On Misplaced Blame for the Flood of Secret Money

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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

How anyone can argue with a straight face that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act is to blame for the flood of secret money or that anonymous funding is the answer to fixing the current campaign finance system is beyond me. The premise is both ridiculous and insulting.

Opponents of BCRA - who controlled and benefited from the soft money system - have been trying to convince the public for years that banning unlimited contributions to political parties from wealthy individuals, and corporate and union treasury funds was misguided.

How ironic it is now that these same operatives are arguing – as the populist tea party movement rises in the Republican party – to put more corporate money into the system and to further diminish the voice of average Americans in the political process! 

This is not time to lift the restrictions and is not time to raise the individual contribution limit. After all, less than 1 percent of Americans currently contribute more than $200 in federal races. Giving big-money donors even more influence is a prescription for an oligarchy, not a democracy. 

The system put in place by the McCain-Feingold bill – the ban on soft money and the restrictions on campaigns ads masquerading as issue discussion – worked reasonably well and was upheld by the Supreme Court. But a newly composed Court under Chief Justice Roberts blew holes through both in two successive activist decisions. That work was then furthered by the Federal Election Commission which so narrowly interpreted the law’s provisions on coordination and on disclosure requirements for donors to c4’s that it has rendered the statute toothless. Any law – no matter how well constructed – is only as good as its enforcement. And, let’s face it, the FEC is a national embarrassment.

The answer to the time spent fundraising is to pass a meaningful public financing system that requires candidates to consistently demonstrate the marketability of their message and the viability of their candidacy while providing them with enough resources they are not forced to beg for funds from big-money interests. 

The accusation that McCain-Feingold created the secret money tsunami we are now seeing is a prime example of the Big Lie. Those professing this view are essentially saying: “it’s their fault, they outlawed knife fighting, forcing us to start using guns with the serial numbers filed off.”

 A version of the above piece ran in Politico's Arena on October 13, 2010