Skip to comments.(Now it's) Time to pay attention to campaign financing
Posted on 08/26/2004 4:14:04 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
As Republicans prepare to gather next week for their national convention in New York, most Americans probably realize that there won't be too much in the way of news. The voters have grasped a simple truth: The convention is not the start of anything - and they refuse to treat it with a seriousness it does not deserve.
Unfortunately, the campaign finance laws haven't shown similar wisdom. They treat the conventions as they once were: The beginning of the race. This anachronistic way of viewing conventions as the firing of the starting gun is to President Bush (news - web sites)'s financial advantage and John Kerry (news - web sites)'s dismay.
Unless the laws are changed to reflect the current reality, we may be facing a two-convention pileup the next time around.
The way it used to be
The convention once truly represented the start of the electoral campaign. Going into the quadrennial gatherings, the parties frequently had no idea who their candidates would be. History abounds with dark-horse candidates, such as James Polk or Wendell Willkie.
As recently as the Republican convention of 1976, when President Ford dueled with Ronald Reagan (news - web sites), the choice wasn't certain until the convention. Voters were not pushed to pay close attention to the potential candidates, as the electorate for the nomination was the state and local-party leaders.
However, the rise of the primary system has upended this structure. Now the voters make the choice, and the impact on the conventions has been cataclysmic. The conventions have gone from being potentially riveting affairs to boring parties. Gone are the spirited floor debates, the long-winded speeches and the political fire whose flames were fed throughout convention week.
The fact that the famed "convention bounce" is disappearing is no surprise. The parties are still trying to portray the convention as a place for the country to get a full view of a new leader, but all that occurs is a rollout of an existing and battered brand.
Even though the conventions are no longer a real starting block, the campaign finance laws act as though they are and present a substantial hurdle for a presidential challenger.
By practice, the party of the incumbent president has the second convention, whether or not the incumbent is running for re-election. In baseball, "last licks" is always seen as a benefit. Because of quirks in campaign finance law, last licks in presidential politics has had a major effect on the race.
Both Kerry and Bush accepted public financing of their general-election campaigns, and they must abide by the strictures of the law: Once they accept their party's nomination, each can spend only the money that the Federal Election Commission (news - web sites) (FEC) gives him: $74.7 million. They cannot raise additional funds for use in the campaign.
This is a significant restriction, especially in a race with two prodigious fundraisers. The Republicans took advantage of this rule and scheduled their convention much later than normal. Because of the incumbent's last licks, Bush has had five weeks to batter Kerry and therefore start at a competitive advantage for the final sprint to the election in November.
Why the late start?
Some pundits thought the reason behind the Republicans' late start was either a desire to push the ephemeral convention bounce closer to the election or to place it closer to the 9/11 anniversary. But perhaps someone in the Bush camp realized the more important last-licks advantage.
The decision appears to have paid off. While Kerry has had to make tough choices on strategy and fund allocation, Bush has continued to advertise ahead of the convention, and polls show that Kerry's tepid convention bounce has dissipated.
Kerry toyed with the idea of not accepting the nomination at his convention to erase this advantage, but he backed off in the face of withering media criticism.
Kerry, or rather his supporters, have since sought to even the playing field with the controversial "527" loophole, which allows practically unlimited independent spending on issue ads.
Though groups such as MoveOn.org have steadily attacked Bush with such ads, 527s (named for the tax-code section under which they are organized) are now causing Kerry the headache. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have teed off on him over his Vietnam War record, generating charges, countercharges and daily news coverage.
The 527s targeting Bush dwarf the ones criticizing Kerry, but whatever advantage the Democrats thought they had with these groups has been drowned out with the return fire. Last week, the FEC agreed to curb the activities of some political groups by imposing new rules for 527s. But they won't take effect until next year.
Don't think regulating the 527s or whatever new loophole-based group succeeds them will solve anything. They are simply filling a void caused by a campaign-finance system that is anchored to meaningless convention dates.
Clearly, this outsized last-licks advantage cannot continue. Unless change occurs, the out party four years from now won't make the same mistake Kerry did. It will toss away the established practice and schedule its convention as late as possible, even if it overlaps with the opponent's event.
To prevent this mishmash from happening, Congress must set a start date for the use of public funds, regardless of when the conventions take place.
To their credit, the voters and the viewing public have grasped the conventions' insignificance in our electoral scheme. It's time for campaign finance law to recognize this reality, too.
Joshua Spivak is an attorney, media consultant and political writer based in New York.
No, not the Patriot Act. We refer to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, aka McCain-Feingold.***
527s Forever (Free speech)***....Kerry's campaign couldn't survive without the 527s, those groups that have taken over the task of raising unrestricted "soft" money since the passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
The Swifties are a tiny 527, with less than $1 million raised so far. Most of the big ones, such as the anti-Bush attack dog MoveOn.org, align with the Democrats (see table).
And the fat cats funding the right aren't in the same league with billionaires like George Soros, who are throwing their wealth into the cause of defeating Bush. ...***
Conservative 527 Organizes Despite Looming FEC Crackdown*** According to the Center for Responsive Politics, liberal 527s have collected about $131 million, while conservative groups have collected a mere $16 million during the 2004 election cycle.
"I think we can make a dent," Kellman said. "I think there [are] a lot of folks out there with money who want to hear the message, but as far as catching up with the Democrats, we'll have to wait and see."
Liberal groups such as America Coming Together and the MoveOn.org Voter Fund, both of which are partially funded by billionaire financier George Soros, dominate the current 527 playing field, their power having surged since the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, signed by President Bush, eliminated the soft-money raising and spending abilities of national political committees. ***
Bush has been battering Kerry for five weeks? Could the author give an example? I'm aware that Kerry has been battered throughout the month of August -- but not by Bush.
This MUST have been written by one of the Socialists of our day - a Democrat.
I think it is too early to say this. I'm going to wait for the RNC convention TV figures before I will concede that the watchers just don't care about conventions, but they certainly didn't care about the Demodogs' ...
Ahh, 'Wrongo' (as the Grinch said). Everything about our election process is important, especially the conventions. It is here that all the states get together and hammers out the party planks. It is here that delegates can switch there allegiance (if the main candidate tanks). The presidency of the United States is one step from determination at the convention.
So what is Yahoo News trying to do with this kind of statement? IMHO, they are trying to demean our democracy and representative form of government. Perhaps they wish Socialism or Communism where the people are removed as much from the process as possible.
So, as far as I am concerned, Yahoo News can go with the other newspapers into the bit bucket where it belongs.
They're late. I already predicted that one of the main fallouts of the Swiftboat ads will be a "re-reform" of CFR, probably its repeal. Ain't life grand?
I'm wondering how the MSM is going to spin President Bush's post-convention bounce ... it should be quite entertaining