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Monday, September 15, 2003


I know, I know. So far, this space looks more like a daily political column (occasionally infused with baseball) than a blog.

So let me send you to Peace Tree Farm to check out the lyrics from "Man in Black." It wasn't Johnny Cash's biggest hit, and it doesn't get played all that often compared to many of his other recordings, but it is a great song. Read the lyrics and think "progressive populism."

Joshua Micah Marshall of The Washington Monthly is reporting rumors that the Kay report on Iraqi WMD may not be released at all. 1400 scientists, military officials and intelligence experts have been searching Iraq for 4 months and haven't found any WMD. This will, of course, remain a story even if the report remains secret.

Political cash

It's not on-line, but The American Prospect's September issue had an interesting book review by Thomas Byrne Edsall. In it, the author explains why the new campaign finance law ironically hurts Democrats more than it does Republicans (even though Democrats have been more favorable to reform and Republicans long resisted it).

The law precludes Big Labor and wealthy individuals from spending large sums on elections. While corporate America is also similarly limited, it has apparently been much more effective convincing like-minded individuals to write small checks. Individual Republican "Rangers" and "Pioneers" exploit their personal and business connections to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Their task is made easier because McCain-Feingold doubled the limits on individual contributions.

Moreover, corporate donors have lately been writing the overwhelming majority of their checks to Republicans, after decades of relative balance (because of long-time Democratic control of the House, and then Clinton).

By contrast, individual unionists and rank-and-file Democrats apparently don't write those smaller checks with as great a frequency. At every level below $100,000, Republicans raise more money than do Democrats. Party leaders have blamed poor databases and legal debts from the campaign spending investigations of the 1990s. Anyway, it adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars difference between the two parties! A July/August story in The Atlantic Monthly by Seth Gitell called the reform "The Democratic Party Suicide Bill." Apparently, the RNC has about a 3:1 advantage over the DNC as of the end of August, 2003.

To free elected officials from the evils of fund-raising and the possibility of quid pro quo payoffs, the US needs publicly financed elections. The total figure spent on elections is peanuts in the grand scheme of the federal budget. As opponents of reform like to point out, Americans spend only a few billion dollars on all elections annually -- state and federal combined were $4 billion in 1996.

But opponents point to these figures as a reason to reject reform. After all, how could anything important be bought for such a low cost? What Senator, House member, or President would pander to donors for such paltry sums?

Whatever the answer to these questions, publicly financed elections would be relatively cheap -- and they are not very likely to happen anytime soon.

That means rank-and-file Democratic party members are going to have to dig deeper into their own pockets more frequently if they hope to keep pace with Republicans.

If they do not make many more small contributions, incumbents (as usual), will win most elections. After all, given President Bush's remarkable fund-raising, it is quite apparent that those happy with his agenda are writing lots of checks. He is on course to have $200 million for the primaries (through September, when the convention begins) -- and he's likely to be unopposed!

Democratic candidates taking public money will be limited to spending $45 million during the primary campaign (until August, when they hold their convention). Incredibly, even though McCain-Feingold raised individual contributor limits, it did not similarly raise spending limits!

As I said last week, Howard Dean (or some other candidate) could effectively have the Democratic nomination locked up the day after the early March Super-Tuesday primaries. If that person accepts public money, President Bush will outspend the Democrat several-fold during April-May-June-July-August.

So don't be surprised when the leading Democrats reject public money.

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