The Lonely Centrist

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Fred Wertheimer, the Most Naive Man in America?

Fred Wertheimer is the President of a tax-free group called Democracy 21, which relies on large donations from the Pew Charitable Trust, George Soros's Open Society Institute, and a few other large foundations for its funding. With this money, it lobbies extensively for restrictions on people's rights to participate in political campaigns and to talk about politicians and issues, or what is euphemistically called, "Campaign Finance Reform." Before that Wertheimer was President of Common Cause, another group which lobbied extensively for limits on everyone else's right to participate in politics. Strange, perhaps, but neither Common Cause nor Democracy 21 have ever proposed regulations limiting their own right to speak.

The Wall Street Journal once called Wertheimer, "the man who ruined politics." For Wertheimer, as much as anyone in America, even John McCain, is responsible for the political catastrophe that is called "campaign finance reform." And since the passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act in the early 1970s, what a disaster it has been. Campaigns are longer, nastier, they cost more, incumbents have more advantages and win more, and by bigger margins, no one thinks our politics are "less corrupt" or "more equal," and Americans now have to hire a lawyer if they want to do more than talk politics by the water cooler.

Anyway, yesterday the Capitol Hill magazine the Hill had an article about the body that enforces Wertheimer's monstrosity, the Federal Election Commission. The Commission is governed by six Commissioners, by law no more than 3 from any one party, meaning 3 Republicans and 3 Democrats. By tradition, although it is a presidential appointment, each party picks its own commissioners. It seems that no fewer than 4 of the 6 Commissioners on the FEC - two Republicans and two Democrats - have completed their terms. Republican Commissioner Bradley Smith has announced that he will leave the Commission on August 21 to return to teaching law at Capital University. Smith, who has become something of an underground hero, see here, here, here, and here, was always an unlikely Commissioner - he once wrote a book called, "Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform." Three other Commissioners, Republican David Mason and Democrats Scott Thomas and Danny McDonald, are continuing to serve even though their terms formally ended months, or in the case of Mason and Thomas, more than two years ago. Under the law, they can serve until replaced.

Anyway - really, this time - what the Hill tells us is that replacements have been selected, though not yet nominated. On the Democratic side, a lawyer named Steve Walther, who was Minority Leader Harry Reid's lawyer when he won his 1996 election in a recount, will replace McDonald, and Robert Lenhardt, former general counsel at AFSCME, a key Democratic-oriented labor union that spends big time on politics, will get the nod to replace Thomas. On the Republican side, Mason will probably be reappointed, but two candidates are mentioned for Smith's seat (and it's still possible one could replace Mason, I suppose) - Don McGahn, General Counsel to the Republican National Congressional Committee, and Craig Burkhardt, former President of the Republican National Lawyers Association and General Counsel to the Illinois Republican Party - which just happens to be the home state of House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Wertheimer is shocked by this. In a Democracy 21 Press Release, (not up on their web site yet, but sent to media, from which the Lonely Centrist received a copy) Wertheimer says, "Democratic and Republican congressional leaders... are working to make the Federal Election Commission a wholly owned subsidiary of Congress, with an overriding mandate to protect the members, at the expense of the public. ... President Bush appears ready to take a lead role in this outrageous effort."

A friend passes on this note from another friend:

Dear Fred,

You've worked for years to put control of political speech into the hands
of politicians, and you thought it would turn out well?

Sums it up pretty well, I think.

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