Saturday, April 12, 2008

Campaign Finance

"We have created a parallel public financing system where the American people decide if they want to support a campaign they can get on the Internet and finance it, and they will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign that has traditionally been reserved for the wealthy and the powerful."

-- Barack Obama, quoted by ABC News, possibly laying the groundwork to reject public financing in the general election campaign (via Political Wire).

It might seem like this is a year when campaign finance laws won't even be on the agenda. Obama supports them, and John McCain wrote them. I doubt the next president will do much to change these laws, but 2008 is shaping up to be the year when the intellectual justification for these laws began to crumble.

For one thing, 2008 has shown that there is little correlation between money and electoral success, at least at the presidential level. From the beginning of the campaign through the end of February, for example, John McCain had raised about the same amount of money as Rudy Giuliani, who dropped out in January after failing abysmally. Mitt Romney raised nearly twice as much as Giuliani. Ron Paul raised twice as much money as Mike Huckabee, and we all know how many states Paul won.

Secondly, the 2008 election has shown that many small contributions can add up to a greater war chest than a few wealthy donors giving the maximum contribution. Exhibits A and B: Ron Paul and Barack Obama. It's tough to argue that we need to get money out of politics when it's average voters who are giving the money.

This election also seems to be changing the attitudes of liberals - the constituency most likely to support campaign finance laws. Now that Democrats are beating Republicans in fund raising, calls from the left for more restrictions have visibly died down. Even DailyKos had a post debunking the argument that greedy campaign consultants are responsible for high elections spending.

"Campaigns costs have gone up less because of consultant fees and more because it costs more to communicate with voters, and the number of voters they must reach keeps growing," writes Kossack DHinMI.

I don't think this country is ever going to go back to an unregulated campaign system. But maybe Democrats - including Obama - have begun to realize that getting money completely out of politics is not the answer. Would Obama oppose a bid to raise the contribution limit from the current $2,300? Would he support easing some of the restrictions on campaign spending by independent groups? I don't know, but I do think that Democrats in general are beginning to come around on this issue.

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