Friday, February 03, 2006

MoneyGoRound Pt. 3 -- Let's All Get Off

The previous posts lead to my ultimate point: Eccch to all of it. The scandals are the inevitable result of an irredeemable campaign finance system. Democrats need to take the leap and run on a proposal to fundamentally change the system -- some sort of public finance plan.

I say this for two reasons. First, the Republicans are too smart to leave the reform agenda to the Democrats. Already they have proposed nibble-around-the-edges reforms and will continue to do so. They've also thrown in a number of nonreform items into that stew. Tuesday night, Bush tried to reanimate the long-dead corpse of the line-item veto -- as a reform. Ohio Republicans are patting themselves on the back for passing House Bill 3 -- as a reform.

Now you know and I know that neither expanding the uncheckable power of the Executive nor insulating politicians from voter accountability is likely to prevent future scandals. The point is that by proposing some relevant incremental changes and falsely labelling other proposals as reforms, the Republicans have something to say. And if the Democrats offer only a different set of incremental reforms, they are left to bicker about whose reform is bigger, diluting the potency of the corruption issue.

I also say this because a radical restructuring of the system is the only thing that will work. For most of its participants, the campaign finance system in this country is one of decriminalized graft. Reform proposals that tighten up this disclosure requirement or that contribution limit are point-missing crap. Does anyone really think that an above-board, fully-disclosed $10,000 contribution to the Attorney General from a regulated industry has any less effect on his actions than a below-the-table $10,000? Don’t be silly.

What’s more, violations of these proposals can look ridiculously technical, eroding respect for the whole system. The case against Tom DeLay is essentially that corporations gave $X to a party organization which then turned around and gave precisely $X to DeLay’s TRMPAC. There undoubtedly was a way to accomplish the same thing without creating a clear paper trail, but there was probably a way to accomplish the same result legally, if sleazily. If DeLay had been more patient and less arrogant, he wouldn’t be indicted, but the end product would be no less disgraceful.

So the more I read reform proposals since getting on this bandwagon, the more convinced I become that anyone really interested in cleaning up the system should get behind a system of public campaign financing.

The best single site I've found on the subject is Public Campaign. They lay out the basic principles -- public financing for candidates who choose it, matching funds raised by those who don't. They also critique piecemeal reforms, round up the state success stories (Arizona and Connecticut, so far) and post lobbying horror stories.

Unfortunately, the only Ohio contact on the state list is Ohio Citizen Action which hasn't moved beyond the hippie do-gooder PIRG model. Their hearts are in the right place, but it's not the organzation to lead a broad-based charge. Reform Ohio recently sent me a letter promising to rise from the ashes; perhaps they could look at taking up a real reform.

Another example is a proposal Paul Begala and James Carville are shopping around in their new book. They offer an excerpt in the current Washington Monthly.

While not everyone is enthused by Carville and Begala's book generally, seeing a public finance proposal in a book that's being skewered for its relentless Clintonista centrism is a good thing. If we can get Liberal and DLC Democrats on board with the basic principles, this could go somewhere.

If we will see drastic campaign finance reform in our lifetimes, it will come in response to the current scandals. If the progressive community really wants to leave behind a better country for our children, we should be beating on our representatives and candidates to get behind this.

Personally, I think it’s a better use of the blogosphere than My Candidate Can Beat Up Your Candidate.


k-pho said...

Hmmm, I was just thinking about the scandals over the last few days, and I had come to very similar (but not as well explained and justified) conclusions. Coincidence? Or maybe just Clearly the Only Solution.