Thomas Sowell

THE Enron scandal was welcomed like an unexpected Christmas present by Democrats who, together with much of the media, have tried to tie the scandal to the Bush administration. However, as more and more information has come out about Enron, it has become clear that this company contributed money to Democrats and Republicans alike, to both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Moreover, when Enron got into big trouble, the only person who tried to get the government to help it out was a former member of the Clinton administration, who phoned a high official of the Bush administration -- who refused to do anything. If Enron thought that all the money it was spreading around among politicians was going to produce results when the chips were down, it was sadly mistaken. If anything, their experience corroborated what Harry Truman said long ago: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."

Like the man who said that everything reminded him of sex, for some people in politics and the media everything reminds them of a need for campaign finance reform. The Enron scandal is no exception and is now being used to show why it is urgent to restrict campaign contributions.

The main argument for campaign finance reform is that money contributed to politicians corrupts the laws and policies they vote for. However, the things proposed under that rationale include restricting some kinds of political activity used by some interest groups but not other kinds of political activity used by other interest groups.

What would be the consequence of selectively reducing the ability of some segments of American society to promote their views as to what the government should and should not do?

Obviously it shifts the balance toward those who are allowed to continue to promote their own views on the issues of the day. Above all, restrictions on what others can say and do helps incumbents.

Elected officials can generate all sorts of self-serving publicity by their pronouncements, legislation, hearings, and a variety of activities that are reported as "news," even though they are basically advertising. None of that would be banned by campaign finance reform.

What is piously called "campaign finance reform" could more accurately be called the incumbents' protection act. One of the earliest uses of federal restrictions on political advertising -- the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 -- was a 1972 federal attempt to get a court injunction against a group of people who advertised for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate