Campaign Finance

Campaign Finance Reforms Still Don't Matter


This week, two more reasons to point and laugh at impotence of campaign finance restrictions:

1) John McCain opts out of matching funds, which would have limited his campaign spending. Though not technically hypocrisy, this does seem to go against the spirit of McCain's well-publicized disdain for the effect of private "special interest" money on politics.

2) The New York Sun's handy expose reveals undisclosed small donations totaling $118 million so far in this cycle, one quarter of the money raised.

Reporting rules are very relaxed for donations under $200. The Sun asks if large sums could be funneled in though this back door (answer: probably) and looks into the largeish number of international donations coming in through this channel.

According to an analysis being released today by a Washington think tank, the Campaign Finance Institute, Senator Obama of Illinois led the pack with such small and secret donations, pulling in about $31 million during 2007. Rep. Ron Paul ran second in small gifts, raking in more than $17 million. At the end of the year, Senator Clinton and John Edwards, who has since dropped out, were essentially tied for third in unitemized, small contributions, with each candidate raising about $11 million.

Once burned, twice shy. Hillary's campaign is incredibly careful about foreign donations:

[While] Mr. Obama's Web site allows donors to choose an address in one of 227 possible countries or territories, including Iran, Iraq, Zimbabwe, and Yemen. Mr. Paul's site is even more embracing, permitting addresses in Syria and the "Occupied Palestinian Territories…The most cautious campaign when it comes to accepting online donations from overseas seems to be that of Mrs. Clinton. Visitors to her Web site who want to list an address abroad are directed to a special page which advises that such donations are only taken by mail and that donors "must include a copy of your U.S. passport or green card."

reason on (and against) McCain-Feingold here.

NEXT: Hooked on the Myth of Instantly Addictive Cigarettes

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  1. They think that small donations are where the corruption happens?

    It would be nice if these people did exposes on Representatives, their friends, and their relatives who are employed by lobbyists or companies that they lobby for instead of trying to make small donors look nefarious. Not to mention that it seems like a very stupid way to influence a candidate.

    That would be better than near baseless accusations.

  2. That’s not how I read it PC. It seems to me that the author is concerned about large donations being funnelled into many small donations to avoid reporting requirements. But then again, I haven’t RTFA.

  3. You are right XY, that is what they are concerned about. It would be very simple for a foreign billionaire to bundle a whole lot of money in small packages to give to a candidate. All you need is to get one of your people inside the campaign to act as a fundraiser through which you funnel the money. If I want access and influence over a candidate, I just have my guy start raising money for his campaign. My guy comes up with a few million in donations in two hundred dollar increments. No one asks where they came from because they don’t have to under the law. In the meantime, my guy is now a top fundraiser with big access to the candidate. The candidate gets money and I get access.

  4. 1) The link to the NY sun article goes to its second page

    2) The NY sun article is long on spectulation and short on proof for an “expose.” I did not see them provide evidence of illegal donations, only that they were theoretically possible.

    3) The article did make me understand why my $50 donation to Paul never showed up on the FEC website, or any other ‘open-secrets’ type of website.

    4) To actually acomplish the funnelling of politcally decisive money through offshore accounts in discrete quanitities small enough not to be reported nor detected would require a level of conspiratorial and information technology accumen that is quite frankly missing from anyone who’s primary occupation is in the service of the united states goverment. Really, it’s easier to just go out shake hands or whatever and get the money legitamately.

  5. It would take a big conspiracy but it still could be done. I think the point of the Sun’s article is not to say that Obama is selling us out to foreign billionaires but to show how stupid campaign finance reform is. Wouldn’t it be better to let people give as much as they like to any campaign and make all donations public?

  6. You kinda talked about what I did in #4.
    You think it’s possible; fair enough.

    But it seemed to me that the NY Sun article’a main thrust was not worried so much that there are a lot of ‘secret’ donations, but rather that they could be foreign.

  7. Sorry, didn’t see the 3:58 before I posted my second

  8. As a proponent of CFR (some might say the only proponent of CFR around here), the potential funneling of small donations from big donors doesn’t bother me in the least. And I don’t really think its a concern of CFR either.

    The problem that CFR is trying to address is increased access by larger donors because of their financial contribution. For that problem to occur with the secret donations:
    1) The big donor would have to trust on faith that he would be able to reap the rewards of his donations without actually being able to receive official credit or acknowledgement of them;
    2) the big donor would have to find a way to notify the candidate without alerting the authorities so that he could reap the rewards; and
    3) the candidate would have to believe that the donor was actually responsible for all of the donations, rather than just trying to take credit for a legitimate groundswell of support among regular people.

    The chances of all three of these coming through, while certainly possible, are not likely enough that any additional regulations would be necessary — in my opinion.

  9. Though not technically hypocrisy, this does seem to go against the spirit of McCain’s well-publicized disdain for the effect of private “special interest” money on politics.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the law forgive* the act of taking out loans if you haven’t spent the money yet? It seems like you could straddle the fence until your fundraising prospects improve.

    * – forgive in the sense that you aren’t committed to adhere to M-F.

  10. hey, more media attention for Paul. negative, of course.

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