Open Up vs. Shut 'em Up
July 13, 2007

A Statesman acts in the interest of his country, a Politician acts in his own interest. Campaign Finance Reform, ie. McCain-Feingold, is a perfect example of a Politician's law.

The problem as John McCain (says he) saw it was money corrupting government. Politicians need money for increasingly expensive election campaigns. Special interests provide easy money on a quid pro quo basis. Politicians feel obligated to large donors and subsequently pass bills favorable to their donors. But as George Will says elsewhere on this site: "Never mind abundant research demonstrating that money usually moves toward politicians of particular behavior, rather than changing behavior."

In its definition of the term "quid pro quo" Wikipedia (just after specifying it's use regarding prostitution, incidentally) says: ...political donors are legally entitled to support candidates that hold positions with which the donors agree, or which will benefit the donors. Such conduct becomes bribery only when there is an identifiable exchange between the contribution and official acts, previous or subsequent, and the term quid pro quo denotes such an exchange.

Here's a terse summary of McCain-Feingold from opensecrets

The crux of the McCain-Feingold bill was a ban on soft money -- unlimited contributions to the national political parties for "party-building" activities. The bill also placed restrictions on outside groups airing so-called "issue ads" that tout or criticize a candidate's position on an issue, but refrain from explicitly telling viewers to vote for or against that candidate.

Most problems have more than one solution. Often, there are multiple solutions ranging from benevolent to noxious. The design of McCain-Feingold showed John McCain's preference for the noxious end of the spectrum. He could have chosen to open up the process to public scrutiny. Instead he chose to shut up the people who speak out on political candidates and issues.

He could have put the burden where it belongs, on the backs of corrupt politicians. Instead he chose to weaken the First Amendment while at the same time creating a sort of Incumbency Protection Act. In the same article quoted above, George Will also says:

Bob Bauer, a Democratic campaign lawyer, notes that the (McCain-Feingold) law, although marketed as a measure for clean government, was an opportunity for incumbents' self-aggrandizement. They exploited the opportunity, enacting special protections against wealthy opponents, and "blackouts" on much pre-election advertising. These they justified as enabling them to control the content of political discourse in election seasons, and enabling them, as Bauer says, to "avoid the indignity of 'negative' ads directed against them."

Pretty much what you'd expect from a politician and one of the major reasons this site is critical of John McCain.

The states, those great laboratories of democracy, are beginning to find their way back from the dark side. Kim Strossel writes in the Wall Street Journal:

In April, Kansas became the first state in 2007 to sign into law comprehensive legislation mandating a public Web site to show its citizens where all their money was flowing. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty quickly followed suit, signing his own state's reform the following month. Mr. Perry was next, and Oklahoma and Hawaii have bills awaiting their own governors' signatures. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels issued an executive order to disclose state contracts all the way back in 2005. In total, some 19 states have passed, or are now working on, legislative or administrative reforms that would hand the public tools to examine government spending.

She says that Texas got out in front:

Having seen national Republicans bounced from power -- in part because of the earmark issue -- Gov. Perry (of Texas) got out ahead on the transparency issue, running on greater disclosure in his re-election campaign last year and proposing in January that all state agencies publish their expenditures online.

He received a boost from Republican State Comptroller Susan Combs, who got elected in part by promising more disclosure -- a message that resonated with voters angry over Washington shenanigans. Within days of taking office in January, she'd listed her department's spending "down to the pencil category" and by May was offering information for dozens of other state agencies.

And then:

The media, government groups and blogs have been combing through the details, with some lively results.

Follow the link above to the article for a better look at those "lively results" To quote a currently popular phrase, getting some of our Federal representatives to come out of the shadows where they do much of their work could have some wonderful intended and unintended consequences.

Imagine a world where you could easily follow the flow of government expenditures and at the same time easily identify the sources of senator's and representative's campaign contributions. Operating out in the open gives your Senators and Representatives a much greater incentive to avoid corrupting arrangements. Instead of getting the people to shut up, encouraging the Pols to clean up is the benign solution and puts the burden where it has always belonged.