Campaign Finance Reform Is a Joke

The government's never been serious about stopping the corrupting influence of money on elections

To paraphrase Casablanca’s Captain Renault (while a criminal is discreetly handing him a wad of cash): “We’re all shocked, shocked to find that federal campaign violations are going on in inherently corrupt federal campaigns.” As long as people—including corporations—are legally permitted to creatively come up with ways to spend as much money as they want to influence gullible people with stupid lies promoting unworthy candidates, the corruption inherent in political campaigns will determine who wins and who loses.

The most recent fan-hitting shit concerning campaign violations resulted from formal allegations being filed with the national Merit Systems Protection Board charging Laurie Magid, former interim United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, with improperly holding fundraisers in 2008 and 2009 for Congressman Patrick Meehan and Senator Arlen Specter and also improperly soliciting financial contributions from her subordinates in the federal prosecutor’s office for those fundraisers.

These violations were purportedly motivated by Magid’s desire to curry favor with the two heavyweight politicians to get them to help her receive a federal judgeship. As a result of these supposed Hatch Act violations, Magid could receive the most severe sanction, which is complete and permanent termination of employment. (By the way, the 1939-1940 Hatch Act is of dubious origin in that it was created not so much to protect the public from corrupt campaign influence as much as it was to protect selfish wealthy corporations from the impressive and much needed job-creating, relief-providing, and poverty-eroding initiatives of the Works Progress/Projects Administration.)

Although Magid most certainly should be presumed innocent, let’s just say for the sake of argument that she’s guilty. But so what? What if she is? Sanctioning her is not going to prove or deter anything. In fact, it could do much more harm than good by creating the false impression that the federal government is serious about campaign finance reform. Yet ever since Andrew Jackson’s campaign finance shenanigans in 1828, large-scale monetary trickery has been the rule, not the exception, in national elections.

One could argue that there was a modicum of success in moving toward campaign finance reform in 1972 with the Federal Election Campaign Act, which required candidates to disclose contributions and expenditures and—with its 1974 amendment—limited individual contributions to $2,000 and Political Action Committee/PAC contributions to $5,000, but such “success” is insignificant because it never really stopped or even slowed down the corrupting influence of money on elections.

When talk of serious reforms began in the ’80s and ’90s, Republicans killed those bills at conception. Most recently, in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court in the infamous Citizens United case allowed the inmates to take over the asylum when it ruled that corporations are persons, that persons are protected by the First Amendment, and that the First Amendment protects unlimited corporate campaign contributions as speech. Justice John Paul Stevens appropriately dissented with a WTF?! Well, maybe he didn’t say it precisely like that, but that’s exactly what he meant when he perceptively noted that, “The court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation.”

Sadly, many voters, generally speaking, are uneducated and close-minded, hence gullible. That’s why many of them believed—and still believe—that Bill Clinton killed Vince Foster, that Saddam Hussein bombed America on 9/11, and that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Political candidates exploit that gullibility. And they do it by spending big money and spreading big lies.

The perfect solution is to ban all financial contributions from all elections and to allow anyone who wants to run for office to get a certain number of signatures on lists posted at various specially designated federal offices. Those with the most signatures would then be required to participate in a certain number of free televised and online debates and town-hall-style exchanges with the public, after which they would be permitted to campaign as official candidates. Then, most importantly, all campaigning would be done in exactly the same way as the debates and town-hall interactions. No cash would ever be involved.

But that’s just not gonna happen. Therefore, the next best thing is The Fair Elections Now Act of 2010 (S. 752 and H.R. 1826), which is a bipartisan bill that would allow federal candidates to run for office without relying on large cash contributions from individuals and corporations and donations from lobbyists.

So go ahead and pile on Laurie Magid if you want. See how far that gets you. See how much it will drain the corrupting blood out of the current campaigning laws, regulations, and rules. It won’t change a damn thing. And to that I respond, I’m shocked, shocked I say!