Michael Barone

Some now urge that filibusters be abolished altogether or somehow restricted. The result is likely to be development of other devices available under Senate rules to achieve similar objectives.

There has been a similar phenomenon in the efforts over the years to limit the influence of money in electoral politics. Going back more than 100 years, Congress and state legislatures have tried to build dams to stop vast rivers of money flowing downstream into campaigns.

The result is that slowly moving rivulets are steered into other channels, then rush in vast torrents down slopes into supposedly forbidden landscape.

To switch from watery metaphor to legal analysis, there is an inevitable tension between campaign finance limitations and the First Amendment. Supreme Court justices may try to limit its protections to student armbands, nude dancing and flag burning. But its real purpose is to protect political speech -- which costs money.

Much of the impetus for campaign finance limitations came from those who fear that the rich will give one party an insuperable advantage in election after election.

Half a century ago, Republicans seemed to have such an advantage. But those days are gone.

What has happened instead is that, as political spending has zoomed past intended limits, citizens acting on calculation or conviction have been donating about equal amounts to both parties.

In response to new restrictions, they do so increasingly without disclosure. So campaign finance reform has resulted in more money and less accountability.

Lesson: Unless you're prepared to abolish entirely the House of Lords (as Oliver Cromwell did in the 1650s) or the U.S. Senate, or ban private campaign spending, there's a good chance that any reform you make will exacerbate rather than alleviate the things you dislike.

Especially if you're refighting the battles of the past rather than anticipating how institutions will adapt to the future. Reform sometimes makes thing worse.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM