Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Worst of Both Worlds

Campaign Finance Reform continues to be the biggest rape of common sense and free speech the world over. The McCain-Feingold bill, which McCain still does and forever should eat crow for, originally eschewed party "soft money" in the name of creating the abominations of the 527s. For those of you who don't know what "soft money" is, it's basically blanket contributions to a political party (DNC or RNC), that then can be spent on whoever the party sees fit or needs it. The allleged problem with this was that too many rich bazillionaires and evil corporate overlords were hording humongous amounts of cash to the parties directly and buying influence at the top. McCain-Feingold tried to "fix" (read: fuck up) this by limiting the soft money and instead empowering the 527s, which had previously existed but were not very important given the status of soft money. The 527s could receive unlimited funds and could do whatever they wanted so long as they didn't coordinate campaigns.

I could now start a long tirade of how this is a violation of so many first amendment rights. Chiefly speech and the freedom of association are affected because it regulates or outright halts people's abilities to use their money, time, and resources to coordinate efforts at influencing people. This clearly is the government telling you how, when, where, why, and the quantities thereof you are allowed to participate in politics, and how much you are allowed to talk to certain people. If that's not violating the first amendment, I don't know what is. But I know there are a bunch of naive people that will never see this because to them campaign finance is all about stopping evil corporate overlords, the Constitution be damned! So I will spare that incredibly obvious moral argument for now. Let's skip to the newest chapter. House Republicans are now trying to reign in the 527s and bring back soft money, in effect suspending whatever "good" parts of McCain-Feingold there were while keeping the "bad" parts. I use quotation marks because it's all bad, it's just a question of relativity. Here's a synopsis from El Wapo:

The House approved campaign finance legislation last night that would benefit Republicans by placing strict caps on contributions to nonprofit committees that spent heavily in the last election while removing limits on political parties' spending coordinated with candidates.

The bill passed 218 to 209 in a virtual party-line vote.

Lifting party spending limits would aid Republican candidates because the GOP has consistently raised far more money than the Democratic Party. Similarly, barring "527" committees from accepting large unregulated contributions known as "soft money" would disadvantage Democrats, whose candidates received a disproportionate share of the $424 million spent by nonprofit committees in 2003-2004.

Now, for the life of me I don't understand why Republicans want to do this. The Democratic 527s, ACT and the Media Fund, just about won the election for C-Plus Augustus with their shrill and laughably ridiculous attempts to attack him. The 527s are so cartoonish and amateur-hour they somehow make the parties look good. And that should be impossible. This measure would reduce them in power. I like that, but I don't see why Republicans would. Especially when considering the masterstroke of the Swift Boat Vets, also a 527. The House bill basically puts limits on contributions to these shrill mouthpieces of the politically unbalanced, but it also brings back soft money. As El Wapo stated, in terms of pure fundraising, it benefits the Republicans as they could potentially raise much more soft money than the Democrats, who are over-reliant on 527s. While it probably won't pass in the Senate, I think it's a foolish move by the Republicans anyway. 527s allow those on the right to launch horrible character assassinations on people that the Republican Party itself is allowed to distance itself from. After all, 527s legally can't coordinate with Ken Mehlman, so there's now way he can control what they're doing! The attacks on people's patriotism or claiming they are like Hitler or Osama bin Laden are clearly outside of Mehlman and the Republican party's control, so you can't hold them responsible (wink, wink.)

Bullshit, but true in a sense. This optical illusion will no longer be as easy if they hobble 527s, and they would have to answer for their own ad buys and message. Democrats, if anything, could actually benefit because they won't have 527s out there contradicting everything candidates try to say and ratcheting up the negative rhetoric. I think the absence of 527s is part of the reason Democrats still do well and are competitive at the state level. It allows extra focus. So, getting to the point, why do I think this House Bill is terrible? Well, it basically creates a hybrid by still giving the 527s some influence (or more than they had before McCain-Feingold) and it resurrects the power-centralizing soft money. The whole misguided point of campaign finance reform is to regulate people's political actions in order to remove a pollution of money and influence-buying from the system. This bill just increases money pollution by reinstituting the cash cow of soft money (which at least the McCain-Feingold bill had going for it on some level was reducing that) but it still leaves the half-assed machinations of 527s in place, although slightly diminished.

If you wanted to know what ,my take is, I think 527s are fine, but that they should be allowed to coordinate with candidates and campaigns. Get rid of soft money, perhaps, but keep the 527s and actually make them the conduits for soft money that can become players in a campaign for real and be offshoots of the party apparati. Why? Because that's their freedom of association and expression, and it would at least hurt the ability of people to distance themselves from the attacks 527s do on their behalf. If a 527 does something particularly nasty, it would always look like it could have been coordinated by the candidate and their campaign even if it wasn't, which would make everybody behave a little more like adults. Such dynamics would force candidates to actually denounce messages that go over the line by their 527 allies, instead of an all-too-simple dismissal because they're not allowed to "coordinate." If they were allowed to coordinate, the excuse evaporates. Even if a candidate would benefit from a disgusting smear campaign on her opponent, she wouldn't want to be associated with it.

This bill is clearly the campaigns having their cake and eating it too. And it's being labeled as "reform." Please. If the return of soft money occurs while leaving the worst parts of McCain-Feingold intact is thought of as "lobbying reform", then I don't want "lobbying reform." I'd rather have more Jack Abramoff than this foolishness.