By Robert Parry
June 23, 2008
Barack Obama’s decision to opt out of federal campaign financing has riled newspaper editorialists, TV pundits and even some progressives who view regulating “money in politics” as the silver bullet to kill the special-interest domination of Washington.
But the fury over Obama’s choice to rely on his Internet-based small donors – rather than take nearly $85 million in federal funding – misses a difficult truth that may be especially heretical on the Left: campaign-finance reform has been, by and large, a failure.
This reality comes clear if one asks the simple question: Is the U.S. government more in the pocket of special interests today than it was in the mid-1970s when this reform movement gained traction after the Watergate scandal? It’s hard to reach an answer other than that today is worse.
Indeed, since Ronald Reagan became President in 1981, the federal government has operated in the interest of corporations and the well-to-do with a stunning consistency. Even when a Democrat (Bill Clinton) gained the White House in 1993, he did so as a pro-corporate centrist beholden to the Democratic Leadership Council.
I even would argue that the Left’s obsession with campaign-finance reform helped pave the way for the two terms of George W. Bush, whose administration has marked the apex of government-to-corporate favoritism.
That’s because the great fallacy of campaign-finance reform has turned out to be that it only addresses money in the narrow political process, i.e. contributions to candidates and parties. It ignores the massive infusion of political money that has gone into the right-wing media.