No Love For McCain-Feingold


Ramesh Ponnuru argues that Mitt Romney, the Frank Abagnale Jr. of the '08 race, flip-flopped on campaign finance reform.

In his 1994 race, Romney came out for banning political action committees, limiting spending on federal races (something the Supreme Court has not allowed), and opposed allowing larger contributions. All told, those positions place him to the left of McCain-Feingold, which doubled the allowable size of individual donations to candidates. In his 2002 race, he took the position that campaign contributions should be taxed at a 10 percent race, with the proceeds going to public funding of all campaigns.

Rotten stuff, and made worse by Romney's Friday speech to CPAC:

To me, a fundamental principle of democracy is at stake. It is the people who are sovereign in America, not a few folks in black robes. Judges add things that aren't in the Constitution, and they take away things that are in the Constitution. In that regard, they let the campaign finance lobby take away First Amendment rights. If I'm president, I will fight to repeal McCain-Feingold.

It certainly seems like just another Romney flip-flop, as Matt Yglesias suggests. But can we give Romney the benefit of the doubt. I just filed a Reason piece noting that the utter failure of McCain-Feingold to live up to its lofty goals (google around for what McCain said—it's hilarious) has dramatically restructured the "clean campaign" debate. Campaign finance laws that were sacrosanct a few cycles ago, like public financing, have lost public support in a world where 1) contribution limits have been raised, 2) soft money can go to 527s and 3) ordinary people can bundle money online for their candidates. That third change has had the biggest impact, as no-hope candidates like Howard Dean, Jim Webb, and Pennsylvania's Diana Irey (the challenger to John Murtha) were turned into contenders not because of public financing, but because of online donations from the grassroots. It's possible that Romney used to think we could trust the government to level the campaign finance playing field and has now seen the error of his ways.

That won't prevent me from using the Flipper pic again, obviously.

NEXT: Hey, I See Some Ants Down There

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Any one or any two of Romney’s changes of heart could be explained as the evolution of his political theory and response to changing conditions. But it’s getting ridiculous.

  2. Are all flip-flops bad? If Ron Paul became a proponent of open borders with Mexico, would we call him a flip-flopper, or would we be happy?

    A guy should be able to change his mind. In fact, there is a guy in Washington right now that gets lambasted every day for NOT changing his mind.

  3. Cab,

    Name on instance of Romney changing his mind that might make it harder for him to win the GOP nomination.

    Just one.

    Sure, a guy can change his mind. He can also make a habit of dishonestly pandering to whichever grouop of voters can best help his career at the moment.

  4. I can’t. But I can’t think of one flip flop that any politician has made that made it harder for him/her to win the nomination during primary season.

    That being said, I should have read the entire post. Weigel was faintly giving Romney the benefit of the doubt…..something I wasn’t affording to Weigel. Apologies.

  5. After 8 years of an administration that not only never EVER admits to any error EVER, but believes that they are the very instrement of divine will, I for one would welcome a little more flexibility in the White House.

  6. Not all “flip flops” are equal. Cab is right that pragmatic and intelligent people often change their minds about policy. Flip-flops acceptable, laudable, and maybe even mandatory when new empirical evidence undermines previous policy assumptions. For instance, Weigel offers an acceptable explanation for this flip-flop: empirical evidence shows that these policies don’t have the intended effect on campaign financing. The same arguments could easily be made for Iraq related flip-flops (assumptions have been undermined by empirical data), global warming flip-flops, etc — new evidence merits a fresh look at old policies.

    There is a huge difference between this kind of a flip-flop and a flip-flop that requires the reversal of axiomatic moral positions that don’t rely on empirical evidence. For instance, a person’s position on liberty (free speach, personal rights, etc.), equality (gay rights, etc.), and the value of life usually does not depend on empirical assumptions to any significant degree. These issues all rest on axiomatic moral assumptions, and it’s more than a little bit awkward when a candidate announces that his axiomatic moral assumptions have completely reversed course. This should lead normal voters to wonder whether a candidate is — or ever was — honest about their moral convictions.

    Additionally, when a candidate offers no clear and legitimate explanation of their course reversal (i.e., new evidence), we have every right to be suspicious.

  7. but where does he stand on the all important topic of net neutrality?

    whatever the hell that is


    If he follows his normal m.o. he was for it when he was running for Governor but against it now while running for President.

    Or he could be neutral on the issue.

  9. Greetings Hr. Weigel!

    Every time you post the dolphin pic, I get a craving for a tuna sandwich.

    (c’mon – it’s better than the urge to… um… flog. Hey… now where are those cheetos…)

  10. “Judges add things that aren’t in the Constitution…”

    “Amendment IX

    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

    Amendment X

    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

  11. I’ve never understood this flip flopper thing. Not with Kerry not with Romney (neither of whom I’d cast a vote for dogcatcher for). Must we be married to every decision we ever make?

    I mean if you vote for the Iraq war back in 2003. And then look at it now and say, “sorry guys, my bad.” Does that make you a “flip flopper” or merely someone who has evaluated a previous decision and now realizes their error?

  12. “a person’s position on liberty (free speach, personal rights, etc.), equality (gay rights, etc.), and the value of life usually does not depend on empirical assumptions to any significant degree. These issues all rest on axiomatic moral assumptions,”

    And those in turn rest on empirical observations or assumptions.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.