The Current Crisis

The Post-Enron War on Soft Money

Alas 'tis true -- campaign finance reform is again in danger of being passed in Congress where our elected representatives admit that they cannot be trusted with the money they raise.

By 2.6.02

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Washington -- Is there no end to the corrupting effluvia of Enron? First the corrupters afflicted Enron's creditors, investors, and employees. Now they have afflicted one of Washington, D.C.'s finest classical music DJ's. Said he the other day between the scherzos of Chopin and the fortissimos of Beethoven: finally something positive has come out of the Enron scandal, to wit: CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM. Whereupon this sorely deluded musical sophisticate told listeners to stand by for a report from Capitol Hill that owing to Enron's fall campaign finance reform was again being contemplated by the solons and numas on the Hill.

Alas 'tis true -- campaign finance reform is again in danger of being passed in Congress where our elected representatives admit that they cannot be trusted with the money they raise. So weak is their probity that they fear financial supporters will turn them into willing tools if they accept "soft money," and possibly even "hard money." What they might do with counterfeit money is apparently too diabolical to mention.

For now they are going after "soft money." Goaded by the oncoming clouds of Enron, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert is calling for a vote on a campaign finance reform bill that the Congress last summer stuffed away in formaldehyde. It smells but they are going to take it out of the jar and vote on it anyway. According to the New York Times, it is "the broadest campaign finance reform since the Watergate era." In truth, this particular specimen of campaign reform is as deceptive as any piece of humbuggery ever conceived by any of Enron's gifted accounts jugglers. Campaign finance reform is a delusion, as likely to reform American politics as the Boy Scout's oath is likely to reform the Rev. Osama bin Ladin.

Stripped of its halo, campaign finance reform is the Washington elites' way of enhancing their power: the media elites, by enlarging their importance in politics; the incumbent pols, by strengthening their incumbency. Moreover, after passing this particular bill both groups presume that they will have ingratiated themselves to the naïve among the citizenry temporarily, while keeping the naïfs even further removed from politics.

By reducing soft money in politics the voices of established media will gain in preponderance while the voices of those with soft money decline. Likewise the voices of political upstarts will decline in political races. With still more regulation of campaign finance, political veterans will have fewer challenges from outsiders who lack the connections and the background to master the increasingly complicated regulations. The only political outsiders who benefit from the kind of campaign finance reform being contemplated on Capitol Hill now are the rich and the celebrated. Their money and connections will allow them to challenge the incumbents and leap ahead of any ordinary citizen aspiring to office.

Obviously, campaign finance reform is favored by elites. The only ordinary citizens favoring it are those who have no political aspirations whatsoever or those who have only limited analytical power. Of course ordinary citizens who pride themselves in holding to the values of elites might also favor the delusion of campaign reform, which is to say that such reforms are delusions held by the easily deluded.

Fundamentally there are two explanations for the popularity of campaign finance reform. The first is that elites always want to remain elite. The second is a widespread misconception about corruption.

Many Americanos believe the old adage that money is the root of all evil. If this were so, the world could be returned to its prelapsarian paradise by a simple recourse favored by many of history's most eminent utopians. Eliminate money -- no money, no evil. Possibly that was what Dr. Marx had in mind. Unfortunately money is not the root of all evil; evil is the root of all evil. Many of the goody-goody politicians who claim they would be paragons of virtue if it were not for campaign contributions are in error. Freed from the presence of soft money or even hard money most of these politicians would be just as bad. Once again, some politicians are lying to you. Not surprisingly they are the same ones claiming to be virtuous.

(R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the editor in chief of The American Spectator.)

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.