Public Financing Enemy #1

The teetering public campaign finance system loses another Jenga block as Barack Obama opts out of it for the general election.

"We’ll be forgoing more than $80 mil in public funds," he said, adding that while he supports a "robust" public system, "the public financing of presidential election as it exists today is broken and we face opponents who have become masters at gaming this broken system."

"We’ve already seen that [McCain] is not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations," he said, though  the only well-funded independent attack ads, from MoveOn.org, have been directed at McCain.

This is a "king of the beach" moment for Obama, who has been cajoled, hectored, and begged by John McCain not to opt out, and to accept the fundraising cap that comes with federal cash. But McCain gave Obama the fig leaf for this six years ago when McCain-Feingold sent big money surging into 527 groups. Obama weasled out of his stated desire to accept public financing by saying that he'd only take it if Republican 527s were muzzled—an impossible demand. I expect McCain to attack Obama over this, but it's a sucker's issue. What more proof do voters need that McCain's signature accomplishment of the last decade was a bust.

I pre-emptively started shoveling dirt on public financing last year, back when McCain was taking the same position as Obama.

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  • ||

    I dunno about "King of the Beach"--that was from "The Insult that Made a Man out of Mac"

    Unless it was a Flex Mentallo reference, in which we need to hang out more

  • economist||

    I am opposed to all public financing and campaign finance laws.

  • ||

    So, if I think Social Security is broken, can I opt out?

  • ||

    R C Dean

    Only if you run for president.

  • ||

    Dave Weigel,

    You keep saying that public financing system doesn't work--goddammit, we've got eyes, man!--but that doesn't mean it won't go on in perpetuity (c.f., the Drug War)...

  • ||

    The Republican 527s that were active in 2004 were very tied into the Bush campaign - the same donors, the same fundraisers, message coordination and so forth - so it's possible he could have brought them to heel. Bush was seen as the leader of the conservative movement.

    McCain just isn't. Those people never liked John McCain, and certainly wouldn't have gone along with any agreement he may have entered into.

  • ||

    RC,

    You are as free to turn the money the Social Security Administration sends to you as Barack Obama is to turn down the money the FEC would have sent to him.

    So, yes.

  • Mad Max||

    Threadjack!

    Atheist libertarian Walter Block discusses why he has switched from opposing religion to supporting it as a key ally of the freedom movement:

    "I am guided in this by the aphorism "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." While this does not always hold true, in this case I think it does.

    "So, which institution is the greatest enemy of human liberty? There can be only one answer: the state in general, and, in particular, the totalitarian version thereof. Perhaps there is no greater example of such a government than the USSR, and its chief dictators, Lenin and Stalin (although primacy of place in terms of sheer numbers of innocents murdered might belong to Mao's China). We thus ask, which institutions did these two Russian worthies single out for opprobrium? There can be only one answer: primarily, religion, and, secondarily, the family. It was no accident that the Soviets passed laws rewarding children for turning in their parents for anti-communistic activities. There is surely no better way to break up the family than this diabolical policy. And, how did they treat religion? To ask this is to answer it. Religion was made into public enemy number one, and its practitioners viciously hunted down.

    "Why pick on religion and the family? Because these are the two great competitors - against the state - for allegiance on the part of the people. The Communists were quite right, from their own evil perspective, to focus on these two institutions. All enemies of the overweening state, then, would do well to embrace religion and the family as their friends, whether they are themselves atheists or not, parents or not."

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/block/block103.html

    Walter Block was famous for his book *Defending the Undefendable,* which defends people like blackmailers and drug-dealers. To many libertarians, however, his defense of religion will be seen as the most indenfendable position of all.

  • Mad Max||

    indefendable, undefendable, whatever.

  • Ironic||

    As bad as Bush is if the next POTUS is either Obama or McCain, he will be worse. I fear the next four years - and not for the reasons the government wants me to fear.

  • Taktix&#174||

    So, if I think Social Security is broken, can I opt out?

    The tax code is broken too, can opt out of that?

    Come to think of it, if local municipalities can opt-out of the 2nd Amendment, why can't they opt-out of the 16th?

  • Bryan||

    As I have said countless times on this blog, CFR is not a bust. It was designed to operate this way. 527s allow individuals to still speak their opinion on the issues and candiates without creating ties to the candidate that make the candidate beholden to them (or give the appearance that the candidate is beholden).

    The fact that McCain wants Obama to accept public financing says a lot more about his strategy in the face of a more popular candiate than it does about the law.

  • ||

    The tax code is broken too, can opt out of that?

    Of course you can; move to Somalia, the libertopian paradise!

  • Fred||

    This actually benefits McCain in that "tit for tat" puerility we've come to expect from candidates in our national dog and pony show.

    If Obama folks try to make an issue of McCain's supposed flip flop on oil drilling, he can always point to Obama flip flopping on CFR. In that respect, they both have a Mexican standoff.

  • ||

    Even more than journalism, campaign financing is where the internet has proven to be the great leveler.

    It isn't the 70s anymore, or even the 90s, where $50,0000/plate dinners made a difference. The last six months have definitely changed my perception of this issue.

    The K Street Project looks pretty freaking silly about now, doesn't it?

  • ||

    You are as free to turn the money the Social Security Administration sends to you as Barack Obama is to turn down the money the FEC would have sent to him.

    So, yes.

    But you're not free to not contribute money to the system, where as Obama doesn't have to put a penny into the campaign finance coffers.

    So, no.

  • Brian Defferding||

    Well, I guess that makes Obama a little more tolerable.

    I'm wondering what the hardcore left is saying about their hero of the Democrats regarding this subject. Do they kinda resent him for it, or do they go the hypocrite route and support him?

  • ||

    Smappy, I was giving RC Dean, who drew that analogy, the benefit of the doubt.

    Of course it doesn't make sense. I was just playing along.

  • Jack||

    Brian, find out where the "hardcore left" support for McCain/Feingold is these days and I'll tell you. I know it hurts your head to agree with anything a democrat does without being able to reassure yourself that somewhere, somehow a librul is ripping his hair out but really, nobody likes that law.

  • TallDave||

    This may have the odd effect of moving vastly more money into the GOP 527s -- which, ironically, will no doubt try to make hay out of Obama's public financing pledge.

  • Rhywun||

    Bollocks on campaign finance reform. What we really need is campaign *length* reform.

  • Brian Defferding||

    Jack, I know.

  • economist||

    What we need is term number and length reform I'm thinking
    1. 1 six-year presidential term
    2. Each senator limited to a single six-year term (lifetime, not just from that state)
    3. Representatives can still serve as many terms as they can get elected (because we need Dr. Paul in the House of Representatives).
    4. Supreme Court members still sit for life

  • ||

    I'd go along with that, except for mandatory retirement for SCOTUS - say, the later of age 80 or 10 years.

  • ||

    lovely. A democrat decreasing government spending, and a 'republican' who wants to use taxpayers dollars.

    But strange things like this happen....

    ....in the twilight zone.

  • ||

    Term limits are something we should've done the first time around. Yes, they're "anti-democratic", but so is a large portion of the Constitution. We can't be trusted, and if anyone argues with me on that point, I'll send my henchmen, George B. and Bill C. to subdue you and your civil liberties.

    I say two terms for Senate, four for the House, maybe the one 6-year term for POTUS (it has the obvious advantage of taking out the YEARS spent in the first term running for the next term, but, on the flip side, it may make a bad president worse since he doesn't have to worry about reelection), and a 14-year term for the SCOTUS. For the latter, that's long enough for an independent judiciary, but short enough to protect us from decrepitude. We could allow sitting federal judges to be reappointed as well.

  • economist||

    Pro Libertate,
    Sounds reasonable, but I think if SCOTUS isn't lifetime appointment, they should get one term. The possibility of reappointment makes them too dependent on Congress and the president. And it should take a 2/3 majority of each house of Congress to alter the size of the supreme court or remove a law from it's jurisdiction. And justices should have to be confirmed by both the senate and the house.

  • ||

    They all deserve two terms. One term in office and one term in jail.

  • ||

    Okay with a single term for the SCOTUS on those grounds. However, what I propose in the alternative to your other suggestions is the repeal of the 17th Amendment, then leaving the Senate in the confirmation seat. Another thing we might consider is updating the size of the House and maybe the Senate.

  • economist||

    Pro Libertate,
    No need to change the size of the senate. I think it's good that it's somewhat undemocratic, since it slows down the government. Damn, there's the anarchist in me again.

  • economist||

    I would actually go so far as to say that a bill should have the approval of a majority of the supreme court before it becomes law. Congress could override by a two-thirds majority.

  • ||

    OBAMA IS SUCH A HYPOCRITE! HE HAS THE AUDACITY TO SAY HE STRONGLY SUPPORTS THE PUBLIC FINANCING OF ELECTIONS AT THE SAME TIME HE ANNOUNCES HE'S OPTING OUT OF THE SYSTEM!

  • ||

    Yes, I'm inclined to leave the Senate alone as far as its size is concerned. The House, though, loses some of its purpose by remaining so small. It's close to a million citizens per Representative right now.

    You can't allow Congress to override the SCOTUS on Constitutional grounds, because then a popular move against civil liberties could become law. Like rounding up Muslims or something awful like that.

  • ||

    creech wins the thread!

  • ||

    Pro Lib,

    Gerrymandering is far more injurious to the House's intended purpose than the large voter to representative ratio.

  • ||

    Gerrymandering wouldn't be so easy if the number of people being represented weren't so high.

  • ||

    As I have said countless times on this blog, CFR is not a bust.

    And if you sjout it from the mountaintops, pass out flyers at the local WalMart, and take out TV ads during the Super Bowl, CFR is still a fucking bust. If you believe that laundering campaign contributions through 527s takes the moneyed influence out of politics, you are a fool.

    Then there is that pesky 1st Amendment that the extremists keep bringing up.

    ♪ Dream on,
    dream on
    Dream until your dream come true ♪

  • economist||

    Pro Libertate,
    "You can't allow Congress to override SCOTUS on constitutional grounds."
    Congress already has the de facto power to do this by removing issues from SCOTUS jurisdiction and altering it's size (see FDR's proposed SCOTUS "reform"). My 2/3 majority provision would weaken Congress on this point and prevent them from dealing with the supreme court indirectly through bogus "reforms" to pack the court.

  • ||

    I don't think Congress could successfully limit the Court's ability to review the constitutionality of a law, despite the wording of Article III.

  • ||

    It's rare to see a black man not accepted public/Federal money.

  • ||

    J sub D-

    "Pesky 1st amendment that the extremists keep bringing up." Count this cartoonish anarcho-capitalist as one of those extremists.

  • economist||

    gavin,
    Might I suggest that you should try to avoid being an asshole?

  • economist||

    Pro Libertate,
    It nearly happened in 1937. The only thing stopping it was that a majority of senators at the time were too principled to openly shit on the constitution. One could argue that it happened in Korematsu v. U.S., since the SCOTUS decision was heavily influenced by public opinion.

  • ||

    Actually, Obama didn't reverse any previous stance. He previously said he would be willing to negotiate comprehensive limits that included 527s and other outside groups. However, McCain made it very clear that he had no interest in such limits on outside groups.

    "In the past couple of weeks, our campaign counsels met and it was immediately clear that McCain's campaign had no interest in the possibility of an agreement," Burton said. "When asked about the RNC's months of raising and spending for the general election, McCain's campaign could only offer its expectation that the Obama campaign would probably, sooner or later, catch up. And shortly thereafter, Senator McCain signaled to the 527s that they were free to run wild, without objection."

    And without comprehensive limits on all political players, it made little sense for Obama to tell his millions of small-dollar donors that they couldn't invest financially in his campaign.

    Of course, Republicans will whine that Obama "broke his promise". They've got no other choice. McCain is getting crushed financially, and has little of the popular support that Obama enjoys.

  • ||

    We've had more than a few constitutional crises, but I think that if Congress were allowed to start waltzing down that road, the Constitution would be gutted in short order. Things are bad enough now.

  • ||

    It's rare to see a black man not accepted public/Federal money.

    gavin,
    Might I suggest that you should try to avoid being an asshole?



    Might I suggest that gavin don som bacon underwear and go play in the tiger enclosure.

  • economist||

    Pro Libertate,
    Just change "If Congress were allowed to start waltzing down that road" to "Since Congress started waltzing down that road" and "would be gutted in short order" to "has been gutted irreparably" and your statement is correct. I actually think the only way to regain any meaningful liberty is through an armed revolt, as I've said on numerous other threads.

  • ||

    You can't allow Congress to override the SCOTUS on Constitutional grounds, because then a popular move against civil liberties could become law. Like rounding up Muslims Japanese people or something awful like that.

    Yeah, that would never happen unless Congress could override SCOTUS.

  • ||

    He previously said he would be willing to negotiate comprehensive limits that included 527s and other outside groups.

    So, Obama's problem with M-F is that it didn't go far enough. It doesn't need to be junked, it needs to be expanded!

    That reminds me - how's that whole liberaltarian thing coming along?

  • ||

    Oops, clicked too soon.

    And anyhoo, the whole point of the 527s and other groups is that they are independent - McCain can't agree on their behalf or control them in any way. Which means that Obama never had any intention of operating within the so-called "public financing" system, but wanted the gullible to believe he did.

  • economist||

    The liberaltarian thing never got off, but some would like to pretend it did.

  • Paul||

    So Obama's for it, just not while he's against it.

    He does realize that it's not this public financing system that's broken, but that public financing of elections is broken by its nature, right?

  • Paul||

    They all deserve two terms. One term in office and one term in jail.

    No, one term is more than enough. Just send them to jail.

  • economist||

    While we're on the liberaltarian point, does anyone think it's ironic that Brink Lindsey, who was a shill for going into Iraq, was able to (with a straight face) cite the Republicans' support for invasion as a reason why libertarians should support the Democrats? Not saying he was wrong, just that he should be careful not to give whiplash with those about-faces.

  • ||

    R C Dean,

    No doubt. I was thinking about Korematsu, of course, when I wrote that.

    The Constitution is well on its way to becoming obsolete, though it isn't there yet, but I don't think the Congress' authority over the Article III courts is the problem.

  • ||

    So, Obama's problem with M-F is that it didn't go far enough. It doesn't need to be junked, it needs to be expanded!

    Swing and a miss! The statement you read as refering to campaign finance law actually was, as was pretty clearly stated, about a proposed agreement between McCain and Obama.

    So, how's that literate-tarian thing coming?

  • ||

    So Obama's for it, just not while he's against it.

    Obama is for the existence of an elective public financing system. Seriously, I need to explain to a group of libertarians that not choosing to do something is different from wanting it not to exist?

  • ||

    While we're on the liberaltarian point, does anyone think it's ironic that Brink Lindsey, who was a shill for going into Iraq, was able to (with a straight face) cite the Republicans' support for invasion as a reason why libertarians should support the Democrats?

    Barack Obama was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning.

    Congressional Democrats voted against going into Iraq by a 58?%-42% margin.

    Did Mr. Lindsey use this argument to urge people to vote for himself? No?

    Er, what was your point again?

  • economist||

    It's mostly his putting the idea forth himself without even "Sorry, I fucked up this decision". At least have the good graces to admit you bought into that crap too.

  • economist||

    When I say "you" in the last post, I am of course referring to Mr. Lindsey.

    A small grammar slip-up.

  • economist||

    "Obama is for the existence of an elective public finance system"
    I've always thought it was stupid to give extra money to elected officials running for president, especially when it doesn't even necesssarily go to the candidate you disagree less with.

  • ||

    If an elective public financing scheme worked like this:

    • Assume the budget was balanced. [Yeah, big assumption, I know..]

    • Allow adult citizens to donate to the election fund, above and beyond their tax liability

    • Have a non-partisan [not bi-partisan] board establish rules for who gets funded, with objective metrics

    ...then, and only then would I be tempted to approve of such a system. With deficit spending, and no increase in your check to the IRS (or reduction of refund), the current system is merely an appropriation by a self-selected minority, financed by government borrowing that everyone is held responsible for.

    I say ditch the whole attempt, and return to honest graft.

    Everyone noticed that Stewart Mott died, right?

    Kevin



  • ||

    All I really care about is that this absurd McCain-Feingold comes back to bite McCain in the ass for giving birth to this censorship law.

  • Dr. Ted Baehr||

    Typical Democrat! Leaving money in the public purse like we're some kind of third-world socialist state in America.

    We Republicans have always had the good sense to take as much from the taxpayer as we possibly can, usually/ideally without giving anything back. If the system is broken it is because Barack Hussein isn't taking more than his fair share out of the taxpayers' pocket! Is that any way to respect the Bush-Cheney legacy??

  • ||

    Reading this story, I was struck by the resonances with the public school debate. The text would have been almost identical, if, instead of passing on public campaign financing, Obama were announcing that he was putting his kids in private school even though he supported a "robust" public school system. Or that he had opted for private healthcare "insurance" for himself and his family, even though he supported a "robust" single-payer universal system.

    In all of these government systems, the cost-benefit ratio (where cost is not only figured in terms of dollars, but also red tape and strings attached to dollars) is too large to be attractive to those who understand what's really good and who know what they want.

    "Since I appreciate cake, I'll have that, and you, my dear peasant, can have this crust of bread."

    On the other hand, let's remember that McCain's commitment to an open process and a level playing field does not extend to his third-party challengers, whom he refused to debate in the last couple of Senatorial campaigns I watched him wage.

    Both of these guys strike me as elitist hypocrites. So far, though, McCain has come off as more potentially tyrannical. Time to seriously consider Bob Barr, I guess.

  • ||

    Communists

    Force(their)

    Reelection

  • ||

    brought to you by

    Mother

    F.......s

  • ||

    It looks like Obama will be buying the Presidency of the United States, just like he bought the primary nomination. It also looks like he is trying to eliminate McCain on a technicality, prior to the election, just as he did when he eliminated his opponents in Chicago, therefore depriving citizens of an opposing candidate to vote for. At this point it seems obvious that John McCain is the more trustworthy, ethical candidate, who sincerely cares about democracy and America and Americans ... as opposed to Barack Obama who only cares about getting elected.

  • Paul||

    Obama is for the existence of an elective public financing system.

    Right, just not the broken one we have now. But one that's fixed, with the right people in charge.

    What's the definition of insanity, again?

  • Paul||

    If an elective public financing scheme worked like this:

    • Assume the budget was balanced. [Yeah, big assumption, I know..]

    • Allow adult citizens to donate to the election fund, above and beyond their tax liability

    • Have a non-partisan [not bi-partisan] board establish rules for who gets funded, with objective metrics

    ...then, and only then would I be tempted to approve of such a system.


    Or, the third bullet point could easily have read:

    • Get the right people in charge of deciding who gets to run for office.

    It's that third point that's the doosey, isn't it. Somehow, when we put a central agency in place with incredible discretionary power, it really all comes down to that. Make rules 'n stuff so it's objective. And it'll be non-partisan by getting non-partisan people...somewhere.

    There are a decreasing number of things I feel passionately about when discussing things in the public realm, but this is one of them. To a public financed election system, I say "over my dead body... and as many other dead bodies of the supporters of such a scheme as can be arranged"

    The day we allow our government to choose who can run for office, you can hang. it. up.

  • XME||

    I support Obama, and I be seriously concerned about his judgement if he did take public financing! The goal is to win, and he can't afford to turn down money from his donors.

    That said, I do think he should have either left that question blank (which is what McCain did), or should have just been more direct about why he didn't opt in. He should have just said, I'm not crazy, and I'd have to be to turn down the money our supporters want to contribute to the campaign.

  • ||

    Re: Paul @ June 19, 2008, 7:38pm

    I wrote that I would be tempted to back a voluntary public financing system. I share your skepticism about whether it could actually function "fairly."

    Upon further reflection, there's no reason, by my lights, why such a voluntary system couldn't be run by a non-governmental body. Setting up an Election Finance Foundation (or 50) wouldn't violate my libertarian principles, nor the First Amendment.

    Kevin

  • ||

    joe,

    How much is the Obama campaign paying you? Because I wouldn't shill for somebody as much as you do without being paid.

    Obama opted out because he's raising tons of cash. He's claiming it's because the system is broken. He's lying and patting himself on the back while doing it. He's not a different kind of politician. He's just a politician.

  • ||

    So Obama has 'weaseled' out of his commitment to soak the American taxpayer for his campaign financing?

    I can just see the headline: REPUBLICANS HIT OBAMA OVER REFUSAL TO SOAK TAXPAYERS.

    Why do I get the feeling that the entire Republican Party is on a death march?

  • ||

    Tell you what. Why does the Federal not just tell me about f***ing money it wants me to have and when I reach that point, I will just sit down on my a** or go play golf like they do on capital hill.

    When they betraying this country with crap like Law of the Sea, they are worrying about oil companies making too much money while their banker buddies on Wall Street RAPE the American homeowner.

    Somebody please tell me what part of RISK no longer applies to investment banks that the Fed should step in? They argue that they efficiently allocate capital to justify their 100 million dollar salaries. I say let the SOBs fall and let community banks stick to their knitting. An INVESTMENT bank by its nature is supposed to have exposure to risk of TOTAL LOSS.

    Obama has NO right to redistribute oil company earnings to taxpayers, dummy. Those earnings belong to SHAREHOLDERS, many of which are the very same swooning fools who are voting for Obama. What will they say when their pensions are cut because instead of paying earnings to pension plan holdings, they are paid to Obama's fiscal vigilantes for redistribution?

  • ||

    Oh, and another thing for all you crazies all trembly in the legs at the prospect of getting rid of the electoral college system.

    What part of the Founding Fathers' decision to NOT establish a democracy do you not get? A democracy is the worst possible of all governments and a REPUBLIC was established for the very purpose of keeping national policy insulated from whatever mania may be sweeping the nation. This is why not everyone was originally able to vote for senators, but everyone could vote for Representatives.

    God help us when everyone's vote counts for every decision made at the national level. We will be lost.

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