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What Lamont’s victory says about Campaign Finance Reform

Posted by Chance on August 10, 2006

I am not much in favor of Campaign Finance Reform.

1) It blatantly violates freedom of speech. Television and radio are limited in what they can say during an election year. While I am in no way a fan of Michael Moore, the idea that his movie Farenheit 911 would violate campaign finance laws is very troubling. I suppose the motivation behind CFR is that it limits how money directs politics. I understand this concern, but free speech is free speech, even if that speech comes in the form of money. If we do not have freedom of speech, it really doesn’t matter who gets elected. Not to be so dramatic and cliche, but the freedoms we have are typically worth more than who represents us.

2) It prevents change in the political arena. Edward Crane from the Cato blog posts the following based on the Lamont victory over Lieberman.

There is not a line in McCain-Feingold that isn’t designed to protect incumbents. The so-called Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act makes it a crime to even mention the name of a candidate for federal office in a radio or television ad within 60 days of a general election. No criticizing incumbents! But the worst part of these laws came with the 1974 Amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act, which instituted a $1000 contribution limit to candidates running for federal office (now slightly more than $2000, but less in real terms than the ’74 limits). Incumbents have earmarks to pass around and large mailing lists. Challengers do not. Advantage, incumbents.

Ned Lamont’s remarkable victory over three-term incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman yesterday exposes the true nature of contribution limits. They aren’t about the “appearance of corruption.” They’re about preventing a challenger from having a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. The one “loophole” the Supremes created with their incoherent 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo was that candidates have rights the rest of us don’t have. Apparently, they can’t be corrupted by their own money, so there are no limits on what they can spend on their own campaigns.

More than 60 percent of Ned’s campaign expenditures came from Ned. Without Ned, Ned loses. In fact, no political observer thought any candidate dependent on a $2000 contribution limit had any kind of chance of ousting Lieberman. Ned was a very poor candidate. Inarticulate with zero charisma. But by spending his own money he enfranchised the Democrats of Connecticut who otherwise, given the contribution limits, were disenfranchised. The Democrats in Connecticut hate the war in Iraq, Lieberman has rather energetically endorsed it. Yet the federal election laws would have assured Lieberman reelection were it not for the “loophole.”

This anti-war election is directly analogous to my late friend Gene McCarthy’s race for the presidency in 1968. Gene used six-figure contributions from wealthy liberals like Stewart Mott who opposed the war in Vietnam to fund a campaign that ousted a sitting president from his own party. Gene often said that had the ’74 amendments to the FECA been in place in ’68, he would not have run. Campaign finance laws should not have the power to change American history. But they do. Give everyone the “loophole” of being able to spend as much of their own money to promote their political beliefs and we’ll throw a remarkable number of incumbents out of office. And with good candidates instead of bumbling millionaires.

Everyone complains about the two-party system. In my view, and others, CFR contributes to this.

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4 Responses to “What Lamont’s victory says about Campaign Finance Reform”

  1. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    Money is NOT speech. If it were, speech would never be free because more money purchases more speech.

    If we had publicly financed campaigns, it wouldn’t prevent movies like Michael Moore’s. It would, instead, give free air time (the public already owns the air waves as the original FCC acts for television and radio clearly state) equally to each candidate. Campaign seasons would be shorter and there would be more good candidates who now cannot afford to run without getting some huge corporations to fund them–and thereby being unable to be free of special interest pressures.

    Publicly financed campaigns would give less power to incumbency and would empower democracy. Think how many times you have said: X would make a fine senator, but X makes only about $40 grand per year and is too worried about special interests to raise the kind of “warchest” it would take to campaign against Y. Our nation has been deprived of voices we might otherwise have heard.

    Or how many times during political debates on TV you’ve been frustrated because the disagreements were in such a narrow range and you wished to hear voices from a wider spectrum and THEN see who won? Publicly financed elections with free air time would give that. What a boon to American politics, no? But not if Mitch McConnell keeps convincing you that money is speech.

    The current system has turned us from a democratic republic into a plutocratic oligarchy–rule by the concentration of monied interests.

  2. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    McCain-Feingold IS flawed. It was a compromise between what we need: publicly financed elections and free air time, and the anything goes election rules before then.

    Also, it reflects the Supreme Court’s current idiotic belief that you are right that money is speech, so you can limit contributions, but not spending. Which is absurd!

  3. Chance said

    Hmm, you bring up an interesting point. Something to think about…

  4. The Prophet said

    Chance, I agree CFR takes away our freedoms.

    If you have time, check out this week’s Battle of the Bands and vote for your winner. Click HERE!!!

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