Monday, February 14, 2005

Senator John McCain on 527s, Gravity, and Toothpaste

this is an audio post - click to play

You hear it all the time from opponents of reform: Regulating money in politics is like stopping the flow of water downhill, or like squeezing a tube of toothpaste, or like any one of many other gravity-defying impossibilities that these apologists serve up as comparisons. Sometimes these folks tout disclosure as the answer to what ails our democracy, sometimes not.

Either way, they seem to have one basic point: regulating money in politics is bad, and even if it weren't bad, it's impossible, so don't bother. This argument was particularly in vogue during last year's presidential election, when a handful of rich folks gave tens of millions of dollars to 527 groups to influence elections.

In an op-ed in Newsweek, John McCain takes issue with this wrongheaded rationale, pointing out that the main reason that these individuals and groups were able to evade the limits of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, also known as McCain-Feingold) was that the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) refused to enforce the BCRA's contribution limits for groups trying to influence federal elections.

Sometimes, the difference between an effective system of regulating money in politics and one which is ineffective boils down to the watchdog agency responsible for enforcing the laws. While it can be very difficult to get self-interested legislators to a) pass real reform legislation which truly levels the playing field and b) empower a strong watchdog capable of enforcing the rules, it is certainly no more impossible than building a dam, putting a man on the moon, or squeezing a tube of toothpaste, all of which have been done before with considerable success.

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