Paul Jacob

In politics, everything is a fight. Take pocketing $75 million of our tax dollars ? the public pay-out to finance the presidential campaigns of John Kerry and George W. Bush. Even this requires intense machinations by the Kerry camp followed by calculated recriminations from the Bush camp.

It may amuse Republicans to see Kerry and the Democrats squirming, but they should remember that in 1996 Bill Clinton used his financial advantage and the cockamamie public financing rules to pulverize Bob Dole with a blizzard of ads to which Dole couldn't respond. Dole had campaigned under public financing rules, which mandated spending caps. His speech was capped, his campaign knee-capped.

The situation is serious enough that Kerry considered not accepting the nomination at the taxpayer-funded Democratic Party Convention in Boston this July. That way he could continue to raise and spend private dollars until September 1, when both President Bush and he will go under the public funding regime.

The problem for Kerry is that once he accepts the $75 million in tax dollars, he will be limited. For more than a month. Meanwhile, Bush can raise and spend unlimited dollars. It also means that Kerry has $75 million to spend over three months, while Bush has $75 million to spend over just two months.

Now Kerry says he will indeed accept the nomination at the convention. But it took pressure: he decided this after NBC hinted that it might pull its very valuable coverage if Kerry wasn't going to actually accept the nomination in Boston.

Politics on the dole

Still, the problem of an uneven playing field remains. Even worse, the presidential public financing system regularly dictates much of the campaigns. The Democrats chose to have their convention much earlier than usual ? late July ? precisely because of the public funding rules. Democrats wanted to avoid running out of funds against the always well-funded sitting president, as happened to Mr. Dole.

How did we get here, where supposedly free campaigns in a supposedly free country are increasingly dictated by rules passed by the political hacks in Congress and enforced through a two-party controlled cabal, the Federal Election Commission?

Public financing certainly isn't needed: there are plenty of private donations. In fact, in this cycle the most serious candidates opted out of the "voluntary" public financing system so they could raise and spend more private money.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.