The Lonely Centrist

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Potter and Wertheimer vs. the Reform Community

Recently, a pair of card carrying anti-campaign finance reform lawyers, Bob Bauer and Jan Baran, actually got the New York Times to run a column they wrote in which they note that campaign finance reform has failed to prevent scandals such as the activities of Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham.

This set off two of the denizens of the reform community, Fred "the Most Naive Man in America" Wertheimer and Trevor Potter. In a New York Times letter and in a lengthy column posted on their own web sites, they emphatically denied that campaign finance reform can be blamed for the failure to stop Abramoff and Cunningham. After all, they claim, they never said it would.

So I was curious: Does campaign finance reform clean up government in the sense that it can prevent scandals such as Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham?

To find out, I took a camera crew (well, actually I took a Google search engine and 10 minutes of my day) and headed out to ask some real reformers: "Are the Abramoff scandals connected to campaign finance reform?" Because it seems to me that the reformers cannot have it both ways - either they are connected, in which case campaign finance reforms of the past can be criticized for having failed to prevent them, or they are not, in which case the scandals can hardly be used to support the case for more reform.

Here's what I learned:

Yes, they are connected
The indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay; the metastasizing investigation into the web-spinning of lobbyist Jack Abramoff; and the revelation that Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham accepted over $2.4 million in bribes from a defense contractor all tended in favor of strengthening the FEC.
- James Samples, Associate General Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice

Yes, connected
Full public financing of Congressional elections is not an idea whose time has come. But the public disgust with the Abramoff scandal will make the case for some public money in elections.
Reformer Norm Ornstein

Yes, connected
Lobbyists and the wealthy special interests they represent would have very little of the kind of power deployed by fixers like Jack Abramoff if Members of Congress weren't so desperate for the one thing they provide: Big Money to finance their campaigns. If you don't change that, even the best-intentioned Members of Congress will find themselves altering their behavior to suit the needs of Big Money.
- Micah Sifry, Senior Analyst, Public Campaign

Yes, connected
Just last week, Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), the infamous "representative #1" from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's January plea agreement, announced he would not run for re-election after all. Ney allegedly accepted a long list of favors from Abramoff in exchange for helping the lobbyist and his clients.

Ney was immediately declared the latest political casualty of the Abramoff scandal, joining the ranks of former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), who resigned last April and former Christian Coalition golden boy Ralph Reed, who lost his Republican primary race for the lieutenant governorship of Georgia. Other lawmakers, among others, caught in the Abramoff net include Reps. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), Richard Pombo (R-CA), John Doolittle (R-CA), and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MN). All took contributions from Abramoff or his clients and took actions in their interests.

Clean Elections represents a way out of the pay-to-play system that ensnares so many members of Congress.
Nick Nyhart, Executive Director, Public Campaign

No, not connected
The logic behind attempting to lay the Jack Abramoff and “Duke” Cunningham scandals on BCRA’s doorstep for failing to stop corruption, completely escapes us. Bribery of public officials was illegal before the passage of BCRA, remains so today and must continue to be rooted out to protect the integrity of our government. BCRA did not affect the bribery laws, nor make them obsolete.
Fred Wertheimer (the Most Naive Man in America), President Democracy 21 and Trevor Potter, Chairman, Campaign Legal Center, August 16, 2006.

Hmmm. It appears that Mr. Wertheimer and Mr. Potter are out of step with the "Reform Community."

  • 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