“Shameful” Campaign Finance Reform

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The New York Times editorial page today excoriates a new campaign finance bill percolating through the house:

A shameful bill that would undo much of the post-Watergate reforms is being rushed to the House floor. It would scrap a donor’s current limit of $40,000 for candidates across a two-year cycle and let him give $2 million or more. Further, the bill would attack the more recent McCain-Feingold campaign controls by letting the national parties wheel and deal in unlimited amounts in supporting favored candidates.

Shameful? Yes, probably. At the same time, this little screed misses the larger point. The main flaw with McCain-Feingold is that it’s near-impossible to restrict the supply of political money. Campaign spending will, for better or worse, always find its way into the hands of those who want it, whether by going to the candidates directly, or through 527s, or through increasingly shadowy organizations that nestle themselves into loopholes in the tax code; Nick Confessore documented a number of these groups sometime back, including 501(c)3’s and other oddly numbered groups. If anything, all you get is a loss of accountability and transparency.

Proper campaign-finance reform would reduce the demand for political money, which involves better public financing for various political campaigns or reforms that set aside airtime for all candidates, along with full disclosure rules for giving. Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres have come up with one such approach with their “Patriot Dollar” idea. Fixing the money-in-politics problem isn’t easy; but any starting point should recognize that putting the clamp down on private campaign spending, while laudable, doesn’t get at the source of the problem.

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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