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The New York Sun reports that presumed presidential candidate John McCain has quietly removed himself from campaign-finance reform efforts in Congress. After infuriating conservatives with his efforts to impose speech limits -- and with the mostly unsuccessful efforts to muzzle the blogosphere -- McCain's name no longer appears on a public-financing campaign bill that he had at one time co-authored:
The quartet of lawmakers behind every major federal campaign finance restriction in the past decade is suddenly missing one of its members.
The elided surnames of the four men, "McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan," have become synonymous with so-called campaign finance reform, but Senator McCain, a Republican of Arizona, is conspicuously absent from the latest effort.
On Wednesday, Senator Feingold, a Democrat of Wisconsin, Rep. Martin Meehan, a Democrat of Massachusetts, and Rep. Christopher Shays, a Republican of Connecticut, introduced a bill to revive the crumbling system for public financing of presidential campaigns.
The bill is largely identical to a measure all four men introduced in 2003, but this time around Mr. McCain is not on board.
A spokeswoman for Mr. McCain, Eileen McMenamin, did not return calls seeking comment for this article, but several people involved in discussions about the legislation said the senator's absence was related to his widely expected bid for the presidency in 2008.
The Senator wants to avoid looking like a hypocrite if he chooses to waive public funding, as both George Bush and John Kerry did for the 2004 primaries, in his 2008 run for President. His reformer partner in the House, Christopher Shays, tried to give him some cover by telling The Sun that he would not advise anyone to agree to public financing in the current system.
However, this still demonstrates some level of hypocrisy, no matter how McCain cuts it. In the first place, if McCain agrees with Shays, then he should have kept his name on this bill to fix the system he sees as broken. Secondly, Shays never explains the difference between what we have now and what the now-reduced team of reformers proposes. After all, $75 million is a lot of money, and that's what Bush and Kerry (and Howard Dean) passed up --- because they knew they could raise more. Either their bill simply allocates more money to the candidates, or once again it restricts who can give, when, and how much -- an approach we have used since Watergate, to no one's satisfaction.
Public financing of elections has a similar effect to government control of an economy: it subsidizes mediocrity and penalizes excellence, at least in terms of candidate popularity. A free market allows the people to fund their chosen candidates to the level their politics inspir, and unpopular candidates get weeded out pretty quickly. Government financing requires taxpayers to fund every candidate, even those which the individual taxpayers do not support, and gives them an unearned financial parity with other candidates.
We have tinkered with campaign finance for over thirty years. Has the system stopped "checkbook politics", or was George Soros a figment of our imagination in 2004? McCain's BCRA imposed speech limits on politics for the first time in almost a century in 2002, and it didn't stop the flow of money. It won't take long before the "reformers" decide that the multi-party system creates corruption and attempt to do away with it.
The only solution for corruption is sunlight. We need more speech, not less, and more engagement in the system on a voluntary basis by the citizenry. If McCain has really come to this conclusion, then let him say so. Otherwise, withdrawing his name from this latest attempt at public financing just so he can take advantage of private financing is the height of hypocrisy.Sphere It View blog reactions
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