Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tea Party stance against Cromnibus Campaign Finance Rider Misguided

RNLA campaign finance blogger Paul Jossey wrote an op-ed in the Daily Caller about Tea Party resistance to the ‘Cromnibus’ campaign finance rider. This apprehension is misplaced. It ignores the benefits stronger parties play in stabilizing government.

The campaign finance rider will expand the number of accounts for the national committees and increase the biennial limit for an individual to over $1.5 million.

The move predictably sent campaign finance reformers into overwrought warnings about the future of the republic. Democracy 21’s Fred Wertheimer evoked late-Medieval German mysticism, comparing the rider to the central European legend of Faust. According to the myth, the restless scholar—eager for learning and prurient exploits—traded eternal damnation for years of earthly knowledge and the seduction of the innocent maiden ‘Gretchen.’

But it wasn’t just the reformers waxing hyperbolic about the rider. The Wall Street Journal compiled a list of Tea Party-affiliated groups lamenting the rider’s potential effect of aiding establishment candidates over insurgent challengers.
The rider will undoubtedly benefit the parties, but they will still operate with significant structural disadvantages compared to independent groups, which can collect unlimited contributions. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (purposely) and Citizens United v. FEC (unwittingly) gutted the parties’ core functions of messaging, field operations, and fundraising—and destabilized the political system in the process.

BCRA eliminated federal “soft money,” which the parties used for party-building activities and issue advertising. The ban blew a $500,000,000 hole in combined national party budgets and virtually eliminated their coordination with state and local counterparts—many of which are now on life support. National committees fared better in BCRA’s immediate aftermath but the post-Citizens United rise of Super PACs siphoned money and talent away from the parties and into these less regulated vehicles.

In the 18 recent Senate races that had $1 million or more of independent expenditures, candidates raised $333.1 million; non-party organizations spent $310.4 million, while parties spent just $92.1 million.

And it’s not only advertising budgets. Party field operations have also suffered as when Battleground Texas essentially took over field operations for gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. The group—brainchild of Obama campaign veterans—refused to share data, clashed with local party organizations, and assured Ms. Davis’s sinking campaign would become a national embarrassment.

Everyone should have the right to freely associate under whatever banner they choose to try to influence elections. Healthy parties do provide strong candidates and ultimately more stable government. The rider will take a small step toward achieving those goals.

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