The Boss Tweed-ization of national politics
“Reformers should be focusing on lifting limits on the flow of money from parties to candidates and restoring the role of the parties as the funders of campaigns. Instead of Candidate Smith asking Donor Gonzalez for money – and Donor Gonzalez asking for a favor in return – party chairman Robinson will ask thousands of donors for money on behalf of a slate of candidates, who will never know precisely whose gift was directed to them. That step will diminish corruption and the appearance of corruption.” ~ David Frum
I asked our own Mark Thompson what he thought of this idea, and Mark replied:
From a corruption standpoint, Frum’s proposal is a recipe for creating machine politics on a national scale. Strengthening parties is a guaranteed way of ensuring that everything will be a party-line vote, which may or may not be a bad thing, depending on your perspective. But because it strengthens parties so much, it just shifts the appearance of corruption from individual politicians with only one vote or one voice who are at least nominally accountable to the electorate to national party chairmen with near-absolute control of every vote in their party and of every agenda item in their party who are not even nominally accountable to the electorate. It amounts to the Boss Tweed-ization of national politics. My feeling is that corruption would be better addressed by weakening parties through various ballot reforms. That’s also one of the benefits of this recent decision – it weakens political parties quite a bit.
This is the danger of campaign finance reform – the unintended consequences of ideas which on their face seem pretty good. Similarly, while I really enjoyed Glenn Greenwald’s piece on Citizens United, I think that his idea for reform is both vague and probably a recipe for unintended consequences as well:
There are few features that are still extremely healthy and vibrant in the American political system; the First Amendment is one of them, and the last thing we should want is Congress trying to limit it through amendments or otherwise circumvent it in the name of elevating our elections. Meaningful public financing of campaigns would far more effectively achieve the ostensible objectives of campaign finance restrictions without any of the dangers or constitutional infirmities. If yesterday’s decision provides the impetus for that to be done, then it will have, on balance, achieved a very positive outcome, even though that was plainly not its intent.
I’m right with Greenwald on pretty much everything up to that last bit. What does meaningful public financing of campaigns mean? And even if we could find a way to actually publicly finance everybody without creating a huge barrier to entry in politics, would this really even begin to address the problem of corporate influence in Washington? If it would, then I’d fully support it, but I can’t help but think that the corporations and special interests would simply find other ways to lobby and peddle influence. Transparency is the only thing I can think of that can really even begin to break the stranglehold corporate interests have over Washington. All the rules and regulations we can dream up, they can get around. And neither Frum or Greenwald seem to provide the answer to that.