The reformers' thinking goes something like this, Schmitt writes: "Money is a bad thing that should be kept out of politics. ŒBig money' is worse. ŒPrivate money' is bad, Œpublic money' is good. Instead of asking, ŒHow can we encourage the kind of things we think are healthy for democracy?' ... They see the money move to another stream, and they try to dam that stream, then the next and the next."
This sort of thinking is guaranteed to lead to disappointment. Campaign finance reform doesn't keep money out of politics, as the price inflation demonstrates. It merely skews the market, making it harder for rookies and amateurs to get in and easier for the pros and incumbents to game the system.
It's a lot like government tuition aid. Intended to keep costs low, these programs have driven tuitions skyward. The richest kids can afford college without government help or big loans (and they can afford to pay for tutors in order to get into their preferred school), but few others can.
Similarly, the richest candidates or the candidates with the biggest war chests - surprise! they tend to be officeholders - love campaign finance reform because it burdens the competition. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, largely bought his U.S. Senate seat with $68 million of his own money and his governorship with $43 million. In 2000, George W. Bush opted out of public funding for the primaries. He did it again in 2004, and John Kerry did, too. Seeing that the system holds back the suckers, Hillary Clinton has announced she's ditching public funding entirely. If Bloomberg runs, he might not even try to raise money.
"Campaign contributions from a single source that run to the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars are not healthy to a democracy," Sen. John McCain declared in 2001. "Is that not self-evident?"
Well, it's about as self-evident as the notion that having a candidate give himself $500 million to run for president is healthy for democracy. Which is where "reform" has gotten us.
Bloomberg fans might say: "Hey, it's a free country, why shouldn't he be able to blow his money on politics if he wants?" The answer is: He should be. The questions in response should be: Why aren't non-billionaires allowed to do the same thing? And: Why is it only OK when you're making donations to yourself?