Black, white and gray all over
Thursday, Mar 29, 2007
I’m an agnostic when it comes to campaign reform plans. It’s not that I don’t believe in reform, I do. It’s just that sometimes the arguments from the reform groups are so over the top that they undercut their own case.
The general rule in political journalism these days is that all contributions, no matter how small, are somehow tainted with corruption. That’s simply not true.
But it always makes for a good story, which is one reason we see so many of them. Reform group hyperventilates about corruption, big headlines follow.
This counter-argument is exactly right. DC is a cesspool of corruption, yet it imposes super-restrictive campaign finance regulations on itself. Moving to that system absolutely does not guarantee cleaner elections. Ask Jack Abramoff.
Also, an intricate system of campaign finance laws makes it way too easy to write pimpy little stories about how Candidate X “violated the law,” even though the violation may have been trivial and completely unintended. That potential is what really worries a lot of legislators.
McCarthy may have been overstating his case, but legislators receive hundreds of calls a week from non-contributing constituents, and most are conscientious about returning those calls. Nobody ever writes stories about that.
That’s something that sounds great on its face and I’ve been leaning towards it for years. Leaders have way too much influence.
I was talking to an old-timer the other day about when he was first elected to the House (he’s now a lobbyist). He recalled that in the late 70’s the House Democratic campaign fund had about $5,000 in the bank. These days, they raise almost that, on average, every single day.
But he was quick to add that this didn’t mean legislators were necessarily any more free from some type of party leadership influence. In Chicago and Cook County, local committeemen raised all the money for their legislators. Elsewhere, county chairmen were heavily involved in fundraising.
Anyway, the point is that despite what you often read, this isn’t a completely black and white issue. There’s a lot of gray and, believe it or not, there are a lot of decent people in politics.