Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Gary Abernathy is Right on the Money: We Need More Money in Politics

Gary Abernathy has an absolutely fantastic column about the fallacy of removing money from politics and why leaving people free to give whatever they want was, is, and shall continue to be the best idea regarding campaign finance laws.

The flow of money into politics is like a mighty river: no dam can block it, just divert it. Money and politics go together like bread and butter, man and woman (maybe we'll make an exception for one of the state House Dem leaders), New Jersey and the Mafia, etc.

Most importantly, however, is that money in politics is merely a function of the exercise of freedom of speech. Every constitutional right we have is rooted in some form to property rights. No one would ever consider that we could constitutionally prohibit, say, the ACLU or Common Cause or the Sierra Club from soliciting donations, large and small, from any individual who supports their cause for the furtherance of that cause. Why, then, are politics subject to this kind of infringement on freedom of speech? "To prevent corruption or the appearance thereof." That sounds good on paper, but as Gary says, tough campaign finance laws in West Virginia have not stopped many a coalfield Democratic politico from brown-bagging (and we're not talking about bringing your lunch from home) it to electoral victory.

Today's campaign finance regime has strengthened the hand of ultra-wealthy people like George Soros who have and are willing to pour millions of dollars in "independent expenditure" programs but have severely weakened people with moderate means, political parties, and candidates. In West Virginia, state and local political parties are underfunded. Candidates who don't self-finance or have a plum leadership post from which they can grab the lobbyists by their ankles and shake them down for a thick bundle of checks from them & their clients have a very difficult time adequately conveying their message to the voters and are at the mercy of a press that is apathetic about politics except when taking a very biased approach in favor of their respective candidates (which is perfectly okay--it's their First Amendment right).

The current laws in West Virginia (which limit contributions to candidates and to and from political parties to $1,000) have made it impossible for someone to run for the Legislature without digging deep into their own pockets or having a very big Rolodex. I known because I've done this twice. Each time, I raised more money than any of my Democratic opponents did but they easily beat me on their personal fortunes and I still had only a fraction of what was needed to mount an adequate campaign (my rule of thumb for WV is that you need about $1 for every person who lives in your district and $2 if you're running for Congress or statewide office). Can anyone please explain how someone might be corrupted if their pwn political party bankrolled their general election campaign or if individuals could give more money to parties than candidates or--even better--unlimited sums to parties? I'd like to hear from you if you can explain that.