Kerry Advised: Campaign Finance Reform for Lesser Men


Evading an important part of the goo-goo campaign finance mechanism--public funding of presidential candidates, and the concomitant restrictions--might be necessary in order to save it, argues the New Republic. Excerpts:

[I]n light of the timing of the Democratic convention and the power of the Kerry fundraising machine, some Democratic fundraisers and strategists are floating the idea of forgoing public funds altogether and trying to even the financial playing field through private donations. Last November, when Kerry followed the lead of Howard Dean and opted out of public financing for the primaries, he explained his decision by saying, "I'm not going to fight with one hand behind my back." It was the right sentiment then, and it's the right sentiment now….
The numbers suggest that Kerry could pull it off from a financial perspective. Since effectively clinching the nomination, Kerry has been bringing in more than $30 million a month, with more than a third of it coming from online donations (read: low administrative costs). Based on this track record, the campaign could raise well over $75 million before the election….
If Kerry went the private fundraising route for the general election, donors who gave the maximum contribution during the primary season would be allowed to give again. Kerry would also be able to roll over any remaining primary funds into his general election coffers. His last Federal Election Commission filing, on May 31, showed he had $27.7 million on hand….
There are…a few drawbacks. First, a privately funded campaign fuelled by big checks could be vulnerable to the criticism that it is beholden to special interests. Second, a decision by Kerry to opt out might encourage Bush to opt out as well--and thus initiate a general election fundraising war with no upper limit, a war that Republicans would almost certainly win….In addition, opting out could provoke the ire of campaign finance reformers.
That said, all these dangers are navigable. To avoid the special interest criticism, the campaign could make a big push on the Internet and publicize the proportion of its funds raised through small donations. To limit the enticement for Bush to opt out, as well as resentment within the Democratic Party, Kerry could promise to abide by a self-imposed $75-million cap after the Republican convention….
Finally, as a gesture to the campaign finance community, Kerry could come forward, as Dean did when he opted out of public financing during the primary season, with a campaign-finance reform proposal that he would champion if elected. Kerry would probably want to consider both improving the incentives for candidates to accept public funding and fixing the system's funding mechanism….. Besides, it's not like campaign-finance reformers are going to have much luck advancing their agenda during a second Bush term. The best hope for the future of such reforms is for Kerry to win this election.