Campaign Finance "Reform" and Reagans, Past & Future

Ann Coulter’s column this week is especially important:

Inasmuch as the current presidential election has come down to a choice among hemlock, self-immolation or the traditional gun in the mouth, now is the time for patriotic Americans to review what went wrong and to start planning for 2012.

How did we end up with the mainstream media picking the Republican candidate for president?

It isn’t the early primaries, it isn’t that we allow Democrats to vote in many of our primaries, and it isn’t that the voters are stupid. All of that was true or partially true in 1980 — and we still got Ronald Reagan.
We didn’t get Ronald Reagan this year not just because there’s never going to be another Reagan. We will never again get another Reagan because Reagan wouldn’t run for office under the current campaign-finance regime.

Three months ago, I was sitting with a half-dozen smart, successful conservatives whose names you know, all griping about this year’s cast of presidential candidates. I asked them, one by one: Why don’t you run for office?
Of course, none of them would. They are happy, well-adjusted individuals.
Reagan, too, had a happy life and, having had no trouble getting girls in high school, had no burning desire for power. So when the great California businessman Holmes Tuttle and two other principled conservatives approached Reagan about running for office, Reagan said no.
But Tuttle kept after Reagan, asking him not to reject the idea out of hand. He formed “Friends of Reagan” to raise money in case Reagan changed his mind.
He asked Reagan to give his famous “Rendezvous With History” speech at a $1,000-a-plate Republican fundraiser in Los Angeles and then bought airtime for the speech to be broadcast on TV days before the 1964 presidential election.
The epochal broadcast didn’t change the election results, but it changed history. That single broadcast brought in nearly $1 million to the Republican Party — not to mention millions of votes for Goldwater.
After the astonishing response to Reagan’s speech and Tuttle’s continued entreaties, Reagan finally relented and ran for governor. In 1966, with the help, financial and otherwise, of a handful of self-made conservative businessmen, Reagan walloped incumbent Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, winning 57 percent of the vote in a state with two Democrats for every Republican.
The rest is history — among the brightest spots in all of world history.
None of that could happen today. (The following analysis uses federal campaign-finance laws rather than California campaign-finance laws because the laws are basically the same, and I am not going to hire a campaign-finance lawyer in order to write this column.)
If Tuttle found Ronald Reagan today, he couldn’t form “Friends of Reagan” to raise money for a possible run — at least not without hiring a battery of campaign-finance lawyers and guaranteeing himself a lawsuit by government bureaucrats. He’d also have to abandon his friendship with Reagan to avoid the perception of “coordination.”
Tuttle couldn’t hold a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for Reagan — at least in today’s dollars. That would be a $6,496.94-a-plate dinner (using the consumer price index) or a $19,883.51-a-plate dinner (using the relative share of GDP). The limit on individual contributions to a candidate is $2,300.
Reagan’s “Rendezvous With History” speech would never have been broadcast on TV — unless Tuttle owned the TV station. Independent groups are prohibited from broadcasting electioneering ads 60 days before an election.
A handful of conservative businessmen would not be allowed to make large contributions to Reagan’s campaign — they would be restricted to donating only $2,300 per person.
Under today’s laws, Tuttle would have had to go to Reagan and say: “We would like you to run for governor. You are limited to raising money $300 at a time (roughly the current limits in 1965 dollars), so you will have to do nothing but hold fundraisers every day of your life for the next five years in order to run in the 1970 gubernatorial election, since there clearly isn’t enough time to raise money for the 1966 election.”
Also, Tuttle would have to tell Reagan: “We are not allowed to coordinate with you, so you’re on your own. But wait — it gets worse! After five years of attending rubber chicken dinners every single day in order to raise money in tiny increments, you will probably lose the election anyway because campaign-finance laws make it virtually impossible to unseat an incumbent.
“Oh, and one more thing: Did you ever kiss a girl in high school? Not even once? If not, then this plan might appeal to you!”
Obviously, Reagan would have returned to his original answer: No thanks.
Reagan loved giving speeches and taking questions from voters. The one part of campaigning Reagan loathed was raising money. Thanks to our campaign-finance laws, fundraising is the single most important job of a political candidate today.
This is why you will cast your eyes about the nation in vain for another Reagan sitting in any governor’s mansion or U.S. Senate seat. Pro-lifers like to ask, “How many Einsteins have we lost to abortion?” I ask: How many Reagans have we lost to campaign-finance reform?
The campaign-finance laws basically restrict choice political jobs, like senator and governor — and thus president — to:
(1) Men who were fatties in high school and consequently are willing to submit to the hell of running for office to compensate for their unhappy adolescences — like Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich. (Somewhere in this great land of ours, even as we speak, the next Bill Clinton is waddling back to the cafeteria service line asking for seconds.)
(2) Billionaires and near-billionaires — like Jon Corzine, Steve Forbes, Michael Bloomberg and Mitt Romney — who can fund their own campaigns (these aren’t necessarily sociopaths, but it certainly limits the pool of candidates).
(3) Celebrities and name-brand candidates — like Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Bush, Giuliani and Hillary Clinton (which explains the nation’s apparent adoration for Bushes and Clintons — they’ve got name recognition, a valuable commodity amidst totalitarian restrictions on free speech).
(4) Mainstream media-anointed candidates, like John McCain and B. Hussein Obama.
What a bizarre coincidence that a few years after the most draconian campaign-finance laws were imposed via McCain-Feingold, our two front-runners happen to be the media’s picks! It’s uncanny — almost as if by design! (Can I stop now, or do you people get sarcasm?)
By prohibiting speech by anyone else, the campaign-finance laws have vastly magnified the power of the media — which, by the way, are wholly exempt from speech restrictions under campaign-finance laws. The New York Times doesn’t have to buy ad time to promote a politician; it just has to call McCain a “maverick” 1 billion times a year.
It is because of campaign-finance laws like McCain-Feingold that big men don’t run for office anymore. Little men do. And John McCain is the head homunculus.
You want Reagan back? Restore the right to free speech, and you will have created the conditions that allowed Reagan to run.

Campaign Financing

Owen Robinson’s latest column tackles campaign-finance reform:

There is a new push by some to use taxpayer dollars to fund political campaigns. For years there has been a voluntary program in place by which taxpayers can offer some of their money for political candidates by checking a box on their tax forms and submitting the funds. These funds are set aside and offered to candidates who agree to certain fundraising and spending limits. Very few candidates accept the public funds because the spending limits that they require are too stringent for how real-world campaigns are run.

In Wisconsin, there is a new proposed law regarding public financing of elections for Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates. This is part of an ongoing effort by some folks to make all campaigns publically funded.

The proposed law increases spending limits and makes some other tweaks, but by far, the biggest change that it makes is to use money from the general fund instead of from funds that taxpayers volunteer for that specific purpose. In other words, the bill seeks to use money that was taken from taxpayers with the threat of imprisonment instead of money that the taxpayers agreed to donate for a specific cause.

This is a monumental shift and for reasons both philosophical and pragmatic, this bill and other efforts to use taxpayer funds for political campaigns should be soundly rejected.

The philosophical reason for rejecting the publically financing of political campaigns is quite simple. Citizens should not be forced to pay for the advocacy of ideas that they oppose. Conservatives should not be forced to pay for television ads by a liberal candidate touting the glories of government controlled health care any more than a pacifist should be compelled to fund a radio campaign by a candidate who supports the Iraq War.

There is a deep gulf between being forced to fund government programs with which one disagrees and political campaigns with which one disagrees. The government programs were put in place by duly elected representatives of the citizenry. Nobody has elected the candidates running campaigns.

Beyond the philosophical reasons for rejecting publically financed campaigns, there are two extremely pragmatic campaigns. First, publically funded campaigns further strengthen the hand of incumbents in political campaigns
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Incumbent politicians enjoy a much greater ease in accessing media coverage. They can hold press conferences on things that they have done. They can send out surveys and informational mailings at taxpayer expense – with their names prominently displayed, of course. They are called upon for comments on pending issues by reporters and columnists. In short, an incumbent walks into any political race with the advantage of name recognition and coverage that can cost a challenger thousands of dollars to overcome.

Publically financed campaigns level the playing field, but only in terms of campaign spending. Since the incumbent enjoys such an advantage going into the race, the challenger will always be at a disadvantage.

Furthermore, one has to remember who sets the rules for who qualifies for public funds, how much can be spent, and on what it can be spent. Anyone na•ve enough to think that incumbents won’t twist the rules to their advantage deserves to be forced to pay for campaigns.

The great mantra of the supporters of taxpayer financing of campaigns is that it will “get the money out of politics.”

Hogwash.

The truth is that there is no moral or constitutional way to prohibit people and groups from advocating in an election. If WEAC wants to spend $2 million on television ads in support of a candidate, there is no way to stop them – nor should there be. One of the quintessential American principles is that citizens have a right to speak freely about their government. This includes advocating for or against candidates for political office.

If a candidate’s campaign is publically funded and he is permitted to spend $300,000 and a group of citizens spends another $2 million on his behalf, how is that different from today? Is the candidate any less “beholden to special interests” than if the group did the same thing under the current rules? No, not at all. The mechanics of political campaigns will remain the same.

Corrupt politicians will remain corrupt and honorable politicians will remain honorable. The only thing that will be different is that the politicians won’t have to work as hard to raise funds because the taxpayers will be forced to surrender theirs.

Like most campaign reform measures, taxpayer financed campaigns do nothing to solve the problems they purport to solve. Instead, they strengthen the hand of incumbents while creating more problems for those incumbents to “solve.”

Reject taxpayer financing of political campaigns. Instead, let’s focus on transparency and accountability. Every corrupt politician is only one election away from unemployment if the citizens will it.