Monday, June 23, 2008

Campaign Finagling

The decision by Senator Obama to do a 180 on his support for public financing has initiated a great deal of hand wringing over his flippery position on a key reform issue. For us, however, it simply highlights the silliness over restricting the process in the name of special interest protection. In fact, the entire national furor over lobbyists and their evil influence is comical in the extreme, precisely because not a single purveyor of this nonsense-certainly neither McCain or Obama-actually believe what they're saying. And we needn't look forward to any influence-free White House in 2009.

Which brings us to the city's cockamamie campaign restrictions, the subject of an interesting article in the City Journal: "A constitutionally dubious campaign-finance law, passed last June by the New York City Council and signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has some residents up in arms. It may still be true that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, as Frank Sinatra put it. But how you make it will now determine which of your political rights the city will protect."

As we have commented before, the law in question protects certain rights while threatening those of other less protected classes of people-like lobbyists for instance. At the same time, however, there's nothing to restrict someone as well-heeled as the mayor from dumping boatloads of cash in the effort to bamboozle the electorate. That Mayor Mike signed the law in question only goes to show you how much of a sense of irony he lacks.

At the same time, we have countless examples of incumbent pols racking in tens of thousands of dollars in non-competitive races, and using the funds to reward relatives acting as staffers in these nonexistent elections. Which has led opponents of this silliness to file a lawsuit on the grounds First Amendment violations: "Attorney James Bopp, Jr. has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of more than a dozen plaintiffs challenging the law’s constitutionality on First Amendment grounds. The measure, he argues, forces citizens to choose between their right to petition the government and their free-speech right to support their preferred political ideals, interests, and candidates through campaign contributions. Bopp, it’s worth noting, has won four campaign-finance cases before the United States Supreme Court."

Of course, the exemption of our friends in labor is the primary target of the suit: "The law is also unfair, since it exempts unions from the reduced contribution limits. As a result, Michele Russo, a plaintiff in the case who is the secretary for a registered lobbyist, now has fewer political rights than George Gresham, president of the powerful health-care workers’ union Local 1199."

We'd like to see a central data base created that the public can easily access. Once this is established there should be no bar on who can contribute to any local campaign; and if Related and Vornado want to bundle money from their employees that should be allowed and duly noted so the voters can see where influence is being brought to bear. The current law needs to be changed.