Donald Lambro

Remember when John McCain was decrying the corrupting influence of big money in our elections?

Well, since McCain and his band of reformers passed the stringent new law, here's what happened: The amount of contributions an individual can give to each candidate per election has jumped from $1,000 to $2,300; all of that so-called big money in the past has grown bigger, with presidential candidates talking about raising $100 million this year alone to prepare for the 2008 primaries; and McCain and some of his fellow reformers say they doubt they'll abide by the limits in the presidential public-financing system they enacted into law.

Such are the unintended consequences of hyperventilating reformers who promise that if we just exert the power of the state to prevent people from freely giving to whomever they wish, we can take big money out of our elections. But we now find it's very hard for these lawmakers to live by the rules they want to impose on the rest of us.

When McCain, one of the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination, appeared on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on Nov. 19, he was asked this question:

"If you choose to run, will you stay inside the public-financing system or go around it?"

McCain, seemingly caught off guard by the question, replied, "I don't think -- it depends, one, on what other candidates might do."

So far, it appears that his chief rivals -- former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- intend to raise as much money as they can for the primary cycle, dodging the limits on how much they can spend.

That appears to be the case, too, among the Democratic presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards.

"This may be the first election where the nominees may not take public funding in the general election as well, but that remains to be seen," said campaign-finance law attorney Jan Baran. "It's tough to turn down a check for $70 million with no fund-raising costs."

But why should they when there's so much money available just for the asking?

Take a look at what's happening in the behind-the-scenes battle going on between Clinton and Obama in the pre-primary race for big money, or what some in the fund-raising business call "serious money." The word on the street is that Obama is effectively challenging Clinton's advantage on the money trail.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.