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February 6, 2006
Carville And Begala Reinvent The Wheel

James Carville and Paul Begala write a lengthy editorial for the Washington Monthly, offering their view of campaign reform. It should come as no surprise that their preferred method of reform involves turning elections into yet another expensive government program, but what is so amusing is that they make it into such a Byzantine affair that it practically turns into self-parody.

First, the pair make the argument that members of Congress are underpaid:

First, we raise congressional pay big time. Pay 'em what we pay the president: $400,000. That's a huge increase from the $162,000 congressmen and senators currently make. Paul, especially, has been a critic of congressional pay increases. But he is willing to more than double politicians' pay in order to get some of the corrupt campaign money out of the system. You see, the pay raise comes with a catch. In return, we get a simple piece of legislation that says members of Congress cannot take anything of value from anyone other than a family member. No lunches, no taxi rides. No charter flights. No golf games. No ski trips. No nothing.

It's always amusing when Democrats routinely castigate people who make six figures as the "rich", but then claim that politicians making $162K somehow have a claim of poverty. That salary doesn't include per diems, nor does it include staffers, which in many cases include family members to max out the benefits for holding electoral office. Nor does it take into account that some of these people have their own businesses back home, to which they tend when not in session. Carville and Begala make it sound as if their abject poverty causes corruption, a ludicrous notion, and one that would cost taxpayers $127,330,000 per year to fix.

After that, they decide that incumbents need to be handicapped in running for re-election. They insist that elected officials should never raise funds, but that challengers can raise however much they want from whatever sources they want. How would that work? Well, that's where the fun starts:

No president or member of Congress could accept a single red cent from individuals, corporations, or special interests. Period.

Challengers, on the other hand, would be allowed to raise money in any amount from any individual American citizen or political action committee. No limits, just as the free-market conservatives have always wanted. But here is the catch: Within 24 hours of receiving a contribution, the challenger would have to report it electronically to the Federal Election Commission, which would post it for the public to see. ...

The day after [disclosure], the U.S. Treasury would credit the incumbent's campaign account with a comparable sum—say 80 percent of the contribution to the challenger to take into account the cost of all the canapés and Chardonnay the challenger had to buy to raise his funds as well as the incumbent's advantage. ...

What if the incumbent wants to spend her own money? After all, the Supreme Court has made it clear that the Constitution does not allow restrictions on how much money a candidate—challenger or incumbent—can spend. No problem. Uncle Sam would write the challenger a check for an equivalent amount.

Why not just ban private donations altogether and simply provide public financing for all elections? I don't believe that's compatible with freedom of speech, but at least it's coherent. The Carville-Begala mess appears to have been a committee creation tasked with finding a middle ground between public financing and full disclosure. This hybrid is a laughable product that reminds one of the silly Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercials from the 1970s, where two people collided and someone stuck a chocolate bar in a jar of peanut butter. It only resembles a coherent strategy on the most superficial level.

I agree that we need to reform political processes that protect incumbents, but the problem with incumbency comes from apportionment processes that have become seriously derailed, not with campaign financing. Carville and Begala need to go back to Scream TV and let more rational minds develop reform strategies.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 6, 2006 1:52 PM

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