Campaigns/Elections

Two Party Rule, Forever: It's Only Fair

|

A little old, but telling a timeless truth: From the May issue of the lefty mag In These Times, in an article praising some new bills floating around Congress to further the cause of public election financing, the cold reality of duopoly power over "campaign finance reform" gets mentioned. Alas, especially from a supposedly "progressive" mag outside the political mainstream, it's mentioned in a peculiar and disturbing deadpan.

Reporter Michael Burgner is talking about a Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)-Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) bill (nonsense that benefits the two major parties versus their potential opponents really does bring out that beloved "bipartisan cooperation") called the "Fair Elections Now Act." Fair. Let that word roll around your tongue a bit.

Then read Burgner's description of one of the tedious details of the bill, presented without comment or censure:

Durbin's proposed legislation would allow candidates to raise "seed money"—up to $100 from individuals, but not political action committees, living in any state—to finance the startup costs of a campaign. The cap for seed money follows a set formula for every state: $75,000 + [$7,500 x (number of congressional districts minus 1)]. If a candidate exceeds this ceiling, they must refund the excess before they can qualify as a "Fair Elections" candidate.

Rather than focusing on large checks from special interest groups, Fair Elections candidates will have to procure thousands of $5 qualifying contributions (QCs) from their constituents. Determined on a state-to-state basis, the minimum number of QCs follows this equation: 2,000 + [500 x (number of congressional districts minus 1)]. Independent party candidates, however, must amass 150 percent of the QCs required of major party candidates.

Get enough "QC"s, get federal money. It's only "fair" that people from different parties than Durbin or Specter should have to jump a higher hurdle to get that money. It must be, it says so right in the bill's name.

From back in our March 1996 issue, one of my favorite stories of the outrages committed in the name of campaign finance reform, in which citizens have their lives destroyed for daring to participate in the political process and screwing up the extensive paperwork now required to do so. And a plethora of reason links on the topic.

NEXT: Sharansky on Cutting and Running in Iraq

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 Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. So basically Durbin wants to nationalize the Chicago machine– you can only get on the ballot if you can field an army of patronage workers. Easy for the Daley machine, it says frog and SEIU says how high. Hard for anybody else.

  2. soa third party can only get on the ballot if it raises more money than the Republicans and Democrats have to raise?

    WTELF? (What the ever loving fuck?)

  3. “Campaign finance reform” sole purpose is to keep the establishment in power. It depresses me how many people seem to think “the right” reform will produce some other benefit.

  4. seriously, I worry about the stuff I’m doing for Ron Paul. I’m pretty sure that my little cabal has broken every campaign finance law except for ones involving south american drug cartels.
    Being 22 and getting rocked with a 30,000 dollar fine would be not so fun.

  5. Yeah, CFR has always seemed the absolutely most boneheaded of the “progressive” ideas.

    “The evil CORPORATIONS with their LOBBYISTS our buying our democracy from corrupt politicians selling out to the ALMIGHTY DOLLAR!”

    So the solution is to… have those same corrupt politicians write some new laws? And us libertarians are the utopian idealists?

  6. Mike, LIT–I guess I didn’t make this clear enough: this bill is talking about hurdles to leap to get on the gravy train of a new proposed system of federal campaign money, NOT to get on the ballot at all. That will still be covered by the already existing onerous set of requirements….

  7. Fair Elections candidates will have to procure thousands of $5 qualifying contributions (QCs) from their constituents. Determined on a state-to-state basis, the minimum number of QCs follows this equation: 2,000 + [500 x (number of congressional districts minus 1)]. Independent party candidates, however, must amass 150 percent of the QCs required of major party candidates.

    “Yeah, I have a response….Uh, what?”

  8. So to receive taxpayer money indirectly, you have to raise money from taxpayers directly.

  9. As a guiding principle, I’ve accepted the fact that any law deemed ‘bi-partisan’ means the public is getting screwed over twice as much.

  10. And people wonder why I have no faith in Democracy.

  11. I’m beginning to notice that libertarians generally feel that:

    a) government is corrupt

    and

    b) any government effort to reform is really an attempt to further corruption, since there is no other reason the government does anything.

    Damn – talk about a catch-22.

  12. “Campaign finance reform” sole purpose is to keep the establishment in power.

    False. Campaign finance reform’s sole purpose is to make it less expensive to keep the establishment in power.

  13. barris – I think you’re painting us into too small a corner. While campaign finance reform is definitely an area where the government is corrupt, and efforts to “reform” are focused on making corruption easier, or cheaper as DAR notes, there are other situations where the government is inept, and efforts to reform those policy areas are thwarted by the government’s ineptitude.

  14. DAR,

    You think so? I think most CF just makes things more expensive all around.

    The point is it’s less expensive for the establishment, that already has organized teams of accountants and lawyers, than for outsiders who would be required to employ their own teams (or face penalties) while forbidding them from raising the funds to do so.

  15. Rather than focusing on large checks from special interest groups, Fair Elections candidates will have to procure thousands of $5 qualifying contributions (QCs) from their constituents. Determined on a state-to-state basis, the minimum number of QCs follows this equation: 2,000 + [500 x (number of congressional districts minus 1)].

    Anyone notice that the cost of soliciting, tracking, documenting, and accounting for 7,000 or so $5.00 donations will easily exceed the $35,000 raised?

    Independent party candidates, however, must amass 150 percent of the QCs required of major party candidates.

    Actually, this won’t be as onerous a requirement as it appears. Since only the two major parties will be able to establish the administrative bureaucracy necessary to track contributions at this level, it’s irrelevant how many OCs independent parties are required to raise.

    The telling moment will come with the announcement that the Rs and Ds have joined forces to form a bipartisan donation-tracking organization serving both organizations.

  16. barris – I think you’re painting us into too small a corner.

    I certainly don’t mean to do that, and actually I agree that this particular reform seems fishy since there’s no good reason why a non Dem or Repub should be held to a higher standard as far as getting Federal funding goes.

    But I do think that there is a better way of running elections than to simply allow anybody with money to give as much as they want to any candidate they wish. But folks here generally object to any idea that is suggested to prohibit this.

  17. But I do think that there is a better way of running elections than to simply allow anybody with money to give as much as they want to any candidate they wish.

    You think that or you wish that? Because so far, anyone who thought they had a good idea turned out, as experience proved, to have nothing of the sort.

  18. But folks here generally object to any idea that is suggested to prohibit this.

    Well, we do tend to take sentences like “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…” rather literally.

    On the other hand there seem to be people in the world who think it says “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…unless we don’t approve of them.”

    But what happens when you aren’t the one who gets to approve of the speakers?

  19. But I do think that there is a better way of running elections than to simply allow anybody with money to give as much as they want to any candidate they wish. But folks here generally object to any idea that is suggested to prohibit this.

    Well, I think the libertarian/classic liberal/old conservative response would be that if you go about shrinking the federal government back to strict constitutional limits and remove its ability to play Santa Claus with everyone’s money, you wouldn’t have to worry about rich elites/corporate interests trying to buy politicans because they would be powerless to give the rich what they want.

  20. Well, I think the libertarian/classic liberal/old conservative response would be that if you go about shrinking the federal government back to strict constitutional limits and remove its ability to play Santa Claus with everyone’s money, you wouldn’t have to worry about rich elites/corporate interests trying to buy politicans because they would be powerless to give the rich what they want.

    That’s great but who is this mysterious force (“you”) that is somehow going to render the powerful powerless? (In other words, couldn’t the wealthy simply buy politicans to change government right back?)

  21. barris,

    I think the idea is that, after the Big Cleanup, any attempt to direct govt moneys to campaign contributors would stick out like a sore thumb, and cause the politician’s constituents to vote him/her out of office.

    Keep in mind, of course, that any system of campaign financing law is going to be subject to the same problem; if it actually hurts the rich & powerful, they can use their influence to undo or skirt the law.

  22. Independent party candidates, however, must amass 150 percent of the QCs required of major party candidates.

    Well, the devil’s in the details: are “major parties” specifically defined as Democrats and Republicans, or is there some objective standard that a party has to achieve to get major party status? If it’s the former, that would be blatantly unconstitutional.

  23. Heinlein had a suggestion that you maybe should really be able to buy votes: that is, put up twenty dollars and you can vote once, pay twenty thousand dollars and vote a thousand times. Yes, the rich can buy elections, but then they don’t have that money any more. This was in a speech along with several other suggestions for different systems for franchise, including one to disenfranchise all men.

  24. allow me to speak up here as a progressive who supported campaign finance reform from good motives rather than a desire to see the 2 current parties further entrenched. we got laws more or less along the lines I wanted, and the result has sucked. it turned out my ideas were wrong, and I’m ready to sign on to the libertarian full disclosure, no limits policy. y’all lovable nuts were right.

  25. allow me to speak up here as a progressive who supported campaign finance reform from good motives rather than a desire to see the 2 current parties further entrenched.

    After sixty years I’ve discovered that most of the really horrible decisions I’ve made have been a result of the best intentions.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.