John Edwards

Man of the People

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I opened my mailbox last night and found this threatening letter, tossed in by the John Edwards campaign:

Today, Senator John Edwards announced he will be seeking public financing for the 2008 presidential primary campaign. Just as he challenged the Democratic Party to stop accepting contributions from lobbyists, today Edwards is again taking the lead in ending the money game in Washington.

"You can't buy your way to the Democratic nomination – you should have to earn the votes of the American people with bold vision and ideas," said Edwards' campaign manager Congressman David Bonior. "This is the most expensive presidential campaign in history, by far. And the simple fact is that the influence of money in politics – and the focus on raising money in this election – has gotten out of control. It's time to get back to focusing on the issues that matter to the American people. That's why John Edwards has decided to play by the rules that were designed to ensure fairness in the election process by capping his campaign spending and seeking public financing."

You might say "What a flip-flop! Back when people were taking him semi-seriously he jumped out of the public financing regime and didn't seem too distressed about it." But that would be churlish. Edwards' campaign is too important, his ideas too essential to the survival of our nation, for it to be funded by some sort of appeal to actual donors. He's going to pick all of your pockets to pay for the glorious cause. You'll thank him later.

Marc Ambinder has more, about how this is simply a taxpayer-funded effort to put a guy with little public support on footing with two candidates with a lot of public support and how that's totally fair. I pre-emptively buried public financing here.

UPDATE: Joe asks:

And backup to the assertion that Edwards is doing this because his support is dropping, either in the polls or among donors?

In February, when he renounced public financing, he had a fat lead in Iowa. Since then he has fallen into a 3-way tie with Obama and Hillary with Richardson rising fast. And his campaign is predicated on a big win among white, old, anti-war Iowans propelling him to the front of the pack. His fundraising has been down, reportedly, but we won't know til early next month.

NEXT: John Berthoud, RIP

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  1. And backup to the assertion that Edwards is doing this because his support is dropping, either in the polls or among donors?

    This “Back when people were taking him semi-seriously” bit doesn’t mesh with my impressions about his relative standing in the race. If anything, he’s in a stronger position than he was six months ago, and Obama is dropping back a bit.

  2. You might say “What a flip-flop!

    No, I’m going to call it what it is: theft. This guy wants to continue to pay his “staff” (read: family) on the public tit as long as possible. I think it’s about time this scumbag went out and got a real job.

  3. And backup to the assertion that Edwards is doing this because his support is dropping, either in the polls or among donors?

    Common sense? Plausible assumption?

  4. Where does this funding come from? Is it the little box on my tax return that I never check? If so, doesn’t that mean that the taxpayers are willingly funding these campaigns? Or is that merely a supplement to the funding?

  5. Mr. Weigel, don’t capitalize joe’s first initial. I at first had no idea who you were talking about.

    Also, do you ever sleep?

  6. Correction to your update: “joe” and “Joe” are two different commenters (although “Joe” shows up more rarely).

  7. My political fandom stops well short of detailed fundraising data but I figured Edwards had tapped his personal funds in excess of 50k by now.
    Accounting can fix anything.
    USA Today link isn’t working for me.

  8. Seriously Dave, don’t give joe the uppercase.

  9. “Common sense?”

    Therein lies the rub, x,y. It’ll hafta’ be something else.

    CB

  10. Yeah, I’ve very case-sensitive about that.

    Thanks for the reply, Dave, but wouldn’t the national numbers be the more relevant variable? Presumably, his donor base is national, and his long-term prospects (he’s got plenty of cash on hand for Iowa, after all) are going to be determined by his national appeal.

    On the national level, he’s actually seen a significant uptick over the past month or so.

    The national polling numbers can be found by scrolling dowon the page Dave links to, and clicking on “National Dems.”

  11. I’ve always found it curious that libertarians consider campaign donations a form of “speech” that should be protected and then complain when these donations inevitably keep the corporate welfare machine humming along. If it’s really about supporting candidates of choice and not influence buying, how about funneling all donations through a trust that will pass the money along to the intended candiadates anonymously? Just a thought.

  12. wouldn’t the national numbers be the more relevant variable?

    No. It’s absolutely essential that Edwards win Iowa and he can’t continue his campaign at all unless he either wins or basically ties for first, like he did with Kerry in 2004. National numbers are simply going to be a function of who wins that state. Go back and look at John Kerry’s national numbers the week before and the week after Iowa.

  13. I understand that, Dave, but what does that have to do with accepting public funds? He certainly doesn’t need them for Iowa.

  14. I’ve always found it curious that libertarians consider campaign donations a form of “speech” that should be protected and then complain when these donations inevitably keep the corporate welfare machine humming along.

    Yes, I’ve brought this point up about a million times. The idea seems to be to allow people and groups to give as much money as they want to government leaders and then simply trust them to do the right thing and not expect anything from the government in return for that money.

    Yes, it’s insane to think that somehow allowing the wealthy few to influence government as much as possible promotes “liberty” for everybody. But Reasoniods have strange ideas about what liberty means.

  15. Yes, I’ve brought this point up about a million times. The idea seems to be to allow people and groups to give as much money as they want to government leaders and then simply trust them to do the right thing and not expect anything from the government in return for that money.

    Do you practice this malarkey in front of a mirror, or are you naturally gifted?

  16. The answer the libertarians always give, Dan T., is that if we have a smaller government with less largesse to dole out, there won’t be so many donors trying to buy favors.

    They seem to think that people who hold office under an expansive government can be bought and installed in office for the purpose of steering that government’s largesse to donors,
    but that people who hold office under a small government cannot be bought and intalled in office for the purpose of expanding that government and THEN sterring largesse towards donors.

  17. Dan T., joe, are either you conned, buffaloed, or hynotized by Madison Avenue? Yes or No? If No was response and yet you support campaign financing restrictions, you must think you’re SMARTER, or maybe even BETTER than your fellow citizens. If you responded Yes, and support campaign financing restrictions, than you’re at least consistent, if not very discriminating.

  18. I think the point, joe, is to shrink government and keep it that way. Constant vigilance would of course be required. And a raft of judges willing to follow the Constitution.

    Anyway, when Edwards flops back again after realizing he needs more dough, do I get my $3 back?

  19. To clarify the campaign contribution argument a hair, looking at campaign dollars is focusing on a tiny problem in the face of a monumental one.

    Corporate welfare comes not so much from dollars donated to campaigns, but from the votes that companies bring from the home state. Typically, it is about jobs. If you are campaigning from Iowa, you had better get religion on Ethanol subsidies. It is true that ADM or whoever may give your campaign money, but the weight of the case comes from voter demand that you subsidize their way of life.

  20. Yes, J sub D, disagreeing with you can only be explained by deficiencies of character and intelligence.

    Tell you what, why don’t you make that macro to post into every thread, and save us all the time?

    Rhywun,

    I think the point, joe, is to shrink government and keep it that way. With the magical small government machine. The one that keeps office-holders from voting to do things that their donors want, if it involves enlarging the government.

    I don’t think that’s going to work. I think that, as long as there are such vast disparities in wealth and the access it buys, there will always be those who can use their wealth to get officeholders to do what they want.

    You can have laws saying that the more powerful have to be nice and fair to the less powerful, or you can reduce the differences in power so the less-powerful group can hold its own.

    The reason the founders didn’t make the executive much more powerful than the other branches, and try to check his power with rules, is because they thought the way I do. Instead, they made sure that the executive didn’t have overwhelming power vis a vis the Congress. They empowered the Congress to stand up for itself, as that is only way to make sure the President didn’t roll over it.

  21. As I understand it, accepting public funds means not being able to accept large donations. So doing so is a tacit concession that you aren’t able to keep up with the big boys and the campaign is doomed.

    Of course it is of no consequences how many horses are still running in the Democratic race since it was already won in 1949 when little Hillary Diane decided she wanted to grow up to be president.

    Meanwhile, as other candidates coffers are dwindling, RON PAUL is in the process of raising $1,000,000 in a single week!

  22. I think the point, joe, is to shrink government and keep it that way. Constant vigilance would of course be required. And a raft of judges willing to follow the Constitution.

    Exactly. Armed citizens willing to use them might even be more effective than the judges.

  23. joe,

    The reason the founders didn’t make the executive much more powerful than the other branches, and try to check his power with rules, is because they thought the way I do. Instead, they made sure that the executive didn’t have overwhelming power vis a vis the Congress. They empowered the Congress to stand up for itself, as that is only way to make sure the President didn’t roll over it.

    This is correct but you left out a key part. They also created a judicial branch to be a check on congress. It failed in its job. When they stopped holding a hard line and allowing congress/executive to do nearly anything they wanted, the federal government boomed in size.

  24. robc,

    Leaving your loaded terms aside: yep. That’s what happened. The greatest non-government-englarging scheme ever devised in human history failed.

    And yet you retain your confidence that the same thing will do an effective job keeping the wealthy from getting officeholders to do them favors?

  25. The government was pretty darn small when the SCOTUS ruled that mining companies didn’t have to pay damages to the landowners whose houses collapsed due to undermining.

    It was pretty damn small when it granted the railroad companies the right to use eminent domain.

  26. And yet you retain your confidence that the same thing will do an effective job keeping the wealthy from getting officeholders to do them favors?

    Still beats your confidence in keeping the wealthy from getting favors if only we elected the right officeholders who would sell out to the right special interests.

  27. So, why is the proposal always that the public should pay for politicians’ political campaigns? That boils down to my having to pay for advertisements for candidates that I personally oppose.

    If the reformers insist on a reform, why not completely ban political advertising? Just give them a few broadcast debates and a statement in the voter’s guide and be done with it.

  28. Yes, J sub D, disagreeing with you can only be explained by deficiencies of character and intelligence.

    No, joe, I’m serious. How do you manage to sort it all out, while the average citizen can’t? Don’t get insulted, tell me who are these people who are too flummoxed by advertising to make an informed or intelligent decision?

    I am so tired of statists telling people who should know better, but don’t, what to do with their lives, property and money.

  29. BTW, joe, maybe you, of all people, shouldn’t complain about, or get offended by, “insults”.

  30. “The greatest non-government-englarging scheme ever devised in human history failed.”

    Penis pump or enzyte?

    cuz, lemme tell you, that lotion didn’t work, but man, did my hands get HUGE!!!!!!!!!

  31. The greatest non-government-englarging scheme ever devised in human history failed.

    It was designed to fail. The FFs all knew what was coming. Why do you think Jefferson called for a revolution every generation?

    The idea is good. You just have to tear down and start over every 40 years or so.

    Constitutional government is like Windows NT. It needs a reboot every now and then to keep it from crashing.

  32. It was designed to fail. The FFs all knew what was coming. Why do you think Jefferson called for a revolution every generation?

    The idea is good. You just have to tear down and start over every 40 years or so.

    Constitutional government is like Windows NT. It needs a reboot every now and then to keep it from crashing.

    So the complaint now is that too many people like our government to revolt against it? It hasn’t been awful enough to inspire a violent uprising?

    Just when you think you’ve heard it all…

  33. Who are these people who don’t see political advertising for what it is? I am eagerly awaiting a response on this. Anybody?

  34. J sub D. Come on we all know people are morons. Reason’s been promoting the shit out of The Myth of the Rational Voter that aims to prove it. Politicians need money not just for campaign ads but for orchestrating events and meeting important people who will win them favors/influence and signatures. The money is key for getting your name out there and convincing people that matter that you should be supported. The rest of the votes fall in line given the circumstances.

    The fact that people are giving you money out of their own free will means they actually believe you will win and are betting on your future ability to influence in their name.

  35. stephen the goldberger,

    Sadly true. Is limiting campaign contributions and expenditures, added to taxpayer financing of elections, going to change this? Will people suddenly get rational with political speech rationed and regulated? What positive and/or deleterious effects will this have on fielding a viable alternative to the entrenched political parties?

    I wanted joe to answer, but I’m afraid I hurt his feelings. 😉

  36. how about funneling all donations through a trust that will pass the money along to the intended candiadates anonymously?

    An interesting idea, but would it work? Say, I represent the Lead-Painted Toys Lobby. I have lunch with Senator Fogbottom and mention that my lobby will be giving him a half-million dollar contribution. A few days later, he receives $500,000 “anonymously”.

    We’d have to forbid contibutors from revealing their contributions; the opposite of current requirements to reveal where all of a candidate’s contributions came from.

    By the way, as a moderate libertarian, I think such laws are a good idea. And all the campaing reform that is needed.

  37. Nice dodge, Warren. I wrote about systems. i didn’t write a single word about good people. I trust you would have come up with an actual argument, if you had any.

    Mike Laursen,

    The proposals are not always for public financing. Restrictions on spending and donations are often proposed, too. And then people ask “Why are the proposals all about LIMITING FREE SPEECH?!?”

    J sub D,

    This is a thread about how political donations influence the behavior of officeholders.

    Please don’t threadjack.

  38. Not voters. Officeholders.

    But to answer your question, every single person who voted for George Bush or Ross Perot on the grounds that they were “regular people,” “someone you could have a beer with” counts as such “these people who are too flummoxed by advertising to make an informed or intelligent decision.”

  39. The proposals are not always for public financing. Restrictions on spending and donations are often proposed, too. And then people ask “Why are the proposals all about LIMITING FREE SPEECH?!?”

    What I was curious about is if anybody has proposed completely outlawing campaign advertising. The gist being that it would be a much cheaper option than public campaign financing.

    I didn’t mean to imply, though, that I would approve of the idea. I, too, think it would be a constraint on free speech.

  40. But to answer your question, every single person who voted for George Bush or Ross Perot on the grounds that they were “regular people,” “someone you could have a beer with” counts as such “these people who are too flummoxed by advertising to make an informed or intelligent decision.”

    i.e. Peo,ple who don’t vote like joe. Or possibly people who vote for different reasons than joe.

    God, they should be disenfranchised!

  41. It was pretty damn small when it granted the railroad companies the right to use eminent domain.

    And it was big when it granted pharmaceutical companies and mono-rail companies to do same. I think I see a common thread here: government.

  42. Holy shit, was joe wrong about something? Say it isn’t so. How can this be possible given the fact he is a fount of unimpeachable knowledge?
    I don’t understand why you are such an avid defender of a statist like Edwards, joe. Maybe he is an apologist for Hugo Chavez, just like you.

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