After nearly a decade of hard work, advocates of campaign-finance reform can finally rejoice. Campaign-finance nirvana has arrived! It's called the George W. Bush re-election campaign.
For years, reform advocates told us that unregulated, large contributions -- so-called "soft money"-- were the root of all evil in financing U.S. elections. They allegedly allowed "fat cat" special interests to "buy" candidates. Campaign-finance reformer Sen. John McCain called soft money "disgusting" and nothing more than "a political shakedown."
The McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill was signed into law in 2002 with the enthusiastic support of Democrats, marking the achievement of a key liberal ambition. The law banned soft money in order to place more emphasis on "hard money" -- regulated donations strictly limited to $2,000 per person. (The law is probably unconstitutional -- a topic for another day.)
Now, as National Review reporter Byron York has pointed out, President George W. Bush is tightly following the fund-raising script written by reform advocates. He's raising funds in $2,000 bites at large events drawing on real people interested in supporting his campaign.
For this, Bush should be on the verge of winning the endorsement of The Center for Public Integrity, a high-profile Washington-based organization behind campaign-finance reform. McCain should be volunteering to be chairman of Bush's fund-raising effort, hailing its exemplary practices and its example of "clean" politics.
Instead, Bush's campaign is drawing criticism for raising money exactly the way campaign reformers have always said it should be raised. You'd think he was gobbling up donations in $100,000 soft-money chunks.
"It's the most coldblooded and efficient way of raising money in the history of politics," Charles Lewis, head of The Center for Public Integrity, has huffed. "These aren't your average Americans. They're the most well-heeled interests, with vested interests in government."
Liberal New York Times columnist Bob Herbert brays that Bush fund-raising dinners are "events at which the fat cats throw millions of dollars at the president to reinforce their already impenetrable ring of influence around the national government."
Campaign-finance reformers have redefined "fat cat." It no longer means someone who gives a six- or seven-figure political contribution and doesn't feel the difference in his pocketbook. It is anyone who contributes to the Bush campaign.