Politics & Policy

Party On

Why does John McCain want to punish the political parties?

Almost everyone agrees that the campaign-finance-reform bill will hurt the parties, shifting resources from them to independent groups like the NAACP and the NRA.

But almost everyone shrugs off this fact — the parties are considered somehow disrespectable, as somehow deserving of the hit they will take from Shays-Meehan.

They aren’t.

As NR asks in the current issue, how would it be possible for both parties to be simultaneously corrupted by “soft money,” when they hold diametrically opposed positions on most issues?

The very idea of these huge sprawling national institutions being “bought” with a $100,000 contribution is absurd.

If you are looking for a corrupt-seeming practice, a more-likely candidate would be committee chairmen raising money from corporations they regulate.

An example, of course, is John McCain, then-chairman of the Senate commerce committee, taking $30,000 from employees of Global Crossing, the recently bankrupt company that is not Enron.

Now, I don’t think that McCain was corrupted by Global Crossing. There are just too many other considerations important to him for that to happen — these include his ideas, his integrity, his reputation, and his constituents.

But the point is that if Global Crossing wanted a special favor, it would go to someone like McCain for it, not the Republican party.

Parties don’t take positions on appropriations riders, on midnight amendments, and on other legislative minutia that might be important to special interests. Individual lawmakers do.

So, in this sense, the whole thrust of Shays-Meehan is misdirected. The parties are being punished for an appearance of a kind of corruption that they really aren’t even capable of.

Parties don’t have sex with interns.

Parties don’t abruptly shift their positions on fundamental issues.

Parties don’t take bribes.

They are too big for all that, and too concerned with advancing two differing ideologies in which they both sincerely believe.

This is why the poor reputation of political parties is so undeserved. The NAACP and NRA may be great (you will obviously like one more than the other), but they have relatively narrow interests.

In our politics, the parties are the two institutions that think most broadly about what’s good for the nation, rather than what’s good for a specific constituency.

They take a multitude of impulses and ideas, reconcile them into a fairly coherent worldview, and try to get people elected who agree with that worldview.

Just think of all the Enron soft money that supposedly went to corrupting the Democratic party. What was it spent on? Ads attacking tax cuts for the rich, efforts to register new voters, sound trucks on Election Day in urban neighborhoods, etc.

All of these things are about advancing a political argument and getting people to vote. And for that, the parties are going to bear the brunt of the Shays-Meehan effort to “clean up” politics.

What a travesty. If I had $100,000 to give each party before the new rules kick in, I would.

As for John McCain, he’ll have to look for contributions elsewhere — like all those companies he regulates.


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