Second, when the big contributions were being funneled through political parties, there was at least some check on what the ads would say. After all, a party is interested in appealing to the most people it can. It?s not going to risk turning off millions of potential voters with an overly harsh commercial. But a 527 is often reaching out to only one person -- the man who?s writing it a check. So it?s free to be as negative as it wants.
Meanwhile, one of the biggest failings of the pre-reform campaign finance system -- that it gave too much influence to extremely wealthy people -- has gone unaddressed.
Individual ?hard money? donations to candidates were limited to $1,000, but wealthy people could spend as much of their own money as they wanted. So we got billionaires including Ross Perot, Jon Corzine and Michael Huffington running for office, not because they were the most qualified, but because they were the richest people available. Today, our ?reformed? system gives the wealthy even more influence, as they can funnel tens of millions of dollars directly into negative advertising.
The Senate rules committee recently passed a measure to ?fix? this problem by regulating 527 groups. But that will never work. If money is blocked from flowing to 527s, it will simply surface somewhere else.
Real reform would allow anyone to donate any amount to any candidate at any time -- and every dollar would be public knowledge. The candidate would be able to spend the money in any way he wanted to, but he?d have to acknowledge the donation within 24 hours on a government Web site.
If a candidate can convince George Soros to write him a check for $10 million, so be it, as long as it?s instantly reported. All citizens would know who was giving donations to whom, and the government could fire all its campaign finance lawyers.
There will always be money in politics, so let?s have a real free market to regulate it.
Then we could leave the circus trials to Jennifer Wilbanks and Michael Jackson.