Hats off to the good government campaign reformers among Democrats and Republicans who have given us our current presidential campaign funding rules. Somehow, in the interest of getting big money out of politics, we have limited what campaigns can spend and what the parties can spend, but millions can be spent by private individuals who have no accountability or responsibility to service the public good.
So what has the experience of 2012 taught future candidates? Suck up to very rich people is the No. 1 takeaway. You don’t need party regulars or small donors if you have one fat sugar daddy. It helps to have a particular issue where you are in perfect sync with the extremely rich benefactor. Cater to his interest, schmooze and socialize with him for the years preceding the campaign, and then send a close associate to visit the patron with a nod and a wink about how he can really help his friend and cause. Presto — instant super PAC. Legitimate support and the drudgery of old-fashioned fundraising are not required. You can even stay in a campaign as a protest candidate long after legitimate voter enthusiasm has evaporated.
In fair disclosure, I’m for unlimited contributions from American voters. But I’m for being able to give the money forthrightly to the campaigns and to the political parties, as long as there is real-time disclosure. Let voters decide if it’s corrupting or disqualifying. But now we have a system of contrived plausible deniability that makes a mockery of the attempts to limit the influence of big money in politics.
What’s happening in South Carolina is a grotesque caricature of what American political campaigns should be.
The die is cast for 2012, but hopefully the next group of reformers will acknowledge the obvious. The best way to police political contributions is via disclosure on the Internet. And the best way to empower, rather than weaken, America’s political parties and candidates is to let them take the money and have voters decide if they think it’s appropriate.