Jewish World Review Feb. 21, 2002 / 9 Adar, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- EVERY once in a while, a myth achieves the status of gospel in Washington. Where the myth came from is anyone's guess.
Well, the emperor has no clothes! Campaign finance reform will not cost the Republican Party a single seat. How did they get Hastert, Archer, DeLay, et. al. into a tizzy to oppose it with every last drop of their blood?
In 2001, the Republicans outraised the Democrats in soft money, in all three committees combined (House, Senate and national party) by a ratio of about 6 to 5. Can anyone believe that losing this tiny margin of fundraising superiority is going to cost the GOP seats?
Most Senate contests this year are in small states. California, New York and Florida don't have either seat up this year. How can either party think that dumping tens of millions into states as small as Montana, Iowa, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Maine and South Dakota will give them the edge. The largest ones are Minnesota and Missouri.
How much can 1,000 points of media cost in these states? How much can it cost to send mail to their voters?
Now that only really swing districts and swing states are contested and dozens of House districts and almost a dozen Senate seats are uncontested, the need of the parties for money is, in fact, limited.
So why is the GOP so worried about the impact of campaign finance reform?
Because its consultants have sold it a bill of goods. They have all figured out that their 15 percent commissions on their candidate media buys will be larger the more a candidate spends. So, like choice real estate, they bid up the price of races in swing districts and states. Ever inventive in ways to spend money, they have convinced their party leaders of the importance of soft money. But it isn't true.
The consultants are only part of the problem. The fundraisers themselves are another. The Terry McAuliffes of this world derive their political power from their ability to raise huge amounts of money, largely from their wealthy friends. If these friends are worth only the $2,000 they can give in hard money, not the million they could give in soft money before the reform bill passes, then they aren't worth as much to the party. And neither is McAuliffe or his GOP equivalents.
Campaign finance reform will thus weaken the two barons who hold politics in their thrall - consultants and fundraisers. But it won't have much impact on candidates or their parties.
The final loser in campaign finance reform will be the party committees. The House and Senate campaign committees and the national committee for each party are essentially fundraising operations. Curbs on their ability to raise funds will weaken the leverage they will have in party councils. Indeed, the power of party leaders will decline as fundraising becomes more decentralized.
If 30 rich men can fund a campaign, the party, which can jerk their chain, will have power. But if it takes thousands of donors at $2,000 apiece, the central party has less power and the candidates and local parties have more.
Campaign finance reform will bring back the days when state party committees had more power and national organizations had less. It will roll back the federalization of legislative races, which has taken place. Local seats will be decided more with local money.
So far, these are all dramatic shifts, but none bears on the question that keeps House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) up all night: Will McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan cost him seats?
No way. A little power, maybe. Seats?
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover