The Lonely Centrist

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Another reason campaign finance reform is a bad idea

Another reason campaign finance reform is a bad idea is demonstrated by President Bush's new appointees to the Federal Election Commission, announced yesterday. They are Democrats Robert Lenhard and Steven Walther, and Republicans David Mason (reappointed) and Hans A. von Spakovsky (see p. 6 of the last of these links) (Is this a picture of Hans?).

The problem is unrelated to any criticism these nominees are likely to get from the so-called "reform" community, though they will get plenty. The problem is not the nominees, but a law that screws up the political system and allows politicians to try to use the power of government to directly harass their political opponents.

Let's start with Spakovsky. The types of criticisms you see in the articles linked above (He's anti-voting rights blah blah blah) are more or less left wing garbage and hysteria. That's not the problem. But Spakovsky is, as those articles reveal, an expert in voter fraud and voting systems, not campaign finance - see especially the New Yorker article (scroll down a bit for the part on Hans). Why was he appointed to the FEC, which is all about campaign finance? Well, here is a quote from the White House, through the Kansas City Star: "The president believes that he will take a fair and accurate view of the federal regulations and also the role that the agency plays in rule making," said White House spokeswoman Erin Healy.

And what does that mean? According to the Skeptic, a very knowledgeable observer who appears to have been the first to report Spakovsky's impending nomination, the Republican and White House political machinery is obsessed with using the regulatory power of the FEC to "get" it's political opponents organized as 527 organizations. And the White House was known to be very upset that the man Spakovsky will replace, Bradley Smith, never accepted the White House's interpretation of the law regarding 527s, and successfully built a bi-partisan coalition of Commissioners to head off regulation at the FEC.

It is hard to think that Spakovsky will not be a more partisan commissioner than Smith. Similarly, Don Lenhard has been named to replace Scott Thomas. Scott Thomas was almost certainly the most regulatory members of the Commission, and that was bad. But he was also probably one of the least partisan. Lenhard is reported to be less regulatory, but as a long-time Union lawyer, it is probably fair to suspect that he will be more reflexively pro-union/pro-Democrat and anti-GOP member. Steve Walther, meanwhile, was Democratic leader Henry Reid's recount attorney.

The McCain-Feingold law, and the Supreme Court's shameful opinion upholding it, have dramatically raised the opportunities for the use of campaign finance law for partisan purposes. These nominations suggest to the Centrist that both sides are gearing up for that battle. This is not good government, but an abandonment of the once unremarkable proposition that voters, not lawyers, ought to decide elections. You'd have to be quite naive to think otherwise.

  • The Skeptic
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Michael Barone
  • The New Republic
  • National Review
  • Democracy Project
  • Bob Bauer
  • Center for Competitive Politics
  • Ryan Sager
  • Going to the Matt
  • Professor Bainbridge
  • Volokh Conspiracy
  • Mystery Pollster
  • Amitai Etzioni
  • Alexander Chrenkoff
  • Middle East Media Research Institute
  • Right Democrat
  • Democrats for Life