God Bless You, McCain-Feingold

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Via Josh Marshall comes this delightful tale of campaign finance law in action. Apparently, former Majority Leader Tom DeLay had wanted to quit Congress for months now—but he never stopped fundraising for re-election. He kept collecting cash (around $3 million of it) because "under federal campaign rules, any reelection money a lawmaker raises can be used to pay legal fees stemming from official duties."

All you conservative activists who kicked in a check because you wanted Tom DeLay to win his election and give those rotten Democrats what for? I hope you're Woody Allen fans.

UPDATE: There's some confusion as to whether I think McCain-Feingold is responsible for this. Not specifically. But this is an example of a ridiculous, incumbent-protecting slice of campaign law that—amazingly!—has never been targeted by campaign finance reformers who are so concerned about matters like citizens getting involved in politics via 527s.

NEXT: Reform, Syrian Style

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  1. What would the result have been before McCain-Feingold?

    Some of us are willing to add even more regs as you continue to identify additional problems. Thanx!

  2. When did accepting bribes become an “official duty”?

  3. Heh. I’ve long suspected that the main purpose of campaign finance law was to protect incumbents from electoral challenges, but I didn’t realize it also helps those who are facing criminal charges…

  4. Did you just blame McCain-Feingold for allowing – as in, not having regulations against – this use of campaign funds?

  5. joe,

    You are of course right that McCain Feingold does not address this issue. But I think Mr Weigel was mocking campaign finance law in general, whose ostensible purpose is to prevent even the appearance of corruption, yet leaves loopholes such as this which enable bald-faced corruption.

  6. Prior to McCain-Feingold he would have been able to take his “war chest” (as I remember they called it) and deposit it directly in his/her personal accounts without a specific reason. Post McCain-Feingold, you have to have a a reason like “defense of legal duties”.

    So, I’m really not sure what the reference here is too, except that really cute strawman. Plenty of reasons to hate McCain-Feingold, I’m just not sure this is one of them. As a matter of fact, this particuler example may actually point in the opposite way.

  7. Also, joe, there is nothing un-libertarian about laws against fraud (ie, accepting contributions for one purpose and then using them for another unrelated purpose). Indeed, this form of fraud is actually protected by campaign finance law.

  8. Good point on the fraud angle, crimethink.

  9. I don’t think anybody would have had a fraud claim pre-McCain Feingold. Maybe recognizing a tort claim against politicians who take money and betray promises (explicit and/or) implicit is a good idea.

    I can think of some politicians that I would like to see subject to punitive damages! Still, T. usually comes round to put me in check when I get too rosy about “private attorney general” tort liability schemes. The basic idea is that campaign finance is needed and it is gonna look a lot more rational if people like Reasonwriters start thinking about it beyond the mocking stage.

  10. The Law of Unintended Consequences is my favorite law.

  11. R Feingold,

    I’m not so sure that enforcing campaign promises by law would be such a good idea, since that would in many cases amount to enforcing bribes. Rather, I was talking about prosecuting/suing in cases where money was donated for a reelection campaign and then used for a candidate’s personal legal costs.

  12. I’m not so sure that enforcing campaign promises by law would be such a good idea, since that would in many cases amount to enforcing bribes.

    O RLY

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