Skewed Priorities, or Schizophrenia?

Strange as it may sound to those outside the world of campaign finance regulation, political parties are limited in the amount they can coordinate their advertising with candidates of their own party.  The Washington Post, as recently as November 3, 2006, has called this cap on party coordinated expenditures a "particularly ridiculous aspect of campaign finance law that ought to be fixed before 2008."  Enter Sen. Bob Bennett, who less than six months later has proposed an amendment to the Senate Electronic Disclosure bill that would do exactly that.  So what was the Washington Post’s reaction?

In their own words:

"Enter Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) to gum up the wheels. He has proposed an amendment that would do away with limits on how much parties can spend in coordination with their candidates. He maintains that his proposal will increase the transparency of the underlying legislation. But it’s clear that the best and probably only chance for this proposal is if the committee approves a clean, unadulterated bill. Proponents want it approved by unanimous consent to keep it from becoming flypaper for any senator’s half-baked campaign finance innovation."

The Post is not alone in this feeling.  As we reported on Monday, the Campaign Finance Institute has also come out against this "controversial," "poison pill" amendment.  Again we find this somewhat remarkable, because as recently as April 11, 2006, the Founder and Executive Director of CFI, Michael Malbin, had this to say about the cap:

"[T]his complaint about a lack of control by the candidate could be fixed easily by letting the parties make unlimited coordinat[ed] expenditures instead of forcing the perverse choice of requiring parties and their candidates to be independent.  Despite the faulty reasoning in Colorado II [upholding the cap’s constitutionality], there simply is no logical ‘corruption’ rationale for limiting party spending for candidates as long as contributions into the parties are controlled."

Indeed, less than a month ago, Fred Wertheimer railed against the consequences of the cap:

The parties have essentially created their own version of the Swift Boat Veterans-entities that operate outside the normal political apparatus, said Fred Wertheimer, president of the government watchdog group Democracy 21.

"There’s no accountability," he said.  "When you have unaccountability on this stuff, people start overreaching."

Yet, nevertheless, Wertheimer’s organization has signed onto an open letter  to the Senate, expressing Democracy 21’s "strong[] agree[ment] with the recent statement made by Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that Senators ‘should refrain from holding the bill hostage over the campaign finance battles that have been going on for years’ and that ‘this is exactly the type of good government law that the Senate could adopt as a stand alone measure.’"

We express no opinion on Bennett’s amendment other than to note that it appears to give "reform" advocates exactly what they’ve been asking for.  So why lump it in as just a "half-baked campaign finance innovation?"  Why the utter insistence on a "clean bill?"  How does an amendment that, until recently, everyone seemed to think was a great idea, hold any bill to which it is attached "hostage?"  Given how vociferously "reformers" complained about party independent expenditures like those made against Harold Ford–and given that the benefits of senate electronic disclosure have been significantly oversold–we would think reformers would look at the Bennett amendment as an opportunity to pass meaningful reform.  At a minimum, we would have expected them to look at the Bennett amendment as a chance to kill two birds–senate electronic disclosure and increased transparency/accountability in political advertising–with one stone.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.