Nine times out of ten, Campaign Finance Reform is a fraud or at best a Trojan Horse. Ask someone why we need CFR and most of the time the response will be to a question you didn’t ask: “People want honest government!” “We need a change from politics as usual!” Now, these could be answers to questions like “Why should Bill Clinton be singing ‘You Made Me Love You’ at his medium-security prison’s skit night?” Or, “Why should Sam Donaldson ask all of his questions in pig-Latin?”
Even the two most common honest and responsive answers are entirely unsatisfying. The first is total ignorance — “duh, I dunno, but I read an editorial in the New York Times which said this was a problem.” The second answer involves gassy whining about symbolism: “What does it say about a country, if rich (i.e. corrupt) people can have more influence than poor people?”
(Just for the record, rich people always will, always have, and most often always should have more influence than poor people. This is not necessarily a defense of rich Right-wingers, by the way. After all, most of the famous liberals you know — Ted Kennedy, Barbra Streisand, Ted Turner, Jane Fonda, Michael Moore, Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader, Bill Moyers, Alec Baldwin, Toni Morrison — are multimillionaires, and they’re the ones who don’t want poor inner-city kids to have scholarships. But that’s a topic for a different column.)
There are a few CFR advocates who have some substance on their side. Some people believe that but for our corrupt system, we would be able to implement all sorts of liberal policies — which on their face are so obviously correct only corruption could explain their absence. In other words, if evil multinationals weren’t getting in the way, we would have universal health care, Head Start, multi-partner limited-duration marriage, moving sidewalks, dogs that don’t go to the bathroom, etc. So essentially, their problem is not with the campaign-finance system per se, but with the failure of the democratic system in toto (which does not mean inside Dorothy’s dog) to enact their sacred cows. In other words, they don’t really care about the “corruption” of the car’s engine, they’re just pissed it ain’t going to Disney World. It’s not a dishonest argument, it’s just one that confuses means and ends.
On the right, some say that we need campaign-finance reform in order to curb the baleful influence of truly corrupt trial lawyers and operationally corrupt unions, as well as to purge our constipated tax code. This, too, is a “we’re not going to Disney World” complaint. But that doesn’t mean there’s no merit to it. Still, after twenty-five years of finance “reform,” it is very difficult to see how further tweaking in the direction most reformers advocate will make things better.
Okay, fine. But none of these positions, postures or polemics includes Al Gore’s approach to the issue. No, he has come up with something pretty novel. He’s sort of like a young child who thinks he needs all new toys; not because he deserves them, not because he even wants them, but because he broke all of his old ones.
THE GORE DEFENSE Charles Manson announced today that he believes we need much stronger laws against murder because they were not a sufficient deterrent for him last time around. “I’ve learned from my mistakes,” declared the serial killer. “That is why I am making murder reform my number 1 issue.”
The problem is that if Manson made such an announcement it would be more honest than what Gore is doing. At least Manson faced a real trial (and Gore’s self-comparison to John McCain’s Keating scandal involvement doesn’t wash either; that, too, was fully investigated ).
Gore has, on the other hand, “admitted mistakes” — but he hasn’t admitted what those mistakes are. Whenever he’s asked about them, he simply says “that’s old news.” That is not an explanation, that is not contrition, that is not straight talk. That is the kind of bogus spin and petty manipulation that is only slightly less sickening than the media’s willingness to accept it.
His eager accomplice Janet Reno has by all appearances — and according to the New York Times’s coverage no less — covered up Gore’s malfeasance. Gore says he didn’t know the Buddhist Temple visit was a fundraiser, even though he wrote a memo to his own staff calling it a fundraiser. Gore says he never saw documents referring to it as a fundraiser, even though there are photos of him looking at the memos. Gore says he wasn’t paying attention during the relevant meeting, even though former Chief of Staff Leon Panetta says Gore was quite attentive. Gore says he didn’t know how the DNC was raising funds because he wasn’t a hands-on participant in the decision-making process. This, even though everyone knows our Vice President is such an anally retentive control freak that if he were a comic-book character bran would be his kryptonite.
Now, breaking campaign-fundraising laws is not the same thing as murdering a lot of people, especially if you think the laws are ridiculous in the first place. But, if you are going to make campaign-finance reform the centerpiece of your presidential bid, you need to explain why such laws are useful and effective. After all, if campaign-finance laws will prevent abuses, how come the ones already on the books didn’t prevent Gore from breaking the law in the first place?
Ah, Gore says, he wants comprehensive reform, which presumably means keeping the same laws, in essence, with steeper penalties and fewer loopholes. But Mr. Gore knew that, for instance, it was against the law to make those calls from his office — that was a no-no for his entire Senate career. Mr. Gore knew that his fundraiser was illegal enough for him to lie about what it really was. These laws did not deter Gore, and yet he is demanding more similar laws.
How will they deter anyone else? I don’t have to answer that question because I think there should be no rules except one: full disclosure of where the money is coming from. Gore, on the other hand, thinks these laws are so important they should be the centerpiece of his campaign. If that’s the case, shouldn’t he explain why they didn’t work on the second ranking law-enforcement officer in the land?