102. Campaign finance (still rotten)

September 28th, 2008 by Hugh

Campaign finance and political corruption. The McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act of March 27, 2002 is a much ballyhooed piece of legislation which did remarkably little to “reform” campaign finance. Principally, it did two things. First, it prevented general or soft money collected by the parties to be used, outside regular campaign limits, for specific races. Second, it placed restrictions on “single issue” groups advertising immediately before an election. What happened is what you would expect. Soft money went elsewhere, specifically into 527s, tax exempt political organizations which could back candidates as long as they did not do so overtly.

Then the Supreme Court on June 25, 2007 in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life intervened and removed the restrictions that had been placed upon 527s by McCain-Feingold (see item 202). Also by allowing 527s to name candidates it greatly weakened the first part of the act as well. This is a recurring theme in our politics. A campaign finance reform bill closes one door but leaves five others open. Meanwhile monied interests carve out new doors and knock gaping holes in the closed door. The result is that money governs our politics and owns our politicians more than ever. Our government continues to become less and less ours and more and more of the money, by the money, for the money.

Nor are the practitioners of campaign finance reform above playing fast and loose with financing rules. John McCain got a $1 million loan in December 2007 two weeks before the New Hampshire primary from Fidelity & Trust Bank of Bethesda, Maryland. The deal was that if he did well he would stay outside public financing and pay the money back from the expected increased contributions which primary victories bring. On the other hand, if things went badly, he promised to stay in the race long enough to qualify for public funds and pay the bank loan back from these. If this seems to be ethically and legally dubious, that’s because it is.

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