The Ultimate Earmark
Thursday, May 11, 2006 :::
For a moment, it looked as though Sen. John McCain's disregard for the First Amendment, sacrificed to the greater good of "clean government," was merely another sad instance of the political class insulating itself from criticism.
But here, we see the rebirth of an older, and more malign assault on individual speech: public financing of campaigns.
The ex-worthies who support this tattered old idea, including Alan Simpson, Warren Rudman and John Kerrey, want a program that takes the little guy out of the campaign finance equation completely:
The voluntary system -- to be administered by a panel similar to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission -- would cost $6 per taxpayer, according to Americans for Campaign Reform. Congress' oversight would be limited to appropriating funds annually and to up-or-down votes on the panel's proposals.
Total cost: $1.8 billion per year. The very rich would still be able to fund their own campaigns, much to the chagrin of some members of the organization behind this idea.
As Jeff Dircksen notes at Government Bytes:
So, in the future Members of Congress can waste your tax dollars on pork projects and then use this "voluntary" system to get themselves reelected. I'm sure this will help keep "the money" out of politics.
It would probably do nothing of the sort. The voluntary system currently in place for presidential campaigns has seen receipts fall markedly in the last 20 years -- hence the increase in the check-off amount on tax returns from $1 to $3 (I have yet to meet anyone who checks that box). If the decades-old experiment with "voluntary" public funding of presidential campaigns has taught us nothing else, it's that taxpayers, generally, don't want to hand over money to political campaigns. Many do, in varying amounts, of their own accord. Which drives some "reform" advocates running for the bomb shelter (or the nearest microphone). They operate under the assumption that money is bad, political money is worse, and combined, the two make for a system which is so corrupt that nothing -- not individual choice, freedom of speech or even common sense -- should stand in the way of their scrubbing, reformist bubbles.
The only good that comes from the various campaign "reforms" Congress has enacted since Watergate is that which rains down on those who have a knack for finding ways around the restrictions. They've done quite well, thank you. And the more "reform" that's passed, the sooner they can get that second beach house. The one with the nice ocean view.
I can appreciate the concerns many have with corruption, graft and other political nastiness. Every new scandal and every new investigation erodes political life a little bit more, a little bit faster. But placing the responsibility for funding political campaigns in the hands of incumbents is sort of like P.J. O'Rourke's famous quip: it's like giving liquor and car keys to teenage boys.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 5/11/2006