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William F. Buckley Jr.

If you are in search of details on financial traffic moving about, paying for all the political ads we come across, plus high living for the traffic cops, go to your computer and try searching for “Federal Election Commission” on the Internet.

Pause. If you do not have a computer or ready access to one, just accustom yourself to a widening world of privation, as if, every day, one fewer light bulb in your universe came on.

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A subheading in the Federal Election Commission’s listing takes you to “Presidential Campaign Finance Map.” Here we get a reading on campaign-finance traffic as of last fall. All this year’s presidential candidates taken together had received $372 million from individuals. The size of the donations bears thought. The two most substantial groups of givers are those who gave $200 or less, and those who gave $1,000 or more. From the modest givers, $76 million; from the high rollers, $260 million; with an even $100 million coming from all the categories in between.

From which parts of the country did the money flow? There are no great surprises. One finds the biggest balloon in California, one nearly as big in New York State, and somewhat smaller but still sizable ones in Greater Washington, D.C., Texas, Florida, and Illinois.
And now for the recipients.

Democrats had taken in $241 million. Republicans, $175 million. These are close enough to warrant rapid reading: a dollar for the party that sponsors the things I’ve been getting, a dollar and 37 cents for the party that promises me more than I am now getting. Albert Jay Nock put it crassly 75 years ago when he said that politics is a means of accumulating money without manual labor. Of course, there are a hundred other uses of government than merely to act as the agent for redistribution, but for such purposes as we have in mind, Nock’s adage is useful.

All right then, who are the recipients? The party out of power quite reasonably catches the eye of the petitioner: the party from which better conditions, in his view, will come than have come from the party in power. As noted, $175 million for the maintenance team, $241 million for the aspirant replacement team.

And the eye comes, finally, to individuals being courted by the donors, stimulating thought as to why the numbers went as they did. #1 was Mrs. Clinton, with $89 million. Much of the money she received reflects the donors’ attraction to a favorite. In some contests, only the winner matters; this is not quite the case in a presidential race, because the runner-up may gain influence from a strong showing. And there can always be the candidate who is campaigning on a novel doctrine that catches the favorable notice of the backers. Still, front-runner status undeniably brings in cash.

Surprisingly close to Mrs. Clinton’s $89 million was Barack Obama’s $79 million. This presaged the revolution that was. Next in line were three Republicans: Romney with $62 million, Giuliani with $47 million, and McCain with $31 million. Then came Edwards at $30 million. A caution: these figures do not disclose self-financing. Thanks to the Buckley-Valeo bill — co-sponsored 30-some years ago by the Sainted Junior Senator from New York, on the grounds that the then-new campaign-financing law violated freedom of speech — no limits are permissible on what John Edwards can give to Edwards-for-President. Then there are a few eclectic distributions. Who on earth gave $13 million to Senator Dodd, and why? And meanwhile, Huckabee, with $2.3 million, was nearly at the bottom of the list, behind candidates such as Joe Biden and Sam Brownback.

So the net of the distribution of political giving is, up to a point, reassuring. We learn that the huge sum of $76 million can come in from small donors. The big contributors — corporations, labor unions, trade associations — continue dominant, but not decisive.

And the entire exercise can be carried away by one truly explosive political tornado — as we saw last Thursday.

© 2008 United Press Syndicate



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