I haven't been shy about my general opposition to the current campaign finance regime. The so-called "reformers" that want to clean up politics have so lost sight of the original problem, that they think money is the problem in politics, when in fact it is the unwarranted influence of big money.
If you give $20 to a candidate, not a problem. If big money donor bundles $100,000 in exchange for favorable tax breaks for his or her industry, that's not okay.
Seems simple enough, right? But for the "reformers" at places like Common Cause and Fred Wertheimer's Democracy 21, the obsession has been misplaced. That's why a couple of years ago they spent considerable effort to try and destroy the political blogosphere. The thought of having people discuss campaigns infuriated them to no end. If money was being spent to advocate for candidates, they demanded the government regulate it. This can get into seriously absurd situations, such as this anecdote I wrote about last year:
While testifying at the FEC fighting for a blogger media exemption (which we won), I sat next to Larry Noble, then-head of the Center for Responsive Politics, who was doing his best to destroy internet free speech (along with the likes of Carol Darr).
During his testimony, he was sidetracked to make the most ridiculous argument I'd ever heard -- that state parties that featured images of federal candidates on their websites would have to calculate and account for those pictures. The example he used was the Arizona Republican Party. If their website featured a picture of John McCain, the party would have to calculate the percentage of the screen real estate taken by John McCain and account that as a federal expenditure.
Not only was the demand technically impossible (just think of how screen resolutions and font sizes affect how a screen looks), but it was ridiculous on common-sense grounds. Why shouldn't the Arizona Republican Party (or any other) be able to put up a picture of their entire slate, top to bottom, without the government trying to make it difficult to do so. [Update: Adam B found the transcript of the exchange.]
Practicality and common sense long ago disappeared in that campaign finance reform "reformer" community. Much the same way, they HATE the thought of millions of regular Americans financing campaigns, as it undermines their pipe dream of somehow eliminating money from the political system. The problem, of course, is that talking to people and organizing costs money and always will. Spending money on communication and working with the American people is not inherently evil. Money is only a problem if the wealthy can buy legislation.
In any case, and predictably so, Fred Wertheimer is having conniptions about Obama's decision to opt out of the public financing system.
Democracy 21 is very disappointed that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) has decided not to accept public financing for his presidential general election campaign.
We had hoped and expected that Senator Obama would stick with the public pledge he made to accept public financing and spending limits for the presidential general election, if he was nominated, and if his Republican opponent also agreed to accept public financing and spending limits for the general election. These conditions have been met.
We do not agree with Senator Obama's rationale for opting out of the system. Senator Obama knew the circumstances surrounding the presidential general election when he made his public pledge to use the system.
This is the same Fred Wertheimer, however, who has long worked with John McCain on these CFR issues, and has turned this campaign season into a series of attacks on Obama. Meanwhile, remember when McCain opted in to public financing in the primary, used that status to gain ballot access and secure a campaign loan, then broke the law by opting out? What do you think Fred Wertheimer said?
He said nothing. After getting much pressure from bloggers and whatnot, he released a statement a statement kind of critical of McCain. When that statement was interpreted as kind of critical of McCain, he released another statement backtracking.
In the minds of these fake "reformers", McCain can do no wrong. He's a long-time ally, and they're now returning the favor by providing cover -- ignoring McCain's lawbreaking, and making much ado about Obama's decision to let the people finance his campaign rather than the government.