Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Campaign restrictions are the answer? No, not really.

In my capacity as President of, I get lots of letters about the need to “clean up the system.” I’m reminded of Michael Cloud’s aphorism, “The problem isn’t the abuse of power; it’s the power to abuse.”

Donald S. wrote me to say that he wondering if we can take the money out of political campaigns,

We really need to change the way our election system work. I think we need a system very similar to the British. The government funds the campaign so every one that runs has the same campaign funding. It should be illegal to except campaign contributions. They also limit the campaign time, which I don't think is quite as important as taking the money out of the picture. I feel this would be the biggest step ever in cleaning up the government. This would ultimately take the government out of the hands of big business and give it back to the people. I also believe this would help organizations like this get heard.

I responded,

We disagree. The rise of campaign finance restrictions has made it more difficult for challengers. When contributions are limited, the game becomes raising more of them. For incumbents, this is simple… Hold a cocktail party or dinner, the special interests line up, buy tables at a time, and the coffers are filled. But for challengers, it’s akin to filling a swimming pool with a teaspoon.

If a challenger can compel the incumbent to spend his coffers, he/she increases the odds of victory. The more the incumbent spends in a House race, the more likely he is to lose. Most challengers just don’t get the incumbent to spend enough money.

Essentially, what I’m saying is that the current system benefits corporate American, at the expense of other interests. They employ multiple thousands of people and can gather funds very quickly and efficiently for those already in power. There’s no comparable base for challengers to tap.

However, the lack of large funding block has also put an end to the real division and debate between the parties. Republicans and Democrats largely agree. Why? Because there’s no threat from ideological/principled candidates. Again, principled candidates just can’t attract sufficient funds to obtain the necessary media coverage and publicity. Without that, they lose.

Now, just imagine, what if a very rich or a couple of wealthy guys were to back a particular candidate? Could things could be different? We don’t have to imagine – it’s happened before. My example: Eugene McCarthy. He had a big backer who helped him in the New Hampshire primary. His stunning success caused a sitting president to cancel his re-election campaign.

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