Thursday, December 04, 2003

Campaign finance reform 

Is it safe to say now that the last round of campaign finance reform is a complete failure? As critics like me predict, the new regulations haven't prevented one person or interest group from giving money to a candidate. The regulations prevent funneling money one way, so people simply come up with other ways that are just as effective, and often less detectable. When the law prevents someone from giving a large amount of money, then that person can simply have 300 of his closest relatives each give the legal maximum $2,000. Similarly, a company can have each of its employees do the same thing. Now in the example from the link, the lawyers who gave to the John Edwards campaign got caught, but there are definitely other companies who have done the same thing that we haven't heard about, because they did it discreetly and didn't get caught.

Of course, if you're George Soros or any other multi-millionaire, you can avoid all the trouble of finding sympathetic relatives and employees and simply set up your own political action committee. Spending $10 million in an effort to defeat Bush is quite legal under the current law because the expenditure is "independent" of the Democratic campaign. Legal? Yes. Does it violate the spirit and intent of campaign finance laws? You betcha. You won't find many CFR proponents criticizing Soros though, because beating Bush is more important to them than the CFR laws.

This morning, I see Mickey Kaus points to a Wall Street Journal article form Tuesday on a new group called America Votes that is trying to coordinate many of the liberal "independent" committees. This, too, is legal, bacause the group presumably wouldn't be working with the Democratic candidate. And this type of behavior was predicted when the last CFR law was going through Congress:

Everyone knew this would happen when McCain-Feingold was being debated. America Votes and its affiliates are simply exploiting the obvious and constitutionally necessary avenue of political expression McCain-Feingold left open.
The last CFR differentiated between "non-profit" groups and "for-profit" groups, giving much more leeway to the non-profits. Is it just a coincidence that these new committees are all non-profit?

And then there's this from the Howard Dean campaign that Instapundit seem to approve but looks very much like bribery to me. Dean, in an effort to get the endorsement of the only Congressman from Iowa, is telling his supporters to donate to the Congressman's campaign. The official explanation is that the Congressman is being targeted by Karl Rove for defeat and Dean wants to show that his campaign is about more than winning the presidency, but puh-lease. Again, all legal under campaign finance laws.

The point isn't that the last round of campaign finance reform didn't do enough; rather, it didn't do anything it was intended to do. One might respond that because of this we need more CFR regulations, but I don't see any reason why the next round of regulations would be any more effective than the last round. I'll reiterate my support for getting rid of all the regulations, allowing everyone to give as much as they want to a candidate, and a public disclosure system that tracks all donations and that anyone can search. But that has as much chance of being implemented as an effective campaign finance law.
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