Mr. Noble in His Gyrocopter

April 16, 2015
posted by Bob Bauer

Long in the field of campaign finance, well versed in its triumphs and tribulations, Larry Noble of the Campaign Legal Center objects strongly to the suggestions for disclosure reform I co-authored with Professor Samuel Issacharoff.  It’s all a magic trick, he argues, that accomplishes the reverse of its stated intention: it moves contributions into the dark, raises the risk corruption and disregards the lessons of Watergate.  The public is not “gullible”: it won’t buy it.

It is difficult not to imagine that Mr. Noble is engaged in theater of his own, something like the aerial feat performed yesterday by the mailman in a gyrocopter who touched down on the Capitol grounds with a similarly passionate appeal for campaign finance reform.  This gentleman, undoubtedly sincere but less clearly prudent,  entitled his project “Kitty Hawk”, after the Wright Brothers’ fabled flight in North Carolina in 1903.  Larry, if he were maneuvering a craft, might have  named it “Watergate," and he would have refreshed the message by 70 years, with only another four decades to go to cross over into the current century and to the present time.

Mark Schmitt on New Directions in Political Reform

February 6, 2015
posted by Bob Bauer
It is no secret that the campaign finance debate has become fruitless and repetitious – – in short, exhausted. Mark Schmitt of the New America Foundation, a powerful progressive voice on reform, is one among a number of who believes that the entire question should be rethought from scratch. He has published a paper through a collaborative effort of the Brennan Center for Justice and the New America Foundation, arguing for a new framework built around a conception of political opportunity. He should win a large audience for what he says about the staleness and inaccuracies in the policy debate, and for the suggestions he makes for a change in direction.

A “Third Approach” to Reform?

December 9, 2014
posted by Bob Bauer

To Michael Malbin’s credit, he is taking seriously the political parties’ complaint about the terms under which they must compete for resources and influence with “outside” or independent groups. He accepts that a “rebalancing” is in order, and he proposes a compromise: more room for parties to coordinate their spending with candidates, in return for tighter enforcement of coordination rules against independent expenditure groups. He calls this a “third approach” to reform that which rejects both full de-regulation of party spending and any frontal challenge to the constitutional protections for independent spending.

The American Political Science Association Task Force report on political polarization, Negotiating Agreement in Politics (2013) includes a discussion of the role of campaign spending. The co-authors of this analysis, Michael Barber and Nolan McCarty, write that the role is small. But they suggest that there is more work to be done, raising the question of whether some spur to polarization might come from the rising importance to candidates of ideologically motivated individual donors.

Campaign Finance Enforcement Strategies

November 15, 2013
posted by Bob Bauer
How to establish priorities for the enforcement of the federal (or any) campaign finance laws is a difficult question. Congress has not specified them by statute and as the years go by, the Federal Election Commission has shown less rather than more agreement on what those priorities might be. As a result, sensible prioritization has sometimes gotten lost in partisan and policy conflicts. Adding to the problem is uncertainty about the enforceability of a law that is under pressure from changes in political practice and expanded constitutional limitations on regulatory action. Now the Commission is changing with the arrival of two new Commissioners, and a fresh opportunity is presented for discussion about the elements of a sensible, effective enforcement program. Ann Ravel, one of two new Commissioners, comes to the job with certain priorities in mind: disclosure and, more generally, “enforcement of significant matters.”
Category: Disclosure, Enforcement