On this Election Day, it seems particularly apt to reflect on "the corrupting influence of money" (click to see what a cliche that phrase has become) on politics.
Congress has been trying to choke off political spending for over thirty years. Each new law or regulation is touted as the one we need to finally stop the corrupting influence of money. "This time fer shoooor," as Bullwinkle used to say.
The result is that today, we're looking at an off-year election where the campaign costs will end up being north of a billion dollars.
Why? Well, if you have two brain cells to rub together, the answer is obvious. Advertising costs money. Driving or flying around your state costs money. Do you think those TV and radio commercials are free? Is gasoline for your car or campaign bus cheaper now than it was ten years ago?
And since there has been a flood of campaign finance laws and regulations since 1974, candidates now have to hire people who fill out reports for the Federal Election Commission, and lawyers to make sure they don't run afoul of financing regulations. Do you think those lawyers and accountants work pro bono? Campaign finance reform actually makes campaigning more expensive, meaning you need to rake in more money just to tread water (mixing metaphors there). Isn't the irony delicious?
So we're told we need more laws to choke off all this supposedly corrupting money. Incumbents - mostly Democratic incumbents - love this idea, because they can send out all the "letters to my district" they want at taxpayer expense, touting all the wonderful ways in which they've earmarked legislation to bring more money back to their district. Meanwhile, if the Democrats had their way, their opponents would be reduced to raiding their own bank accounts if they wanted to mount a challenge. Choke off the flow of money, and you've choked off your opponent's ability to get his message out. Free speech is great - if you can get the taxpayers to fund yours and stifle your opponents' at the same time.
Money will find a way to candidates' pockets, no matter what you do. Pass more laws to close supposed loopholes, and they'll find more and better loopholes. And if you do somehow, miraculously close all the loopholes, candidates will start getting nothing but completely untraceable cash donations.
And if you don't think that is a corrupting influence...