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January 29, 2007
The Cure Is Worse Than The Disease

Earlier, I posted about the pressure on bloggers that the early start to the 2008 Presidential nomination has created, and what I believe the solution to that pressure should be. Does the early start and long campaign constitute a serious problem for the United States? The New York Times believes it does, and its editors believe the federal government should fix it for all of us:

The biggest factors, though, are money and an ever-compressed schedule. California, Illinois, Florida and New Jersey are all maneuvering to move up their primaries to next February. That has candidates rushing to lock up the big donors — and bypassing the public finance system. Senator Clinton has already made clear that she will be opting out for both the primary and the general election. Senator John McCain, a major supporter of campaign finance reform who is no longer sponsoring a big reform bill that once bore his name, seems likely to do the same, with many candidates to follow. The problem with the 23-month campaign is not just the fatigue it will inspire, but the effect on democracy. Bundlers — master fund-raisers who package individual contributions into big ones — will have even more power. There is no way to stop candidates from hurling their hats into the ring so early. But there are things that can, and should, be done.

The national parties should stop the states’ mad race to have first-in-the-nation primaries. They should adopt a schedule that reformers have been proposing for years: regional primaries that rotate, so that voters in every state eventually have a turn to be among the first to vote. Congress should fix the broken public financing system, which has not been significantly updated since it was adopted in 1974. Spending limits need to be raised, to keep pace with ever-rising costs. More money needs to be put in the fund, and there should be more flexibility to help candidates who accept public financing compete against big-money candidates who opt out.

This is still the silly season, and the Times' editorial appears to be written in that spirit. The national parties have little control over the states that insist on being first in the nation, Iowa and New Hampshire. Other states have grown tired of the control these two states exert on the system, and several of them have made schedule changes all on their own. Republican and Democratic governors and legislators could attempt to restrain them and to get the states to organize a round-robin of four or five different regional groups, but primary elections are state functions, not federal, and not a matter for the parties themselves. If they want to detach the primary process from state elections and conduct them privately, perhaps the Times might have a point.

The next suggestion is even worse than the first. Increasing the funds for the public-financing system is like raising the minimum wage; it does nothing but reset the buying power of contributions to a new floor. Do we really want $500 million of taxpayer money flowing to these campaigns, which is the new estimate of what the cost will be to the major-party nominees? It doesn't even address the fact that taxpayers will then subsidize the campaigns of candidates that they don't support. My taxes should not go to Hillary Clinton's campaign, or anyone else's either. Matching funds still require massive amounts of fund-raising, so it doesn't even solve the problem that the Times sees in the long season.

What the Times wants would require a federal takeover of the presidential election system. In such a system, the federal government would dictate primary election dates for the presidential candidates, who would all have their financing directly from the federal government rather than from individual contributors. Somehow the feds would have to create a system which limited which candidates could access the financing system, and therefore the primaries -- putting government in a position to deny entry to candidates for whatever reason the election bureaucracy saw fit.

I'm no big fan of the long campaign, either. I think John Kennedy's January 2nd announcement, just weeks before the primaries began, would be a nice example to follow today. However, whether we like it or not, politicians have the right to start talking about their intentions to run for office whenever they see fit, and to form committees to explore those possibilities. That's one of the milder prices we pay for our freedoms, and I'd much prefer that rich people waste more of their money on idiotic bumper stickers and widely ignored political advertising than to grant the government control over the selection of our candidates.

Full disclosure and open access should be the real reform, not government subsidies and control. The latter has been tried for over thirty years, and it continues to fail.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 29, 2007 5:07 AM

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Great wisdom from Captain Ed: "Increasing the funds for the public-financing system is like raising the minimum wage; it does nothing but reset the buying power of contributions to a new floor. Do we really want $500 million of taxpayer money flowing to [Read More]

Tracked on January 29, 2007 7:50 PM


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