Campaign Finance Reform. It was the ultimate political paradox. While Republicans held a 3x fundraising lead from hard-dollar donations, Democrats had parity in unregulated soft-dollar donations.
Yet Democrats voted for it, trapped between their support for good government and their addiction to soft dollars. Meanwhile, the GOP, who apparently had the most to gain, fought it tooth and nail.
Now, the big Ds (DNC, DCCC, and DSCC) face huge money disparities vis a vis their cash-flush GOP counterparts. Bush will have two to three times as much money as our Democratic nominee. So by winning, and by pushing good government, Democrats lost, right?
The Wall Street Journal's John Hardwood disagrees:
Yet today, as they gaze upon a 2004 U.S. electoral horizon far more promising than they could have expected just months ago, Democrats have reason to thank Mr. Feingold after all. For in two distinct ways, the campaign-finance law he sponsored already has helped Democrats recover their competitiveness across the U.S.
The first way flows from a provision of McCain-Feingold that, in congressional debate, drew far less attention than the one barring national parties from raising unregulated "soft money." The provision requires that television ads for Congress or president include an explicit endorsement by the candidate producing them, in voice and image.
Media consultants hate this requirement because it consumes precious moments of their 30-second spots and makes them more difficult to compose. But reformers insisted on it in the belief that forcing a simple declaration -- "I approved this message" -- would deter some of the attacks that have turned so much political TV into a slime-fest.
Well, guess what? The provision has had just the deterrent effect they hoped for [...]
The second positive development for Democrats is one that party electoral strategists never thought would happen. What they loathed most about McCain-Feingold was the ban on soft money, which had become a competitive equalizer for a party with many fewer $1,000-a-pop "hard money" donors than Republicans have.
But Mr. Feingold believed Democrats could create a new hard-money base of small donors. And now, courtesy of Mr. Dean's Internet-fueled campaign, it appears that they can.
Perhaps Mr. Dean and his ex-campaign manager, Joe Trippi, would have accomplished this in any event. But Mr. Feingold justifiably observes that the campaign-finance law "made it more essential" that Democratic presidential candidates reconnect with the Americans of modest means they always have claimed to represent.
This last week I met with DNC finance people who wanted to know what they could do to encourage the success of programs like ePatriots
. This is how they think: "You write us a check, and let us know what we can do for you". It's crass, alright, but it's reality. It's the reason corporate, oil, and other more nefarious interests are plowing hundreds of millions into the various GOoPer establishments.
At one meeting, asked what the party could do to help encourage the Netroots, I answered simply, "Democrats need to act like Democrats. And they need to win."
In another meeting I said, "It'll be easier to raise money for Nancy Pelosi, who has led as a Democrat, than Tom Daschle, who caved to GOP pressure." As a special interest group, we are actually quite undemanding. All we ask is that the party stand for the principles that lead us to call ourselves "Democrats".
I hope you all realize the significance of all of this. Having lost the million dollar checks that previously funded the party, they suddenly look to people like us for answers. For the first time in decades, we matter more than the party's special interest groups. And the party and candidates (see the Blogads on this site) are now trying to figure out how to earn our support.
I firmly believe that Dean is getting too much credit for this. The blogosphere existed, and was healthy, before Dean came along. And it's healthy and still existing post Dean. What Trippi did was simply recognize the value of the blogosphere and harnessed it for his campaign. He didn't create it. In exchange for $20 million raised online the Dean campaign gave the blogosphere political legitimacy.
But the circle wasn't complete until Chandler came around. Pre-Chandler, the most common question I would get was, "Can all of this 'netroots' stuff work for candidates other than Dean?" Chandler put that question to rest.
But none of that would be possible without McCain/Feingold. Suddenly the party and the candidates need small dollar donations. And addicted to soft money as they were, they had no infrastructure to garner such donations. Without McCain-Feingold, the progressive blogosphere would have as much influence with the party establishment as the Right blogosphere has with the Republican Party. Which is zero.