Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The War on Pretense

I have never really been hot about campaign finance reform. The fundamental problem is that money is an effective way to get the attention of elected representatives. I still have faith that the media will do its job well enough to nail any politician that was out-and-out selling his votes. In fact, I'm all for any type of legislation that would make it easier for the media to do its job.

That is why I have come to loathe the McCain-Feingold Act. That bill took the easy road of hitting the clearly visible numbers of soft money. In order to keep some amount of free speech alive, the bill created a loop hole, the 527's. The "limitation" that was laid on these organizations is that they have no communication with any official campaign apparatus. Communication is where the pretense occurs. At what point does communication occur? I could describe it as the transmission of information with the intent, in this case, of guiding future action. Picking up a phone, sitting around a table, e-mail, even dropping a brown paper wrapped package in a particular trashcan are obviously communication. But what if it is just a couple of old friends running into each other at the ole waterin' hole? Or even more obliquely, one campaign staffer talking a little too loudly in a restaurant to another with a 527 employee "accidently" in hearing range. The scare quotes are the essence of pretense.

So how does one fight pretense? McCain-Feingold itself was an attempt at stamping out pretense. Recall in the old days that one was limited to how much could be given directly to a candidate, but donations to the party were unlimited, on the pretense that said money would not be specifically directed to the candidate. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. There are two options: try harder, or change tack. Trying harder would be new legislation to get rid of the 527 loophole. Changing tack would be to regard the whole idea of getting money out of politics a dream worthy of the greatest of optimists.

My choice: scrap the effort. Much as a black market will exist for virtually any contraband, their will be money in politics as long as politicians need money. Also, I judge what a person does with his wealth to be a fundamental aspect of liberty. A person who wishes to get involved in the political process via their money is no more noble or ignoble than the volunteer who gets involved via their time. Lets make the whole process transparent. If someone makes a donation, receipts have to be kept. If they don't, then it would be a relatively easy dig, relative to today's nightmare, for a professional reporter to show that the numbers don't add up and to ask some pertinant questions.

No comments: