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Money and Politics
Congress Guts Campaign Finance Rules—and That’s a Good Thing

The Continuing Resolution/Omnibus introduced at the 11th hour to stave off another government shutdown contains a provision that would drastically increase the ability of wealthy donors to fund political parties. As CNN reports:

The $1.1 trillion spending bill, which would fund most of the government until next September, includes provisions that will allow donors to give a lot more money to Republicans and Democrats to help fund conventions, building projects and legal proceedings like recounts.

Rather than facing the current cap of $32,400, donors would be able to give up to $777,600 each year to funds and committees run by the parties or their campaign arms. That means individuals could give $1,555,200 per two-year election cycle and couples could give $3,110,400 in a cycle, according to several campaign finance groups who have studied the legislative language.

The supposedly objective take from the mainstream media is that this is a disaster for democracy. ABC’s Chief Washington Correspondent opens his report, “Campaign finance reform has long been on life support, but today it can be declared nearly dead.”

In fact, this is an overdue reform that would be beneficial to our political system.

Firstly, this is not, as the LA Timesheadline has it, a measure that “puts more money in politics.” That money is already in politics—it would be beyond naive to think otherwise. What it actually will do is channel more money into the mainstream party machinery and out of single-issue or single-figure driven SuperPACs. The two party system, now checked and balanced by the voters in primaries, has served America well for over two centuries and is considerably more democratic than a billionaire’s pet PAC. Finally, party leaders with more money would find it easier to keep their caucuses together, and thus make regular working order in DC more, well, regular. For better or worse, politics is played as a team sport, not as fantasy football.

So if this measure applies to both parties equally, why are the Republicans championing it (they inserted the language) and Democrats and their allies in the media bewailing it? Some of it may be instinctual or ideological: campaign finance reform in its modern iteration has largely been championed from the left. But they may also be concerned that the shift will tactically favor the Republicans. The recent election revealed a GOP with greatly increased party discipline and improved party machinery. There were no Todd Akins or Christine O’Donnells to be found, nor the sort of turnout malfunctions that plague the 2012 effort. Heading into 2016, the Republicans look hungry and determined. Both sides might be right to sense this supposedly neutral change might help the GOP in the short term.

But in the long term, it’s the right thing to do. Campaign Finance Reform has always been dodgy on First Amendment grounds. Practically, it has also failed spectacularly at its stated aim of keeping money out of politics. Watching the legislature, as well as the courts, work to undo it is a gladdening sight.

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  • MartyH

    A few points:

    I’d rather have money donated to individuals and parties with full disclosure than donated to PACs and lobbyists. Donors are trying to influence elections anyway, and it’s extremely distorting to have a ton of money advocating for a candidate or position while not being able to coordinate. I remember hearing a lot of just dumb ads that were paid for by third parties this past elections season. At least if the candidate were paying for those dumb ads, I’d have a reason to vote against him/her.

    Second, the amount of money isn’t that much in absolute terms-less than spent on Halloween candy, IIRC. Part of the reason we are bombarded with ads is because broadcasters have to charge the lowest rate. If supply and demand were allowed to function, ad rates could rise and fewer commercials would run.

    Finally, if you really want less money in politics, tax it. Rates and rules depends on who you want to strengthen. For example, campaigns and party organizations may be taxed at low rates while PACS are taxed progressively at higher rates. This would encourage individuals and parties over PACs.

    • FriendlyGoat

      1) You already had a reason to vote against “dumb ad” GOP candidates. Did you?
      2) Halloween candy is eaten.
      3) Trust you’ll convince the new GOP Congress to get right after that idea to tax parties and PACS.

  • FriendlyGoat

    There is no such thing as a law FAVORING Republicans in the short term which is “the right thing to do” in the long term. Pure B.S.

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