Frum: Remove caps on how much parties can donate to candidates

Commentator David Frum.

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: Democrats have their hands full with this fall's elections. The party that's in power right now is doing all it can to keep things that way. That includes a line of attack that has only the loosest relationship with the truth. Specifically, that Republicans are getting campaign money from foreign companies laundered through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Commentator David Frum has two observations and a conclusion.


David Frum: Republicans offer two counters to the Democratic attack: First, it's evidence-free. While Democrats argue that it's hypothetically possible that Chamber of Commerce money comes from abroad, "hypothetically possible" is a bad basis for an attack ad. Second, the Democrats have their own foreign funding: U.S. affiliates of foreign corporations like defense contractor Rolls-Royce.

But these charges and counter-charges miss a bigger story. What is the core evil of the whole U.S. system of campaign finance? It's hard to imagine anybody saying it's that foreigners have too much influence.

Here's my nominee: Candidates spend too much time raising money, and are too beholden to their donors. You give me cash, I do what you want.

Most of the campaign finance reforms adopted since 1974 have made it more difficult for candidates to raise money -- which is total perverse. The candidates spend even more time at the job and are even more beholden to their donors.

A half century ago, it was the parties that raised the money and then distributed funds to their candidates. Candidates did not necessarily even know where the money was coming from.

What changed? Back in the 1940s, to combat abuses in the old party system, we imposed tight limits on the ability of parties to transfer money to candidates. Those limits did not keep pace with the costs of campaigning. To meet their expenses, candidates went into the fundraising business directly -- they used to be the talent, now they must also produce and direct the show.

But what if we removed the caps on what parties can give their nominees? Let the parties give candidates as much they need: $1 million, $2 million, whatever it costs. Let the candidates then spend their time learning the issues, giving speeches and kissing babies.

Legislators would legislate, party leaders would fundraise. Not perfect, but better than what we have now.

Ryssdal: David Frum was a speechwriter for the second President Bush. Today he's the editor of FrumForum. Next week: Robert Reich. Send us your thoughts.

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