Friday, July 30, 2004

McCain-Feingold has failed to reduce the influence of money in politics.

Why you’re right:

1. It paved the way for unlimited “independent” expenditures by the parties. A 2003 Supreme Court ruling stated that, though McCain-Feingold limits party spending to $16.2 million on activities coordinated with the candidates, it left the Democratic and Republican national committees free to spend as much as they can raise on “independent” electioneering—anything not directly coordinated with the candidate’s campaign. This year, the DNC plans to spend between $50 and $100 million on its effort. The RNC, with nearly $20 million more in the bank than its Democratic counterpart, is poised for an advertising blitz after Bush’s nomination becomes official on September 2. (Washington Post)

2. Spending by 527s has rendered the soft money ban meaningless. McCain-Feingold bans previously unlimited soft money contributions to political parties from corporations, unions, and individuals. But the Federal Elections Commission ruled in May that the ban does not apply to 527s, the non-party organizations named for the section of the tax code under which they are registered. The groups are not technically partisan, but advocacy for one party, as in the cases of America Coming Together and the Club for Growth, is their explicit reason for being. During the period from March to mid-July, 527s were responsible for nearly $44 million of the $170 million spent on advertising in the presidential campaign. (Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times)

3. Doubling the hard money limit has led to record fundraising for Bush and Kerry. McCain-Feingold doubled the cap on a donor’s contributions to a campaign from $1,000 to $2,000. In this election cycle, both Bush and Kerry have received unprecedented sums of money: Kerry, at $186 million through June, set the record for a Democrat, while Bush, at around $230 million, has set the all time record for a candidate. Although final numbers on the percentage of contributors who give the maximum are not yet available, 60% of Bush donations in 2000 came from such donations. The candidates’ efforts are aided by fundraising captains who “bundle” maximum contributions for the candidates. Bush calls those who bundle $100,000 or more “Pioneers” and those who bundle $200,000 or more “Rangers.” The DNC and RNC are following suit with new designations for effective bundlers. (USA Today, Washington Post)

Why they’re wrong:

Senators McCain and Feingold cling to what they perceive as the successes of the law at ending “the raising and spending of unlimited soft money by elected officials and political parties.” While this is literally true, the open loopholes in the law have merely shifted the unlimited spending to 527s and left politicians as indebted to individual bundlers as they were to individual donors beforehand. Further, claiming as they do that “McCain-Feingold broke the link between big donors and legislative and executive branch policymaking” ignores the influence that big time bundlers will inevitably have in the administration of either of the candidates. (The Cincinnati Post)

A better idea:

Public financing of elections should be expanded so that candidates have a meaningful alternative to placing themselves in debt to individuals and organizations.