Wednesday, November 05, 2003
Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean appears to be positioning himself to opt out of the voluntary spending limits for the presidential race. In an attempt to keep some tiny modicum of sanity in presidential politics, current law sets a voluntary limit of $45 million to spend on the primaries. Dean's polling his supporters to see if they want him to abide by this limit or if they're willing to give more money so he can surpass it. On the one hand, its hard to fault him. President Bush has already said he's going to ignore the voluntary spending limits, so it makes sense that Dean would want to try to keep up with him. On the other hand, this is exactly what's wrong with politics today. Other candidates like John Kerry may opt out too.
The New York Times reports the story here. Note that Congressman Chris Shays says that "The bottom line is that you can't really get your message out for $45 million." Now, that's just plain crazy talk. You can get out a heck of a lot of message for $45 million, and that out to be more than enough for Howard Dean were it not for the fact that the Bush campaign will have about $200 million. Chris Shays was one of the primary supporters of the law that got us into this situation by doubling the amount of money that presidential candidates can raise from big donors. No wonder they are raising more money than ever!
This is why we need mandatory spending limits instead of the toothless voluntary ones in the current law. The Supreme Court has in the past said we can't have mandatory spending limits. But the Supreme Court isn't the final authority, the people are. Ultimately, we can and should amend the constitution to spell out that our elections ought not be for sale. But, untill that day happens, it makes sense to raise the limits for participating candidates whenever they face an opponent who has vowed to outspend them. We should also do something to ensure that candidates backed by large numbers of small donors can compete with the candidates who are backed by a smaller number of fat cats.