideas will not pass First Amendment muster with the Supreme Court now that they've seen the results of their initial approval of the reform laws.

The only method of reforming politics and financing is to require full, personal, and immediate disclosure of all contributions and ensure that the money goes directly to the candidates. In that way, the public will see whose money supports which candidate and the candidates can be held directly responsible for the use of the financing. Playing games with money by creating artificial categories and Byzantine regulations regarding its use only benefits the lawyers that campaigns are forced to hire by the gross and ultimately piles more mystery on its origin and control. It's far past time to scrap the entire "reform" machinery and rely on full disclosure and the resourcefulness of the voters and press to hold candidates accountable.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 8, 2004 1:23 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry is

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Campaign Finance Reform Lays A Very Expensive Egg:

» Daily Dish from The Cool Blue Blog
The battle for Fallujah begins from a surpising direction: The West. Captain Ed analyzes how McCain-Feingold performed during the previous election cycle: Or didn't Iraq’s interim defense minister Hazem Sha’alan puts Kofi Annan in his place: “Whe... [Read More]

Tracked on November 8, 2004 6:32 AM

» McCain-Feingold: Like Rain to a Flood Victim from The Sparse Matrix

Captain Ed gives a looksee at McCain-Feingold, and the campaign finance "reform" bill comes up rather lacking.

John McCain promised at the time his eponymous a

[Read More]

Tracked on November 8, 2004 8:37 AM

» Campaign Finance Reform Gets An "F" From The NY Times from Let's Try Freedom
Captain Ed has a thoughtful post on campaign finance reform; even the Times might be seeing the light on this one. No restrictions on giving, and full disclosure of gifts. Why is that so hard for folks to understand? All the rules and systems do i... [Read More]

Tracked on November 8, 2004 9:45 AM

» refinance loan from refinance loan
refinance loan [Read More]

Tracked on March 27, 2006 10:45 AM

Design & Skinning by:
m2 web studios

blog advertising


Proud Ex-Pat Member of the Bear Flag League!