Is it just me, or has it occurred to anyone else that all this
clamoring for campaign finance reform is just a bit Pollyannaish? That it
is based on a misguided premise and a false promise? The premise is that
the system is corrupt. The promise is that a legal overhaul of the
system will fix it.
The lifeblood of campaign finance reform is its promise to end
political corruption caused by the “iron triangle of lobbying, money and
legislation.” If laws can be passed to break up this evil triad then
things will be wonderful again.
It is true that in an ideal world, legislators would always vote
their consciences rather than being influenced by the policy demands of
their largest contributors. But even if you remove money from the
system, other conscience-numbing influences will fill the void.
To be sure, the current system is far from perfect and contains some
corrupting temptations. But this preoccupation with the system disguises
the overarching reality that the primary culprits are people, not the
Perfect systems and laws will not eliminate all corruption. Under
existing law, foreign contributions are already illegal. But those laws
did not prevent Clinton and Gore from soliciting and accepting Chinese
monies. When those two were caught red-handed, their defense was that
they could not be blamed because flaws in the system made them do it.
They were victims. To avoid personal accountability, they created the
smoke screen of calling for more laws.
I believe this obsession with reform — this mindset that more laws
will be a panacea for all of our problems — is symptomatic of our
dehumanized culture. Our secularized culture teaches us that we are
behaviorally conditioned machines, not independent, free agents
responsible for our own choices. If we are not responsible for our
actions, we certainly cannot be held to account for them.
The framers well understood that men were imperfect, and incorporated
checks and balances into our Constitution to minimize corruption. They
placed limitations on government to ensure the maximum preservation of
What is the ultimate goal of reformers? According to reformers
themselves, their main purpose is not to end corruption, but “to return
government to the people.”
Well, if popular sovereignty is really the goal of reformers, rather
than just another slick-sounding platitude, as I suspect, then why don’t
they call for real reform by way of a restoration of our founding
Under the Constitution, the federal government’s powers were
expressly delineated, and the remainder reserved to the states and to
the people. But through the years, Congress, with the aid of the courts,
has grossly usurped those reserved powers.
Congress has enacted laws to control the minutest aspects of our
lives in ways the framers could not have imagined. The courts have
allowed these encroachments under twisted interpretations of the
Interstate Commerce clause and otherwise. Such perverted constructions
of the Constitution over the years have led to federal intervention in
wholly inappropriate areas of our lives, such as education. Our freedom
is infringed in direct proportion to the federal government’s
involvement in these areas. If you returned these powers to the states,
incidentally, you’d significantly reduce certain corrupt practices, such
as pork-barrel spending. The courts have also initiated their own
mischief as well. An example is their fabrication out of whole cloth of
a woman’s constitutional right to choose an abortion that overrides
state laws on the subject. Similarly, various presidents, especially
Clinton, have abused their authority and assumed power they didn’t have,
such as through executive orders.
If the goal of reformers is to restore power to the people, a much
more fruitful step would be to elect presidents and congressmen who
would honor our founding constitutional principles and the limitations
on their respective authority. In turn, they would appoint judges who
would adhere to their proper constitutional role of interpreting laws
rather than making them.
Campaign finance reform has a hallowed and appealing ring to it but
it doesn’t address the real problem it is designed to solve. Real reform
involves a return to our founding principles where people are sovereign
and officials are accountable. To effectuate such reform requires
courage and statesmanship, not political pandering.