by David Donnelly, Wed Jan 17, 2007 at 09:23:56 AM EST
Matt (here and here) and Kos have written posts recently about the ethics and lobbying reforms in Congress, and the need to reassess the whole regulatory scheme of campaign reform. They've been joined by lots of other commentary, like former Secretary of Labor Bob Reich on Marketplace this morning and David Sirota (here and just about everywhere), arguing that Congress has left the major part of the money in politics problem untouched - the private financing of public elections.
Matt's argument, in a nutshell is this: process reforms that rely on regulation and policing bad behavior always fail to live up to their billing, and what we need to do instead is shift the paradigm to public financing:
Let's be honest - quasi-corrupt practices such as secret earmarks are not the result just of bad people in politics, they are the result of structural factors that encourage the legalized bribery of our governing class. If you restrict secret earmarks without changing any other incentives, you'll simply push the quasi-corruption into another legal vehicle designed to bilk the public and hide the costs.
Kos extends the criticism of the ethics and lobbying reforms to other types of campaign reforms, like the proposed and rejected FEC regulations on bloggers political activities.
Here's the problem, and I saw this up front and personal during the FEC fight with the "reformer" groups -- they've lost sight of the purpose of [campaign finance reform].
In their minds, money is inherently evil. Their efforts are predicated on the impossible -- getting money out of politics. But as Stoller notes, that just ain't gonna happen, Buckley or not. All speech costs money of some sort these days. Even getting yourself to a street protest costs money (gas or transit).
So is the problem really money?
I would argue that the problem is when money is used to drown out competing voices. It was a key argument we bloggers used in defending ourselves against the "reformers" -- that while money could drown out other voices in radio or television, the inherent nature of the web meant there was no scarcity.
Still, he withholds judgment on public financing, despite its impact in dealing with the very problem he identifies.
These are not an academic question for me, or for progressives. I work on this issue day in, day out for Public Campaign and Public Campaign Action Fund, the leading national group on public financing. I have worked on Clean Elections for a dozen years, dating back to when I ran the Maine ballot question campaign to pass the first full public financing law in the country. Six additional states (including Arizona and Connecticut for all state offices) and two cities have followed suit. We are working in coalition with many of the organizations identified in the posts by Matt and Markos, and count them as strong allies in the public financing fight.