Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Ugly Truth About Campaign Finance

“Of the many objectives that could be achieved by a well-designed [federal] campaign finance system, the current system achieves none. It enhances the advantages of incumbents; favors the choice of wealthy candidates; creates at least the appearance of corruption or undue influence; allocates campaign funds inefficiently; encourages expensive campaigns run by outside consultants; burdens lawmakers with fundraising chores that distract them from their legislative duties; discourages qualified people from running for office; reduces the information on national policy options available to voters; allows special interests to speak more loudly on public issues than the political parties that represent more general interests; and does nothing to develop or refine the political or programmatic choices for American voters.”

This quotation is from the new book Better Parties, Better Government, by Peter J. Wallison, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and Joel M. Gora, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School (a former colleague, and good friend, of mine).

But I’m not writing this essay to do my friend Professor Gora a favor. On the contrary, I’m writing it to thank the authors for the prodigious effort they’ve put into Better Parties, Better Government and the two major accomplishments of their book.

First, as the quotation above forcibly demonstrates, Wallison and Gora prove beyond all doubt that the laws, regulations, and rulings which purport to govern federal election campaign financing, indeed the entire system, is a shambles and disgrace—a veritable monument to cynicism, self-dealing, and contempt for democracy.

Indeed, the authors conclusively prove in their remarkably detailed expose’ every one of the deficiencies which are catalogued above The reader is left with the inescapable conclusion that the oligarchs (my word) who have constructed the campaign finance system to make members of the House and Senate a perpetual ruling class are guilty of corrupting the democratic process to serve their own venal, political and psychological ends.

Second, not content merely to expose the sordid story of democracy at its worst in the context of those who rule us, Wallison and Gora take great pains to offer an antidote for federal campaign finance reform.

Their comprehensive suggestions would rectify much of the wrong that has been done to the body politic thanks to Republicans such as John McCain and liberals such as Russ Feingold—men of no stature who put political self-preservation ahead of the needs and mandates of democracy.

The authors’ suggestions need to be studied seriously and acted upon promptly if we are to restore even a semblance of what the Founders established as a truly representative government served by citizen legislators.

Wallison and Gora have performed a great public service with Better Parties, Better Government. Taking their book seriously will result in not only better parties and better government, but in a better democracy.