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Thompson signals shift on Campaign Finance Reform

Captain Ed links an interview former Sen. Fred Thompson gave John Fund of Opinion Journal:

Many on the right remain angry he supported the campaign finance law sponsored by his friend John McCain. "There are problems with people giving politicians large sums of money and then asking them to pass legislation," Mr. Thompson says. Still, he notes he proposed the amendment to raise the $1,000 per person "hard money" federal contribution limit.

Conceding that McCain-Feingold hasn't worked as intended, and is being riddled with new loopholes, he throws his hands open in exasperation. "I'm not prepared to go there yet, but I wonder if we shouldn't just take off the limits and have full disclosure with harsh penalties for not reporting everything on the Internet immediately."

Read it all at the Online Journal link above. Ed comments:

If Thompson rejects the BCRA, the implications could be significant. None of the sponsors or supporters of the bill would have the national reach Thompson will if he runs, with the exception of McCain himself. Thompson's change of heart would put immediate pressure on McCain and perhaps even jump-start the effort to repeal the law altogether. If Thompson makes it a campaign issue, he could immediately siphon off conservative support for other campaigns. (Romney pledged to repeal the BCRA at CPAC earlier this month.)

That would not be the entirety of Thompson's attractiveness, either. He spoke with Fund about cleaning up the CIA, one topic that never seems to go away despite all of the post-9/11 efforts to reform the agency and the intel community as a whole. He wants to promote federalism, ending programs that should be handled by the states and curtailing the overreach of the national government.

Read Ed's whole post at the first link at the top. While I agree Thompson is an attractive candidate, he is essentially a stalking horse to jump in should McCain continue to stumble and stagnate. Whether he has the will to raise the sort of money which would be required for a credible run remains unknown.

On the narrow issue of BCFRA, though, the suggestion Thompson made - and it may have been only a trial balloon - in the first quote above sounds like what I've advocated. It's impossible to restrain the money in politics so long as politics holds sway over so much money. New and ever-more byzantine rules only invite more creative loopholes.

For instance, BCFRA "eliminated soft money" by stopping the parties from receiving it. The money didn't go away, though: it merely migrated to the "527" groups. This has the effect of LESS openness and accountability, though. The parties had to file regular FEC forms detailing their donations and sources, including occupations and addresses, which were public record. Several filings would be public BEFORE the election. 527s, on the other hand, only file their reports annually, and the donor information available is limited.

A better reform is forgetting the restrictions on donations, just make them instantly disclosed on the internet. Big money doesn't necessarily corrupt a politician. Before the 1974 reforms, large donors were common, and there is no known case of a candidate or President who was unduly influenced by them. There are numerous cases of Presidents angering their biggest backers, though.

In 1968, Sen. Eugene McCarthy's upstart campaign, which forced LBJ out of the race, was primarily financed by three individuals who gave over $1 million each, including one who gave over $3 million. Yet, McCarthy's nickname was "Clean Gene."

So, if George Soros wants to give $100 million to Howard Dean or Dennis Kucinich or Che Guevara, let him! Only require those donations are published BEFORE the campaign can use them. The people can be the judge of whether large donors might have undue influence over the candidates, as long as they have all the facts in time.

I suggest a system of dual bank accounts for campaigns. One would the Receiving Account, to which deposits would be made accompanied by the full disclosure of the donor. These would be posted to a FEC website immediately. Timely posting would be ensured by the requirement that no monies could be transferred to the campaign's Disbursal Account until those funds had been posted on the disclosure page.

The Receiving Account could not spend any money at all. It's only option would be to transfer money to the Disbursal Account. So the funds would be in a "lock box" until disclosure was made.

Donations would be cut off 48 hours before the election to prevent late drops when there isn't enough time to the public to consider and discuss the disclosures, but campaigns could receive money again after the election to cover debts or legal expenses.

"Sunshine is the best disinfectant."

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Comments (1)

I don't know if Fred Thomps... (Below threshold)

I don't know if Fred Thompson can win, or not, but already he is raising the level of the debate. Promoting states' rights over national government? repealing McCain Feingold? Music to my ears.







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