Sunday, April 01, 2007

A preemptive rebuttal

I sympathize with people who are frustrated with the tone of our politics and, in particular, with our recent supreme court race. The problem with these campaigns for our state's higest court is that they place pressure on the candidates to behave in a way that is quite unjudicial. We want judges to be fair and thorough, yet the candidates attack each other in ways that are exaggerated at best and deceptive at worst. We want judges to be dispassionate. Political campaigns are anything but. Clifford and Ziegler probably didn't want to get into an ugly cat fight (ed. sexist!), but here we are.

I anticipate that, no matter what happens on Tuesday (but especially if Ziegler wins), we are going to hear that the problem is money. No one would behave this way unless they were corrupted by the sirens of campaign contributions and independent expenditures. We need public financing.

The problem with public financing is and always has been that it is fundamentally anti-democratic. At one point or another, it involves the state in deciding who gets to run. There always has to be a threshold for who gets money and, unless our public financing scheme allows a meaningful opportunity for candidates to opt out (i.e., by not imposing overly stringent restrictions on private fundraising), this is going to affect who can and cannot run.

Although advocates of public funding would argue that this is better than what we have now, much of what we hate about money in politics is a result of campaign finance reform. Candidates spend an inordinate amount of time begging for money because of contribution limits that require them to fill a bucket with a spoon. Independent groups conduct themselves without the discipline that a candidate must have because they cannot contribute as much to the candidates as the stakes require.

Finally, we hear that unfettered (or less fettered) fundraising will favor the wealthy. While there is probably a Burkean argument that this is not all bad, i.e., that it acts as a brake on the politics of envy, it is not clear that this is true. The Democrats seem to have no problem raising money although, ironically, they seem to do better at attracting it in big chunks rather than through regulated "hard money" contributions. (But Howard Dean's net-based fundraising was a counter-example.)

My own bias is toward less limitation and more disclosure. Let the money flow (it will anyway) but let's make clear who is behind whom. Our 30 year experiment with comprehensive campaign finance "reform" has been one unintended consequence after another. It is time for humility.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can see why you would want to divert attention from what the Judicial Commission will do with Ziegler after the election, but raising the issue of campaign finance reform won't make me forget.

Dad29 said...

Your quiet request for "humility", addressed to politicians, would be akin to asking for fresh apples from a dairy.

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