Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 10, 2007
By: Zachary Roth

THAT WAS QUICK...On Monday, we released our new cover story, which argues that for Democrats, embracing public financing of congressional elections would be not just good policy, but good politics too, since it would level the financial playing field that currently favors the GOP. Then yesterday, not 30 hours later, Senate number two Dick Durbin called public financing the next logical step after ethics and lobbying reform, and announced that he'd be introducing a bill in the coming weeks. You can't say we don't get results.

In all seriousness, Durbin has been working on this for some time, and he understands that convincing the rest of the leadership, and the caucus as a whole, to get behind public financing will be a long-term project -- a senior Senate aide told me there aren't 25 votes in the Senate for public financing right now. But there's no doubt that having a member of the leadership team pushing the issue makes a big difference.

Zachary Roth 9:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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I love my senior senator.

Posted by: mattstan on January 10, 2007 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

As long as politicians are able to raise large amounts of cash, public financing would just be a waste of money. The only way to make it workable to be to find a way to simultaneously reduce the cost of a campaign. I suggest a tax on political contributions, the revenues of which could go to public financing.

Posted by: Mario on January 10, 2007 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I know you hate freedom, but how can you not want us to use the money we make to point out that John Kerry is a liar who fought for the N. Vietnamese and shot himself?

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on January 10, 2007 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think public financing of elections is the most significant issue, but who is allowed to finance them. Take corporations: they are creations of the State, and given privileges for the purpose of representing shareholder interests in a way that is responsible to the common economic good (the authentic purpose, if not recognized as such in practice.) Since shareholders have a variety of political views and don't necessarily agree with boards on what should be supported, corporations have no right to donate to political campaigns.

This can and should be enforced by law due to the legal conditions we can set on incorporation (not the same issue as telling individuals what they can say or spend money on.)

tyrannogenius

Posted by: Neil Bates on January 10, 2007 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

It's gonna take a constitutional amendment. So if it's a long term project, they might as well start on the right one.

Posted by: Paul on January 10, 2007 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

PS - Gore/Edwards 08 looks like a great Ticket.

Posted by: Neil Bates on January 10, 2007 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Flawed assumptions, flawed argument, fatally flawed idea. Under the plan outlined at the end of the article, any candidate with "a basic level of grassroots support and organization by collecting a certain number of small (probably around $5) contributions" would enjoy voter subsidized speech.

Eventually, tax dollars are going to provide EQUAL funding for the likes of David Duke, Pat Robertson, Al Sharpton, etc. One day, they win.

This seems a lot more like cutting off your nose to spite your face than a "death blow" to the GOP "machine."

Posted by: Pidgas on January 10, 2007 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Paul - the most common public financing option works like this:

a) A candidate raises a certain number of small contributions, e.g. 1000 $5 contributions.
b) That candidate agrees not to accept private financing for his/her campaign.
c) Upon satisfying (a) and (b), s/he receives a set amount of funds to spend on the campaign.
d) If one candidate for an office eschews public financing and raises more money than the amount in (c), the government gives matching funds to any candidates being publicly financed.

No Constitutional issues whatsoever.

Posted by: RT on January 10, 2007 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

As much as I LOVE the idea of publicly funded elections, I think there's a better chance of the Kansas City Royals winning five consecutive World Series than this getting passed … even within the next several decades.

First, I just don’t see enough politicians agreeing to turn off the spigot of cash that fills their campaign tanks. They like it that way.

Second, the GOP will never agree because of their huge cash advantage. Why would they want to level the playing field and have more competition?

Third, as much as we may want elections to be about policy and what a candidate will actually do, publicly funded elections would force just that to happen. And, as we all know, way too many on both sides of the aisle would rather run smear campaigns than campaigns based on ideas.

And fourth (and last) – isn’t there a Constitutional issue here? Despite some that say otherwise, I would think there would be, and here's why:

One of the arguments for lobbying, PACS, and the like are citizens’ right to free speech in relation to who they support, including monetary support. Anything like this would put a limit on that speech. Granted, there are limits to free speech now—what you can say on TV, yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater, etc.—but none of those directly affect those in public office. And when you mess with their right to express themselves, there'd be pushback. Wouldn't an amendment be required to get around that restriction and these issues?

Just my $.02 … keep the change.

Posted by: Unholy Moses on January 10, 2007 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

However far Durbin's bill gets this time, remember how long it took for McCain-Feingold to pass.

The important thing is to keep trying, and not give up. Maybe there aren't 25 votes in the Senate for public financing this year, but if we keep pushing it, then next year there will be more votes than this year, and so forth.

This still won't completely drain the swamp, since outside expenditures can't be blocked, but it would lower the water table appreciably.

Posted by: RT on January 10, 2007 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

paygo paygo paygo...and etc.

We all can dream, but it aint gonna happen.

Posted by: Keith G on January 10, 2007 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Unholy Moses:

1) It's clear that a lot of Congresspersons really hate the dialing-for-dollars aspect of their job. Even if you're good at it, it would have to be tedious as all hell.

2)You're right that most GOPers won't agree to public financing. But some will - and all we need are enough Senators to make it filibuster-proof, and of course a President that won't veto it.

That would take a united and reasonably popular Democratic Party - but that's not totally beyond probability.

4) There's only a Constitutional issue if outside expenditures are limited or banned. Public financing, in and of itself, doesn't raise any Constitutional issues.

Posted by: RT on January 10, 2007 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

America spends over 1 BILLION dollars electing its federal representitives. Raise your hand if you think we should be doing a better job.

Posted by: Jon Karak on January 10, 2007 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

RT--
Thanks.

I don't disagree that some hate having to all-but beg for money in some cases. Let's hope there's enough of them to get this idea out there in place ... soon.

You also bring up a great point: If, by some miracle, they got something put together before '08, what would Bush do? Would he veto it? I'm thinking "yes." But so might ... I dunno ... Hillary if she were Prez -- she has a huge fundraising machine, and I'm not sure she'd be willing to part with it.

And thanks for the answer on the Constitutional question. I'm a writer by trade, so any time a Constitutional issue is raised, I just throw out thoughts that prove what little I know and hope someone sets me straight. Thanks for doing so. :-)

Posted by: Unholy Moses on January 10, 2007 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Public financing is a way to prevent new and alternative political parties/factions from attaining any popularity and political power. Just like the monopolist party, the Dem/Rep partnership, keeps third party candidates off of the ballot, they will prevent thrid party candidates from obtaining public funding, keeping it for themselves to propagandize the masses.

Posted by: Brojo on January 10, 2007 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

I can't find anything in the Constitution that says corporations should have any say whatsoever in the political process. Democrats should start by banning all and I mean all, corporate contributions to political campaigns. If any corporation is caught giving one nickel to a campaign, the CEO goes to prison for five years. Full stop.

Then, cap all contributions from individuals at $100. If it requires a constitutional amendment, so be it. Conservatives want to amend the Constitution for far more trivial things like flag burning. Finally, make national elections national holidays. Everyone gets the day off (except police, firemen ,etc.) and strongly encourage voter participation with newspaper headlines, voter drives, etc.

This is the only way to break the corrupting influence of money in politics. It would also have the delightful side benefit of putting the modern GOP out of business. Of course, it is really nothing more than an organized crime syndicate, anyway.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 10, 2007 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK
Democrats should start by banning all and I mean all, corporate contributions to political campaigns.

Just to play Devil's Advocate (and that's all this is -- I don't necessarily disagree) ...

What about unions? Would they be banned as well? And what about small companies? Community groups? Where would the line be drawn when it comes to what groups can contribute and which ones can't?

Posted by: Unholy Moses on January 10, 2007 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Germany has a very effective way to level the playground and reduce campaign costs at the same time: There are no paid TV commercials. Every party gets a certain ammount of air time - in the US this would be even easier, it's 50/50 - and that's it. This incurs public financing of the air time, and apart from that, a reimbursement of somewhat around 50 ct per vote.
Downside: This reduction of tournover could drag down the US economy.

Posted by: Jörgen in Germany on January 10, 2007 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Instead of the public financing political elections, I would prefer a leveling of media coverage mandate. Allow equal free TV and radio air time to anyone who amasses the required petition signatures to run for a political office. The air waves already belong to the public, and we should utilize them to broadcast the widest ranging political views. Letting the electorate see/hear many points of view could improve their voting record. The way the system works now, the electorate sees/hears very little fron alternative points of view and so is poorly informed.

Posted by: Brojo on January 10, 2007 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

1) Overturn Buckley v Valleo, the egregious SCOTUS decision which equated money with "political speech."

2) Reinstate the Fairness Doctrine.

3) Restrict all corporate contributions to the same level as individuals, since a corporation is, after all, a "legal person."

4) Restrict individual contributions to, say, $2k, max. (Proposals to go lower welcome).

5) Restrict campaign seasons a la Europe to six weeks.

6) Relax and bask in the glow of democracy in action :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 10, 2007 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

You'd think they'd they jump at the chance to do away with the begging. But I guess political corruption (and the attendant power) must be like heroine.

Note: John McCain should be standing right next to Durbin - being one of the leading lights here in Arizona. We have clean election laws.

But I suspect McCain is going to abondon campaign finance reform in his run for the White House - concluding that his only hope of winning is the same as the Bush Strategy; overwhelm and out spend your opponents and promise to hand over the treasury in bags of unmarked bills to your contributors.

Posted by: bcinaz on January 10, 2007 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Hi Brojo,
as I posted at the same time, that's what we have in Germany. Interestingly, the air time on TV is used quite sensibly, so is the (small amount of) money spent on public appearances, that are covered by the media anyway. Most of cash is spent on posters that are devoid of any content, maybe with the exception of the Green Party and some extremes.
So the actual campaign happens in publicly financed TV and radio and in public discussions, both very inexpensive - and thus friendly to small emerging parties. What they need for campigning are interesting ideas and people who can present them.

Posted by: Jörgen in Germany on January 10, 2007 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

If you really want to level the playing field:

Allow corporate political contributions for the candidates of their choice.

Federal matching funds, as needed, will be appropriated for the other candidates so the totals of all candidates are equalized.

Good candidates with good staff will win elections, not just the ones with the deepest campaign chest.

Posted by: slanted tom on January 10, 2007 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

My problem with public financing as well as campaign finance reform is that it gives the government more and more control over elections.

In theory, the government works for us. George Bush and Nancy Pelosi are our servants. In practice, George and Nancy have a lot of power over ordinary citizens, and we have no little power over them.

The only power we citizens have over the government is through elections. As the government exerts more and more control over elections, citizens are losing their rightful role.

E.g., CFR has made a 3rd party or independent candidate much more difficult. That's good for Dems and Reps, but bad for the rest of us.

Neil Bates - Since shareholders have a variety of political views and don't necessarily agree with boards on what should be supported, corporations have no right to donate to political campaigns.

That has been the law for many, many years.

My

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 10, 2007 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Thank you Jörgen in Germany.

Posted by: Brojo on January 10, 2007 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

In theory, the government works for us. George Bush and Nancy Pelosi are our servants. In practice, George and Nancy have a lot of power over ordinary citizens, and we have no little power over them.

Is someone spoofing ex-liberal?

Posted by: Brojo on January 10, 2007 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK
What about unions? Would they be banned as well? And what about small companies? Community groups? Where would the line be drawn when it comes to what groups can contribute and which ones can't?

Unless I'm mistaken, direct donations to candidate campaigns from organizations other than natural persons and (and, at that, US citizens)—with the exception of other political campaigns—are already generally forbidden.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 10, 2007 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: Unless I'm mistaken, direct donations to candidate campaigns from organizations other than natural persons and (and, at that, US citizens)—with the exception of other political campaigns—are already generally forbidden.

However, some organizations can contribute to campaigns as long as it's not direct cash. E.g.,

Unions can send armies of "volunteers" out to work on a campaign.

Management can encourage their workers to make cash contributions.

Media like Rush Limbaugh or the New York Times can print nice things or mean things about a candidate. Given their huge circulation and their willingness to slant stories, support from Rush or the Times is worth a fortune.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 10, 2007 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo:

No, that's vingage ex-liberal ideology:

Blame the government for excesses in the private sector.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 10, 2007 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Can a corparation vote in a election? Enough said!

Posted by: Thomas3.6 1/2 on January 10, 2007 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

"I can't find anything in the Constitution that says corporations should have any say whatsoever in the political process. Democrats should start by banning all and I mean all, corporate contributions to political campaigns. If any corporation is caught giving one nickel to a campaign, the CEO goes to prison for five years. Full stop."

I can't find anything in the Constitution that suggests the first amendment is solely an individual right. In fact the entire context suggests that the rights apply to groups (such as congregations, unions, and corporations) as easily as indviduals.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Clauses one and two are about groups of people and beliefs. "Or of the press" is clearly both individual and group oriented (unless you believe that the NYT doesn't have the freedom of the press), the rights to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for redress are both clearly for individuals and groups. What is it about the phrase "freedom of speech" that makes you believe that is the only clause in the amendment that doesn't include groups?

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw on January 10, 2007 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Because corp. can't vote.It really is as simple as that.

Posted by: Thomas3.6 1/2 on January 10, 2007 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

What about the public financing ballot measure that just got pounded in California (the archetypal blue state)? This issue is just too easy to demagogue.

Posted by: MQ on January 10, 2007 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Well, maybe I was hasty in thinking Corps could donate to campaigns (true that they can't?), but what *are* they donating to? Even if not campaigns, what is this we always hear about "corporate donors" influencing Congress, etc? Who is missing something here? What is the real scoop? I stand that they shouldn't be able to donate for political influence (money), although they have a right to send spokespersons to persuade per their interests.

Posted by: Neil Bates on January 10, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Pidgas - this has not happened in AZ and ME, and the number of signatures and $5 contributions needed to qualify could always been tweaked to get the "right amount of diversity in candidates". Remember that part of the point of public financing is to allow more people in the community to run besides those who are rich or have rich friends.

Another thought on public financing which doesn't seem to have come up: It strikes me that having politicians up for sale was fine as long as the US was the wealthiest country around. However, with more money now going to, for exammple, oil-producing countries, we may want to ensure public financing of elections for national sovereignty issues.

Posted by: thump on January 10, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Public financing of political campaigns is a violation of my free speech rights.

Posted by: Dan on January 11, 2007 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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