Jewish World Review April 4, 2001 / 11 Nissan, 5761
Campaign finance reform fallacies
THE entire premise of the current crusade to
"reform" campaign-finance laws is flawed in
several important respects. There are also
plenty of other problems with the proposed
cure, McCain-Feingold, beyond its flagrant
The premise underlying the mania to restrict
campaign fund-raising and spending is that the
political process is corrupt and that
imperfections in existing law are the primary
source of the corruption.
But what evidence do the "reformers" offer to
support their charges of corruption connected
with campaign contributions? Despite being
challenged on numerous occasions to
substantiate his claims of rampant corruption
relative to campaign-funding practices, McCain
has never been able to produce any specifics.
Instead he resorts to generalities and
emotionally charged indictments of every
congressman. It is impossible to prove a
negative, so when McCain says that all
politicians are corrupt because of loopholes in
current laws he cannot be proven wrong.
By making such sweeping allegations McCain
shifts the debate from one based on reason to
one grounded in emotion. The result is that facts
take a backseat to preconceived notions.
In the first place, contrary to popular opinion,
not every congressman is corrupt, nor is every
campaign contributor. But much of the
electorate is certainly willing to believe they are,
especially when one with inside knowledge,
such as Senator McCain, says so.
Unless McCain can come forward with some
concrete proof, he ought to speak only for
himself and perhaps, contributors to his
campaigns. If he wants to call himself (and his
contributors) corrupt, that's his business.
McCain and the reformers generalize that
politicians base their policy votes not on
principle rooted in ideology, nor on their
constituents' preferences, but on the dictates of
their major contributors. More and more
empirical data is emerging to suggest that this
simply isn't the case. It is true that contributors
donate to candidates who share their ideology,
but not that there is any causal connection
between the contributions and the politicians'
votes. I have contributed my share to various
political campaigns, but I have never asked for
something in return, and I don't suspect many of
you have either.
By dealing in generalities, the reformers are able
to capitalize on public misconceptions, such as
that the Clinton-Gore campaign finance scandals
were caused by loopholes in the campaign
finance laws. The Clinton-Gore campaign
finance abuses have served as valuable
ammunition for the reformers, just like
Watergate led to campaign funding restrictions
in the '70s.
But legal loopholes had nothing to do with the
Clinton-Gore campaign finance crimes. The
unambiguous law -- the clearly controlling legal
authority -- is that campaign contributions from
foreign nationals are illegal. Clinton and Gore
knew that and deliberately violated those laws.
That's why they had to return millions of dollars
of illegally acquired funds. Clinton and Gore
also knew that under the existing law soft
money was not to be commingled with hard
money, but that didn't keep them from doing it.
The fact that they were never brought to justice
is not because the laws were vague, but mainly
because Janet Reno's Justice Department refused
to enforce existing laws against her superiors
(by recommending the appointment of an
independent counsel to investigate the matter,
as urged by four separate officials working
I don't think McCain and his fellow "reformers"
want to deal with specifics because to do so
would rob them of the most effective weapons
in their crusade: public confusion and emotion.
If the public understood that the current law
already prohibited the Clinton-Gore excesses it
would not be snookered into believing that yet
more laws would prevent crimes of this type in
By relegating the debate to an emotional level,
facts are not the only casualty. Prudence is
abandoned as well. The "reform" movement has
been overtaken by an irrational zeal and
artificial urgency. Far more pressing problems
are being ignored or deferred.
This emotionalism also lends itself to an
unrealistic expectation that the legislative
remedy will be a panacea. In fact, it will most
likely generate more problems than it solves,
such as making the media even more powerful
and restricting the very type of speech the
framers were most anxious to protect.
Based on fraudulent premises,
McCain-Feingold is an old-fashioned copout. To
the extent that corruption exists, it is the fault of
people, not inadequacies in the law.
I hoped with the passing of the Clinton-Gore era
we would begin to graduate from such
adolescent dodges. It's still not too
David Limbaugh, a columnist and attorney apracticing in Cape
Girardeau, Mo., is the author of the just-released
exposť about corruption in the Clinton-Reno Justice
Department, "Absolute Power." Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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