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Congress and Campaign Contributions Are Not Soon Parted

By Will Offensicht  |  January 11, 2008

There's been a lot of talk about taking money out of politics.  Laws were passed to try to limit what people are permitted to contribute to candidates or to political parties, but the laws aren't working very well because politicians don't want them to work.

The Democrats won't confirm enough members of the Federal Election Commission to make rulings on questions that come up during the coming campaign (The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 21, p A18).  Thus the laws we have, ineffective as they are, aren't going to be enforced until the election is over.  If the Democrats win, they'll appoint new commissioners that will overlook whatever they did and go after Republicans, and in the meantime, they can break the law without the commission calling them on it.

Some idealists who won't give up on the idea of making it harder for rich people to influence elections have suggested that election campaigns be paid for by the US Treasury -- in other words, we taxpayers would have to pay for campaigns intended to elect people we don't like.  In countries where this has been tried, incumbents write the rules so 1) to get the most public money, candidates have to accept limits on using private money and 2) a challenger isn't given enough public money to overcome the incumbents' advantage in name recognition.  In order to have any realistic chance to win, a challenger has to give up public money and raise it all privately.

Public funding means that challengers won't win, which is OK with incumbents.

In point of fact, we do have public funding of election campaigns through earmarks and through tax-exempt "educational" charities even though nobody wants to admit it.

Funding Through Earmarks

Earmarks are a way for Pelosi's Democrats (well, really, whichever party is in power) to send tax money directly to favored projects and contractors.  The contractors know they're supposed to kick back some of the money in campaign contributions.

The Oct 30 Wall Street Journal had a front-page article "How Lawmaker Rebuilt Hometown on Earmarks" which explains how the system works.  On page A16 column 2, they report:

...the DRS unit [in Mr. Murtha's district] helped built more than 4,000 display terminals in the last decade, some of them costing as much as $240,000 each.  A former Murtha staffer, Paul Magliocchetti, helped get the funding through Mr. Murtha's committee.  He was paid $3.2 million by DRS over that period for his lobbying efforts, federal records show.  Since 1989, Mr. Magliocchetti and executives of Lockheed and DRS have given more than $377,000 to Murtha campaign committees.

Unless Mr. Murtha gets extra money under the table, this is a very inefficient way for him to finance his campaigns.  It's more or less what you'd expect of government.  Mr. Murtha got about 10% of what the lobbyist got.  The article says that DRS got about $400 million through Murtha's committee, so the lobbyist received about 1%.  Mr. Murtha spent $400 million of our money and got only $377,000 in campaign contributions.

This is corruption, pure and simple.  The WSJ article reported that many of Mr. Murtha's hometown projects were for materials and services which the agencies involved didn't want.  Mr. Murtha is giving our money to his friends in return for being reelected.

Even though the Democrats were given control of the House and Senate on a promise to clean things, up, we now know that they only thing they didn't like about Republican corruption was that they weren't in on it. Now that they're in the majority, they're letting the good times roll.

Despite the inefficiency, this is taxpayer-funded campaigning by another name, but only incumbents can take advantage of it.

Funding Through Tax-Exempt Foundations

When the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" law was passed, the law made it harder for people to give money to political parties.  Instead of giving money to parties, rich people give money to tax-exempt educational foundations which advertise in favor or causes they like.

It's well known that is funded largely by a billionaire named George Soros - whose tremendous fortune originated, in large part, by being "the man who broke the Bank of England."  The bank has never quite recovered.

Is it a good idea to even further enhance the influence of  people like this, beyond the already tremendous influence inherent to great wealth?

Being tax exempt means that the rich donors can deduct their contributions from their income tax.  Again, the public is paying for political campaigns whether we like it or not.

The Right Answer

The right approach is too simple for politicians to accept because it takes away their wiggle room.  Since we can't stop money from influencing politics, the solution is to let anyone contribute any amount to anybody at all but to make the information public.

We already know our politicians are bought and paid for.  As it's been said, we have the finest Congress money can buy.  All I ask is that the voters know who owns each one.