Campaign Finance Reform

The Big Lie     (July 25, 2000)

Have you noticed that people don't scrape bumper stickers off their cars until long after — sometimes never — there's a reason to have them?  I was following a car yesterday that still had a McCain bumper sticker and it got me to thinking about the erstwhile candidate's hot-button issue, Campaign Finance Reform. 

Our Congress never says "We need a law to keep me from doing bad things";  they say "We need a law to keep you from doing bad things."  It seems to me that was exactly what people, John McCain included, were saying on the topic of CFR: "selfish, irresponsible people are corrupting the electoral process; we need to stop them."  Naturally, I disagree with this.

The Republicans can have CFR whenever they want it.  All that is required is for their Platform Committee to bring forward a CFR plank, perhaps something like this:  "(a) Our party is committed to CFR;  (b) all Republican candidates are required to adhere to party policy regarding CFR or refrain from using the word "Republican" or the party symbol in their campaign;  (c) campaign finance rules for Republicans are as follows: ...".  That is: written, public, enforceable rules which apply to themselves alone;  self-discipline in the sunshine.  The Democrats would have no choice but to follow suit or be beaten bloody in the next campaign:  "We don't finance our campaigns with dirty money the way they do..."

The Democrats can have CFR whenever they want it (see above) and the Republicans would have no choice but to comply.  Otherwise: "You can see for yourselves who's committed to clean campaigns.  They talk a good game, and if all you want is talk...". 

But it's not "major party campaign finances" they're worried about.  It's the other parties — Libertarian, Green, Reform, Taxpayers — that need to be controlled, not the major parties.  There are two ways a small party, a "third party", can become a major party:  they can develop such a large following by proselytizing that they meet all the "numbers" requirements at the Voter Registrar's office, or they can spend gobs of money on advertising and thus meet the "numbers" requirements at the ballot box.  CFR aims to short-circuit one of these paths.

Only a few years ago a floppy-eared Texan poured a few million (or was it billion?) into his campaign and almost pulled it off.  If Ross Perot had been other than an indistinguishable clone of the Rs and Ds he'd be President, and such a thing must not be allowed to happen again.  With legislated CFR everyone appears to be hobbled equally, but the major parties have enough leverage that they will always be able to find a spare million or two when needed.  In any case, the law, like the Presidential Debate Commission, will be administered by the major parties and will thus not really be applicable to them.

You don't have to be in Mensa to figure this out, either, so the absence of widespread public support for CFR may be simply an indication that the people smell a rat.  Regardless, expect CFR to become the law sometime in 2001.  It would be too obvious if it happened before the elections.

Then, too, it's the rare Congressman who actually goes to jail for offending the public morality by breaking such a law.  Heck, their kids can do drugs and get away with it.  You can even be elected President.  Most federal laws actually exempt Congressfolk from the burdens imposed on the rest of us.  Perhaps what we need is an amendment to the Constitution to put things in perspective:

        AMENDMENT XXVIII - Restoring Equal Protection

        (a) Congress may not exempt itself or its agents from
        compliance, in whole or in part, with any Federal law or
        regulation, nor shall they encourage others to do so;

        (b) All Federal laws and regulations which exempt Congress,
        Federal agencies, Federal officers, or Federal employees
        from compliance are hereby repealed. 

That's what "reform" looks like.


© Frank Clarke, 2001

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