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Posted by on Feb 13, 2008 in Politics | 13 comments

Fair Is as Fair Does

My esteemed co-blogger Paul Silver — with whom I frequently agree — wrote earlier about his disappointment with McCain’s perceived “flip flop” on campaign finance. The DNC was also up in arms about McCain’s decision, citing in a press release this line from today’s related NYT story:

Mr. McCain’s advisers said that the candidate, despite his signature legislative efforts to restrict the money spent on political campaigns, would not accept public financing and spending limits for this year’s general campaign.

What the DNC left out was the very next line from the same story:

But in 2007, Mr. McCain did agree to a nonaggression pact with Senator Barack Obama to accept public financing, about $85 million each for the general election, if the Democratic nominee did the same.

As regular TMV readers already know, I like both McCain and Obama, and I’m leaning in the latter’s direction right now, despite my Republican roots.

But no matter what I think about the candidates, and with all due respect to Paul Silver, it seems to me the crux of the issue is this: If both candidates in the general election don’t play by the same rules, it’s foolish for one to financially handicap his/her campaign while the other legally spends like a drunken sailor.

I would like to see a public financing system some day. By at least one estimate, such a system would not cost taxpayers more than $15 per household for all federal and state races. But until the Supreme Court decides that money should not equal speech, any attempt to level the playing field will be sporadic at best. And as long as there’s an unlevel playing field, it will be damn hard for candidates, Republican or Democrat or otherwise, public-finance advocates or not, to make the “enlightened” call and reject private money.

[For related information on this subject, reference my essay from May 2007, “Cleaning Up Political Ads”]

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