Topic: Government and Politics

Five Years Is a Long Time, Part 3

Here’s what McCain-Feingold did and did not do.

1. BCRA successfully prohibited most party soft money fundraising by federal officials.

So what? 527 groups took up most of the slack.

2. Parties raised as much hard money in 2006 as they had soft and hard money in 2002.

Yes, but they did not raise as much soft and hard money as they would have in 2006 if BCRA had not been passed. This had an interesting consequence…

3. BCRA cost the Democrats 20 House seats in the 2006 election.

Here’s why.

4. BCRA made it illegal to broadcast advertising for a movie criticizing the president of the United States.

If the ads were to run 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election. Unless, of course, the film enjoys the media exemption.

5. BCRA criminalized attempts to get people to contact their member of Congress.

If they mention a member’s name in an ad, if it’s 30 or 60 days, you know the drill. But the Supreme Court may yet overturn this part of the law.

6. BCRA may destroy the presidential public financing system.

By raising the hard money contribution limits, thereby making it possible for presidential candidates to run outside the system. But credit must also go to the Internet for lowering the costs of fundraising.

7. BCRA enabled a majority of the Supreme Court to be cowardly in the face of a frontal assault on the First Amendment.

Did I say cowardly? I meant BCRA gave the Court the chance to show “proper deference to Congress’ ability to weigh competing constitutional interests in an area in which it enjoys particular expertise.”

8. BCRA did not prevent corruption.

Remember why congressional Republicans were in trouble in 2006? BCRA didn’t prevent that corruption. Nor did it punish the malefactors. The voters did.

9. BCRA did not restore confidence in government.

Yes, I know. People should not have too much confidence in government. But justices of the Supreme Court care about such things. The American National Election Studies trust in government index fell in 2004 after rising continuously from 1994 to 2002. No prizes for guessing whether it fell or rose in 2006, surely one of the worst years on record for people’s faith that their government is not corrupt. So BCRA passes in 2002 and trust in government falls thereafter.

10. BCRA made John McCain a credible candidate for the presidency.

For now, at least.

11. BCRA did not hurt the Republican party.

They did that all by themselves.

Five Years Is a Long Time, Part 2

What has the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act accomplished over the last five years?

Not much. But don’t take my word for it. Mark Schmitt helped fund the struggle for BCRA as a program officer at the Open Society Institute. Now he has written a candid and thoughtful analysis that begins:

Judged by the most visible results on promises like getting big money out of politics or cleaning up politics, campaign finance reform has been, to put it mildly, a disappointment.

Five Years Is a Long Time, Part 1

Today is the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

Five years ago, surveys found that 79 percent of the public approved of the job being done by the man who signed McCain-Feingold, George W. Bush. Now 34 percent approve of his work. Until recently, the major sponsor of the law, Sen. John McCain, seemed the most likely candidate to win the Republican presidential nomination for 2008. Now McCain persistently trails Rudolph Guiliani in the polls, and his presidential campaign seems to be in trouble.

If September 11th explained President Bush’s high rating five years ago, the war in Iraq has caused his free fall. Signing McCain-Feingold did show a certain lack of concern about political principles in the current president, but it probably cost him no more than a point or two in his approval ratings.  (In fact, his approval rating fell on average 3 points during the two months after he signed McCain-Feingold).

The case of McCain seems different. GOP primary voters saw and continue to see his campaign finance “reform” jihad as an attack on conservatism, the Republican party, and the U.S. Constitution. He is not liked. That didn’t matter much to McCain, because he believed Republican voters would prefer him, warts and all, to Hillary Clinton.

But that is not the choice Republicans have right now, and the choice they do have in surveys suggests Sen. McCain may not make it to the “me or Hillary” stage of his plan to become president. Perhaps principles do matter after all.

Congress Looks at Stadium Subsidies

This Thursday the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing titled, “‘Build It and They Will Come’: Do Taxpayer-financed Sports Stadiums, Convention Centers and Hotels Deliver as Promised for America’s Cities?”

Several Cato studies over the years have looked at the absurd economic claims of stadium advocates. In “Sports Pork: The Costly Relationship between Major League Sports and Government,” Raymond Keating finds:

The lone beneficiaries of sports subsidies are team owners and players. The existence of what economists call the “substitution effect” (in terms of the stadium game, leisure dollars will be spent one way or another whether a stadium exists or not), the dubiousness of the Keynesian multiplier, the offsetting impact of a negative multiplier, the inefficiency of government, and the negatives of higher taxes all argue against government sports subsidies. Indeed, the results of studies on changes in the economy resulting from the presence of stadiums, arenas, and sports teams show no positive economic impact from professional sports – or a possible negative effect.

In Regulation magazine, (.pdf) Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys found that the economic literature on stadium subsidies comes to consistent conclusions:

The evidence suggests that attracting a professional sports franchise to a city and building that franchise a new stadium or arena will have no effect on the growth rate of real per capita income and may reduce the level of real per capita income in that city.

And in “Caught Stealing: Debunking the Economic Case for D.C. Baseball,” Coates and Humphreys looked specifically at the economics of the new baseball stadium in Washington, D.C., and found similar results:

Our conclusion, and that of nearly all academic economists studying this issue, is that professional sports generally have little, if any, positive effect on a city’s economy. The net economic impact of professional sports in Washington, D.C., and the 36 other cities that hosted professional sports teams over nearly 30 years, was a reduction in real per capita income over the entire metropolitan area.

Humphreys will testify at Thursday’s hearing.

He Must Be Scots-Irish

A longtime friend and executive assistant to Sen. James Webb (D-VA) was charged yesterday with trying to carry a loaded pistol and two fully loaded magazines of ammunition into a Senate office building, the Washington Post reports.

Webb’s most recent book is Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. The Scots-Irish “are a culture founded on guns, which considers the Second Amendment sacrosanct, while literary and academic America considers such views not only archaic but also threatening,” Webb wrote. “Nobody is going to get their guns.”

Watch out, Capitol Police.

Hillary and the Real 1984

I have an op-ed today taking off from the Hillary 1984 “mash-up” ad to discuss just how close to reality it might be.

The image of Hillary Clinton on a giant screen reminded me of one of the proposals in her book, It Takes a Village….

And what about that giant screen? Even when the government doesn’t step in to take children from their parents, Clinton sees it constantly advising, nagging, hectoring parents: “Videos with scenes of commonsense baby care – how to burp an infant, what to do when soap gets in his eyes, how to make a baby with an earache comfortable – could be running continuously in doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals, motor vehicle offices, or any other place where people gather and have to wait,” she writes. The childcare videos could alternate with videos on the Food Pyramid, the evils of smoking and drugs, the need for recycling, the techniques of safe sex, the joys of physical fitness, and all the other things the responsible adult citizens of a complex modern society need to know. Sort of like the telescreen in Orwell’s 1984 – or the YouTube video….

Many conservatives want to be your daddy, telling you what to do and what not to do, and many liberals want to be your mommy, feeding you, tucking you in, and setting your curfew. But the proper role for the government of a free society is to treat adults as adults, responsible for making their own decisions and accepting the consequences.

And that’s why the image of a nagging, hectoring Hillary Clinton on a giant telescreen seems altogether too real.

Tax Reform is the Best Way to Reduce Tax Evasion

A column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reviews new academic research indicating that high tax rates encourage tax evasion. Most politicians think the solution is more power for the IRS, but the columnist points to ideas that are much more likely to work and much more consistent with the protection of a free society. First, shrink the size of government so that taxpayes are less likely to be angry about grotesque examples of waste, fraud, and abuse. Second, adopt a simple and fair system such as the flat tax:

The pressure to cheat, Dr. Antenucci said, comes from the big payoff. “The top tax rate is 35 percent. In this investment investment environment, people scratch to make a 5 percent to 8 percent return, and there is 35 percent sitting right there.” …”When people read about a $500 coffee pot being sold to the government, people don’t want to pay their taxes,” he said. …The professors advocate attacking the problem on several fronts. First, create a tax system where cheating is extremely difficult. One way would be to switch to a flat tax or national sales tax.