I find myself recently

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November 23, 2002 11:55 a.m.

I find myself recently on weekend trains home, reading pdf versions of The Weekly Standard, and happening upon articles that inspire me to write new TPM posts. Last week’s winner was an article by the prolific curmudgeonist Charles Krauthammer. This week we’re on to Clint Bolick writing about the horrors of Arizona’s campaign finance law which, Bolick says, proved pivotal to the election of Democrat Janet Napolitano as governor.

I’m ambivalent about a lot of campaign finance legislation. Public funding of campaigns — though a clear solution to many of the most dire problems of election funding — strikes me as problematic on constitutional, political and simply pragmatic grounds. But Bolick’s article (“Fundraising Arizona: We’ve just seen the future of campaign finance reform, and it’s not pretty”) is one of those articles which sways with a soft comedy the author couldn’t be aware of because he is too deeply nestled in the cocoon of his own side’s cliches and comforting self-justifications. Partisans of both sides do it; this is just a really sweet example.

The first half of the article is a narrative of GOP candidate Matt Salmon’s doomed effort to make due on campaign donations from the interested and well-heeled in the face of the state-subsidized juggernaut which was Napolitano’s campaign. He tried, but apparently the ability to raise money from wealthy donors more or less at will, get help from the state party, and get plenty of fundraising time with President Bush just wasn’t enough to stem the tide.

Salmon, we learn, is something of twilight struggler on behalf of various causes like freedom and right.

Salmon, a former congressman who honored his term limit pledge, refused to accept campaign subsidies. “I have advocated all my life personal responsibility and less gov-ernment,” he explained, so “it would be hypocritical for me to take taxpayer money for my campaign.”

But Napolitano, who served as one of Anita Hill’s lawyers during the confirmation battle over U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, had no such qualms. As
the Arizona Republic reported, Napolitano deployed labor union minions to collect the requisite 4,000 five-dollar contributions, then sat back and watched millions in tax-payer subsidies roll in.

Did we mention he honored his term limit pledge?

The second third of the article raises some interesting points about the funding of the law. According to Bolick, the law is financed by a state tax return check-off. But unlike the federal one, which simply moves some of your tax dollars into the campaign finance system, this one moves some of those dollars over and gives you back personally another five bucks. It’s hard to say precisely why this is wrong. But if Bolick’s upset with it, I can’t say it sits all that well with me either.

The last third is taken up with the standard sort of partisan yada. Campaign finance reform is a conspiracy to elect liberal Democrats. The system is stacked against us. Big government programs bring us big government politicians. Big, big, big, government, government, government, yada, yada, yada. The final passage is a slip-n-side of watery and facile Hayekian cliches.

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