Saturday, September 25, 2004

527 Giving: Ideology or Investment?

Today's New York Times has side-by-side articles on 527s and the impending ad campaign:

"New Pet Cause for the Rich: Swaying the Election" by Glen Justice

"Advocacy Groups Step Up Costly Battle of Ads" by Justice and Jim Rutenberg
First, a disclaimer: Campaign Money Watch is a 527. We are the only 527
with the purpose of holding elected officials accountable for opposing campaign
finance reform and for the special favors they do for wealthy contributors.
These two articles basically can be summed up like this: Wealthy individuals are pouring in massive amounts to 527s and are largely motivated by ideology, and that money is now being poured into massive ad buys in swing states.

So what's new? The scale. The stakes. McCain-Feingold.

But the story about the funders (the one where reporter Justice goes solo) didn't explore the reality behind his best on-the-record quote. Agnes Varis, who gave $1.5 million to the Joint Victory Campaign, a collaborative fundraising committee, said, "I'm not going to get a Halliburton contract." Another progressive donor, Susie Tompkins Buell, who is "not entirely happy with how the campaign finance system is emerging."

You don't find that ambivalence in giving money through 527s on the right. That's because, by giving to committees to get Bush elected, conservative business donors are in a win-win situation. They see a confluence of ideology and economic self-interest. And that's the way it is for many of the people who gave Bush $260 million.

Here's an example: T. Boone Pickens is "a Texas oilman who gained fame as a corporate takeover artist, has contributed $2.5 million to the Progress for America Voter Fund and $500,000 to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." Pickens can say he gave for ideological reasons until the cows come home, but he can't deny that he stands to financially benefit from policies of another Bush term. With a net worth of $750 million, do you think Pickens has got more than a passing interest in Bush's tax proposals?

All this makes me wonder whether we're missing the larger picture with our fixation on the biggest donors. Don't get me wrong, regulations of 527s, including Campaign Money Watch, is probably necessary. Certainly we read in the Rutenberg/Justice piece we now know we will be under a tidal wave of this self-interested 527 giving to slam Kerry and lift up Bush. It's definitely time to hold on to the railing.

But the real scandal in American politics is not what is illegal or claimed to be illegal; it is the legal scandal of private, wealthy interests currying favor with big campaign contributions for their private economic self-interest. It is the use of government contracts and policies to line your friends' pockets. It's the bundles of money tracked by who brought it in, kinda like Amway (and notice in Justice's story how the co-founders of Amway are also pouring in money to pro-Bush committees) or like Santa Claus, checking to see who is naughty or nice.

What is needed is what is already law in several states, like Maine and Arizona. A system of comprehensive public financing allows voters to take back their democracy from wealthy interests.

1) ahh, a 527 talking about campaign finance abuses, . . .i guess that might be ironic if the 'ol irony scale hadn't been so broken lately.
2) we've heard about the Maine and Arizona laws, but where can we read more ...or something... about these shining (-but-obscure) examples? any recommendations???

==Jack Thunder
Jack, Good point. I've hyperlinked Maine and Arizona above so that people can read more at Public Campaign's website,
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