The campaign finance reformers never tire of coming up with grand new schemes designed to limit the influence of money in politics. The problem is, they never work — while completely ignoring the only real solution to the problem.
The latest brainstorm comes from two long-time activists, Lawrence Lessig and Joe Trippi, who set up a Web site this week at Change-Congress.org intended to get small donors to pledge to withhold their political contributions until Congress sets up some Byzantine system of funding campaigns with taxpayer dollars.
In other words, they want to impose a system that essentially forces individuals to contribute to candidates with whom they may vehemently disagree.
Public financing of political campaigns is the latest in a long line of failed Holy Grails for the reformer crowd. It started after Watergate with limits on direct contributions and other restrictions. When donors found obvious ways to get around those regulations, along came McCain-Feingold, which went so far as to even limit individual political speech, which is precisely what the First Amendment is designed to protect.
But even under McCain-Feingold, the 2008 presidential campaign shattered all fundraising records, with Barack Obama becoming the first major-party candidate since the 1970s to refuse to limit the personal contributions he would accept in return for some federal public financing.
So, enter Mr. Lessig and Mr. Trippi with their plan.
“The real objective is to create a system where nobody could believe that Congress is doing what they’re doing because it was bought by special interests,” said Mr. Lessig, a Stanford University law professor.
In fact, the founders created precisely such a system, forming a government intended to preserve liberty and restricted to those limited powers enumerated in the Constitution. The further we have drifted from this important concept — the more prevalent the notion that no issue must escape Washington’s regulation — the more likely special interests will use their money in an attempt to influence the process.
Big government and money are best friends. You really want to limit the influence of cash in politics? Then pare back the size and scope of government. Unfortunately, that’s a recipe most liberal reformers don’t want to hear. Which means that Mr. Lessig and Mr. Trippi can keep their money, if they so choose. It won’t matter.