The Lonely Centrist

A place for reasoned debate about the issues of the day.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Particular Expertise of Congress

Followers of campaign finance law will recall that the Supreme Court upheld the McCain-Feingold law in part on its belief that it owed especially great deference to campaign statutes, an area where members of Congress had particular expertise.

From yesterday's Congressional Quarterly, we learn:

Despite reports he may run for another term in Congress, GOP Rep. Elton Gallegly, who announced his retirement last week, plans to pursue "both legislative and judicial options" for reopening the candidate filing period in his district, a spokesman said today. ... Gallegly had already filed his
candidacy before he announced two hours before last Friday's filing deadline that he would not seek re-election because of a health problem. Gallegly was unable to remove his name from the ballot, and little known Westlake Village attorney Michael Tenenbaum was the only other filed Republican. ... Gallegly has said he thought his retirement would allow officials to extend the filing deadline another five days. However, that provision in state law does not apply to congressional races.

Former GOP Assemblyman Tony Strickland ... attempted to file for Gallegly's seat, but his paperwork was denied because he had already filed to run for state controller.

Particular expertise, indeed. These guys may know how to campaign, but wouldn't know election law if it bit them in the proverbial behind.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Unrepresentative Information: Lies About HR 1606

House Bill HR 1606, the On Line Freedom of Speech Act, is going to committee today. It is under withering, and fundamentally dishonest, assault, from campaign finance "reformers," as explained here and here.

This brings to mind an article called to my attention a while back, a piece in Public Opinion Quarterly by Stephen Ansolabehere, Erik Snowberg, and James Snyder of MIT, titled, "Unrepresentative Information."
From the abstract:
We compile all stories from the five largest circulation newspapers in the United States that mention a dollar amount for campaign expenditures, contributions, or receipts from 1996 to 2000. We compare these figures to those recorded by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The average figures reported in newspapers exceed the figures from the FEC by as much as eightfold. Press reports also focus excessively on corporate contributions and soft money, rather than on the more common types of donors—individual—and types of contributions—hard money. We further find that these biases are reflected in public perceptions of money in elections. Survey respondents overstate the amount of money raised and the share from different groups by roughly the amount found in newspapers, and better-educated people (those most likely to read newspapers) showed the greatest discrepancy between their beliefs and the facts.

Why is this so? It's because the "reform" groups are dishonest with the press, and the lamebrains at the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal (news pages), Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post - the five papers in question - are too lazy or stupid to question them.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Do small donors matter?

McCain-Feingold doesn't seem to have accomplished much. Campaigns remain expensive and negative, special interest influence remains unchecked, and office holders still spend a lot of time raising funds.

This doesn't stop supporters from claiming success. But they don't have much to point to. So the one thing they do point to is that the national political parties are raising more contributions in small amounts. OK, fair enough.

Does that matter? This recent joint report of the Campaign Finance Institute and the Institute for Politics and Democracy on the Internet suggests not. As the Washington Post sums it up:

Because there is not a major ideological difference between all large
and small donors, the authors of the study concluded that the "increasing
numbers of small donors are not a polarizing influence."

But that would also mean that small donors don't really change the impact of big donors, wouldn't it? It would suggest that when candidates respond to the interest of big donors, they are also responding to the interest of small donors. And from there it is hardly a leap to suggest that they are also responding to the interests of their constituents and the voters to whom they are ultimately accountable. If that's true, the entire rationale for campaign finance regulation comes apart.

One wonders why the Pew funded folks at IPDI and CFI - who are true believers in "reform," if slightly more moderate than than other true believers, figured this out before publishing their report.

  • 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