Reforming Campaign Finanzzzzz....
Jude Wanniski
March 28, 2001


Memo To: Sens. John McCain [R-AZ], Russ Feingold [D-WI]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Big Snooze

Just in case you have wondered why I have had so little to say about campaign-finance reform, I will tell you: It is boring. It not only cannot hold my attention, it also puts me to sleep. I think you are both swell United States Senators and if I could, I would vote for you. But I think all the fuss you are making over campaign finance reform is a total waste of your valuable time, and mine. Every time you show up on a tv talk show to promote that stuff, I have to channel surf until your interview ends.

The thing is, given the amount of federal government we have, with a budget now approaching $2 trillion a year, it seems to me the amount of money that Americans (and surreptitious foreigners) have to spend to protect themselves from being left behind when the gravy train pulls out is just about right. What was the amount spent last year on all the campaigns for the White House and Congress? A billion, give or take? That is less than a tenth of one per cent of the governmentís annual spending! And as far as I can tell, that cash -- the motherís milk of politics -- has been spread around pretty evenly. If elections really do depend on the amount candidates have in their coffers, look at the facts: George W. Bush won by the teeniest, tiniest of margins -- one puny vote in the Electoral College, and the Senate came out even-steven, with the House in Republican hands by a handful of votes. Does it get any more equal than that?

If we had your McCain-Feingold reform, what would we get? If it really did economize on spending for campaigns, what are we talking about? Half a billion? That is not even pocket money any more, fellas. You mean to tell me you are going to tie up the legislative and executive branches for several weeks, yapping about soft money and payroll protection (whatever that is), just so management and labor have less influence? If they have less influence, what does that mean? Will there be fewer highways built? Will there be fewer hospitals and schools built? Will there be fewer bailouts of failed banks or foreign governments? Or more? You see, I donít get it. It also seems to me that after all the talk, even if President Bush signs McCain-Feingold into law, some citizen will take you to court and after spending another batch of time and money, the Supreme Court of the United States will say it is unconstitutional. Just as it has before -- when other well-intentioned folks like you try to put limits on free speech, which means the freedom to hand out leaflets and pamphlets bought with soft money or hard money or in-between money.

I would be shocked if the Supreme Court overturned the First Amendment. But letís say it did. With a trillion and a half bucks going through the federal governments fingers every year, the citizenry is going to have to defend itself from being left behind. White-collar and blue-collar citizenry. If it is no longer legal for them to do so, they will do so illegally. The first priority of any citizen, family or institution is survival! No? You mean Uncle Sam is going to be allowed to carry on as he has for the last few generations, taxing, spending, regulating and legislating in ways that threaten the survival of every citizen, family and institution, and they are going to take it? No, sirs. They will act illegally in order to survive. They will retain Don Corleone to make offers that canít be refused. There will be more graft and corruption. There will be many, many more presidential pardons at the end of every term, to make the appropriate payoffs. Instead of contributing money to a politician, people will protect themselves by contributing girls (or boys, as the case may be). We are talking Sodom and Gomorrah. Lottís wife, a nice lady named Tricia, will want to get out of town. I hope she does not turn back.

Do you see what Iím getting at gentlemen? You should think things over and maybe put your bill on the back burner. Give Treasury Secretary Paul OíNeill a call and offer to help him simplify our tax system. Heís crazy for the idea! And if we had a simple federal tax code, nobody would need to buy protection from Uncle Sam with campaign contributions. Then you can call Bob Zoellick, the U.S. Trade Rep, and offer to help him clean up the tariff schedules, which have not been cleaned up since George Washington was President. A flat 6% ad valorem tariff, replacing the 5,000 rates on the books, also would dry up campaign contributions, as there would be no influence to peddle on that score. The answer, see, is to simplify, simplify, simplify. Much more interesting and helpful than reforming campaign finanzzzzz.....