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 Times‘ headline 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.