Campaign Finance Reform. Why It Is An Up Hill Fight? Reform Has To Come From Without. Supreme Court? Internet?
“During the month of February (2008), for example, his (BARRACK OBAMA) campaign raised a record-setting $55 million—$45 million of it over the Internet—without the candidate himself hosting a single fund-raiser. The money just came rolling in.” ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
Present State 10/04
As it stands now there is a limit on campaign contributions but no limit on campaign expenditures. In essence this was the ruling by the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo 441U.S. 1 (1976). Since then the cost of running for office has skyrocketed because there are no spending limits. This means millionaires can fund their own campaigns and often do so while the average person who wants to run has to seek limited contributions. Even those successfully elected have to spend most of their time raising funds or be beholden to those who can raise funds. Incumbents seem to be best able to raise funds from individuals, corporations, lobbyists and PACs. 90% of the time the candidate who spends the most money wins. That is why incumbents win 85 % of the time because the very fact of their incumbency makes it easier to raise money by sponsoring legislation or voting favorably for the interests in a position to fund their next campaign.
Reform By Congress
Will Congress ever change this situation? Not likely since they are all incumbents with the advantage of raising money by the power of their office. Why would they want to vote for any measure that would level the playing field for a challenger? Congress keeps talking about bills to change campaign finance but each bill leaves so many loopholes that nothing changes. The incumbents raise the most money and win in their gerrymandered districts. Moneyed interests have the greatest influence in local, state and federal politics.
Now two federal circuit cases, one by the City of Albuquerque(10th Circuit struck city spending limits ) and the other by the State of Vermont (2nd Circuit allowed state spending limits) are in conflict. The City of Alberquerque has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a hearing on the issue. Supreme Court watchers think it is likely the Court will grant Certiorari to the petitioner in this case.
What will be the likely out come of a new U.S Supreme Court decision? Well the Supreme Court proved in 2000 that it was not unwilling to intervene in the electoral process when things go awry. Will the Supreme Court rule in favor of spending limits when it will certainly alienate the incumbents in Congress? Probably it will come up with a compromise ruling allowing states and local governments to impose spending limits on local races if they desire to do so and leave federal election spending to the discretion of Congress. There is plenty of Constitutional language to allow states to designate their own election rules as long as they don’t conflict with the Constitution. The same goes for the states deciding how members of Congress will be elected in their state so long as there is no conflict with federal legislation, lack of discrimination and a crude allowance for one-man one vote. So will anything change? Not much, the Supreme Court is not an instrument of drastic change. There may have to be a series of cases over a number of years to limit campaign spending on the federal level in any significant manner. Also it is unlikely to change the manner in which money is presently raised. As far as presidential elections go spending doesn’t matter in the general election. This year both sides have raised over 300 million each. It is the method and source of funding that matters.
What about the primaries? Well this is an interesting question. Howard Dean was able to raise forty million or so over the Internet. Will a candidate in the future be able to duplicate this feat? Joe Trippi, Dean’s campaign manager thinks so. In fact he foresees a third party emerging with Internet donations of $100 on average from two or three million donors. However this is this probably not realistic. Internet donors have not shown any interest in working outside the two party system so far.
Ralph Nader is such a third party candidate now with a populist theme like Dean yet his campaign fund reports it has only raised about 2.8 million for the current election. According to Opensecrets.org these funds came mostly in small amounts from individuals or small businesses.
Wonder why Nader has not raised more through Internet contributions? Well MoveOn.org is not supporting him in fact they are spending their money to defeat Bush with negative ads. Perhaps this is because George Soros and Peter Lewis each gave MoveOn 5 million for this purpose. It seems they are getting the majority of their money from big donors and not $100 donations from users of the Internet. MoveOn reports twelve million raised as a PAC in this phase of the election. Nothing close to the forty or fifty million raised in the primaries by Dean.
Nader has not captured the imagination of Internet bloggers either. It seems his anti- corporate campaign theme would be attractive to the those who comprise the Internet community many of whom have an anti- establishment bent and are enthusiastic about changing the status quo in general and politics in particular. However Nader has been painted as a spoiler.
The Internet constituency has not backed either candidate the way it did Dean. Opensecrets.org reports Kerry has about 35,000 individual contributions of two thousand dollars or greater and that Bush has over sixty thousand individual contributions of two thousand or more. Both candidates got the contributions from traditional sources.
Why did Dean capture the Internet community’s imagination and not Nader. Well Dean came out early against the war. Dean is a lot younger and at first he seemed to have honesty and character. Dean also ran as a traditional candidate in the Democratic primaries not has a third party candidate. He appeared to answer questions without guile or having rehearsed the answer before a political consultant. However as he tried to broaden his base he lost his sense of a new man with egalitarian ideals. Nader comes on as an old pro. But a cynical old pro whose ideas never moved beyond the interest group stage to become the foundation for a political party or movement. He chooses not run in the primaries for nomination as a traditional party candidate. Also many people believe he unjustly cost Gore the election in 2000 by being a third party candidate with no chance of winning. In fact he obtained over ninety thousand votes in Florida and Bush took the state by five hundred and thirty-eight. If one considers the fact that most of these votes would have gone to Gore rather than Bush then he did cost the Democrats the election and caused all the dismal policies of Bush that followed with severe economic, environmental and foreign policy consequences that hurt middle and lower income people. Those are the people Nader says he wants to help. Therefore Nader’s candidacy in 2000 and the current election is seen as a disaster even by his former supporters in 2000.
Will this happen again. Will the Internet allow a large group to pool their money to back a candidate? Well they have not backed the Democratic Party like they did Dean. Why? It appears those who donated to Dean realized he was not fully vetted and they put their money on the wrong horse when he self destructed on television on the night of the Iowa Caucuses. Joe Trippi says this self-destruction was helped along by big media replaying Dean’s sophomoric concession speech over and over again. Yet it was Dean who failed to register favorably with the main line media and this failure cost him his chance to be a true contender for the Democratic nomination. His source of funds dried up and it was all over. The Internet gave a dark horse a chance and he blew it. Will it give again? Well it hasn’t in this election so far because while it can give a long shot a chance in the primaries it can’t trump tradtional donors and media coverage in the general election. What about in 2008? Yes, there will be an Internet funded candidate who will have chance in the primaries to prove himself worthy, but he must capture the mainline media’s approval. Internet support by iself is not enough.
Why will there be an Internet candidate in the primaries? Because it can be done. The organizations and people are out there to do it and the method of financing campaigns now is undemocratic and exclusionary. The Internet massing of $100 donors (Dean had about 600,000) frees politicians from being the lackeys of special interest groups and gives them a cleaner source of funds.The question now is whether a viable candidate will emerge with Internet support who can go all the way. The same politicians we have now would be orientated to the public welfare if they knew that campaign funds in large amounts were coming from a broader democratic base such as Internet donors. If they fail to become oriented to the public welfare the money will go to elect someone who will. The Internet is becoming influential but not decisive in politics. However the process is not over yet. It remains to seen just how influential The Internet will be.