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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

"Do you ever get the feeling," asked humorist Robert Orben, "that the only reason we have elections is to … Read More.

30 Jan 2016
Is There Only One True Progressive?

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

23 Jan 2016
The Man Who Drowned Democracy With 'Sewer Money'

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. This week marked the anniversary of … Read More.

Goodbye, Campaign Spending and Contribution Limits!


The campaign finance reform law enacted after Richard Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign and the Watergate scandal was straightforward. Presidential candidates who complied with limits on campaign contributions and expenditures would receive public matching funds for their primary campaigns. Each general-election presidential nominee of the two major parties would receive a lump-sum grant to run his campaign as long as he agreed to limit spending to the amount of the grant and not to accept any private contributions.

Its intention was to create "a level playing field" where an underfinanced underdog candidate could have a fighting chance against the front-runner with the deepest pockets and biggest financial backing. Because the reform law was on the books, an out-of-office former governor could challenge a sitting president in the primaries and come within a switch of only 54 delegate votes at the national convention of winning the nomination.

That was 1976, and the challenger to President Gerald Ford, of course, was Ronald Reagan, who under the Watergate reform law ran three presidential campaigns in which he abided by the contribution and spending limits, and twice as the winning Republican nominee ran campaigns financed entirely by taxpayer funds. (I have yet to hear any conservatives accuse the Gipper when he cashed those Treasury checks to finance his campaign of accepting "political food stamps."

George H.W. Bush ran twice for president and twice for vice president in campaigns that willingly accepted the law's contribution and expenditure limits and public matching funds. Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter in four presidential campaigns between them did the same. George W. Bush accepted public funds for his general election campaigns even after he had raised and spent only private money in the pre-convention period and not abided by the statutory primary spending limits.

Republicans, as the anti-regulation, pro-business party, have historically been more successful at raising campaign money than Democrats. In fact, in the first four national elections of this decade, the GOP outraised the Democratic Party, according to the respected Center for Responsive Politics, by a mere $678 million.

But then came 2008. The country was tired, after eight years of the Bush administration, of Republicans. The Democratic nominee was a young, cerebral, eloquent, appealing African-American with the golden touch when it came to raising money. Barack Obama became the first major-party presidential nominee since Richard M. Nixon to finance his general election campaign exclusively by private money. Like Nixon in 1972, Obama in 2008 outraised his opponent by more than two to one — actually by $745 million to John McCain's $368 million.

By rejecting the campaign finance law in 2008, Obama won a short-term political advantage while losing for himself and his party the moral high ground on the question of political money reform. Aided by Supreme Court decisions that for the first time in over a century permit corporations to directly — as well as anonymously — bankroll commercials that attack or endorse a candidate, Republicans in 2010 enjoyed a 20-to-one spending advantage over Democrats from outside groups not required to disclose their donors.

Now that they have proof of how well they can do in elections without contribution and spending limits, House Republicans almost unanimously voted this past week to end public funding of presidential campaigns. As an incumbent, President Obama may well be able to privately raise a billion dollars, but with no spending or contribution limits, in the long run Republicans — and seven-figure, secret donors — will have the upper hand in American politics.

The era — between Nixon and Obama — may be remembered as the Golden Era of Campaign Finance Reform.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




3 Comments | Post Comment
Getting Our Souls Back
I recently watched the economist Ben Stein repeating the accepted doctrine that World War II, not the New Deal, got us out of the Great Depression. That sounds true at first, until one stops to analyze the situation. What took us out of the Depression was massive government spending. Something that Roosevelt had advocated with the CCC, PWA and CWA but for which he could not get funds. The war was the catalyst to the massive government spending that took place. The difference being that Roosevelt wanted to spend money on peaceful projects to resuscitate the nation. The war accomplished the same end, but with spending going for needed armaments.
Remember that this massive war spending was coupled with an increase in taxes and the selling of War Bonds to a receptive American public. We did not borrow a dime from any foreign government.
Today, our country is under serious attack again. This time the attack comes from within; from an over-indulgent population who believes that we can live high-on-the-hog forever by borrowing. And we are encouraged by our elected officials to continue on this path. There is no one in the political camp willing to tell the truth to the American people that this cannot continue and that we have to bite the bullet to turn the economic situation around.
The Treasury Department, as of October 2010, published a list the foreign owners of U.S. Treasury Securities which included the following: China $907 Billion, Japan $877 Billion, Oil Exporters $214 Billion, Russia $132 Billion, Luxembourg $77 Billion, Mexico $35 Billion, Israel $18 Billion and so on. How is it possible that WE owe Russia, Mexico and Israel money? But that is how bad our situation has become. We OWE everyone a total of 4.3 Trillion. Most disturbing is the poll recently taken in Texas, which I suspect is a reflection of the Nation. The poll showed that Texans do not want to cut the state budget, but they do not want to pay higher taxes. In other words, let's borrow to keep on going. Our national and state elected officials will tell us, with a poker face, that they are worried about leaving the debt to our grandchildren. Good grief, WE got ourselves into this mess. WE should get ourselves out.
Thus, if we, today, see the economic crises as a true enemy of our way of life, we will do as we did in WW II. We will go into massive spending, not giving money to the banks, but using it to finance the rebuilding of our decaying infrastructure: roads, highways, bridges, port facilities, passenger rail service, dams, power grids, water supply distribution, parks, environmental clean up, energy research and search, restructuring our manufacturing base and many other projects that would benefit us. We would finance all this ourselves , as we did in WWII, through higher taxes and the selling of Recovery Bonds. During WW II our citizens were realistic and mature enough to realize that we were in the war for our survival and we took care of it ourselves. Today, we need to grow up and be mature enough to realize that we are in this economic battle for the survival of our country and that only WE can get us out of this mess. Thus, part of the money raised by higher taxes and the sale of Recovery Bonds would be used to buy back our honor from China and the other powers that own our souls.
I did not hear the President speak of sacrifice. Our troops can bleed on the desert,but we cannot make sacrifices on the home front.
Luis Celerier
Longview, Texas
Comment: #1
Posted by: Luis Celerier
Fri Jan 28, 2011 5:10 PM
Sir; ... as long as people are willing to accept republican government where they do not get a vote on the subjects which affect them, and are at the mercy of money in the process of government it does not matter who gets elected because the very process is corrupting... Government has too much power, but never enough to do good... Our power ends with the ability to replace one bum with another with a long wait in between the opportunity... It is not a choice... The choice between bad and worse is not a choice, but a chronic condition; and no little window treatment change is going to fix the bed bug problem... Look at the people of the world with the courage to stand up and say: We have had enough of bad and corrupt government... What do we do??? We bow down before calls for ever greater sacrifice so the rich will not ever have to do with less; because for them to do their share might scuff the luster off of Capitalism... Well, don't look now; but capitalism has become slavery for the people, and it will destroy us if we cannot govern it... Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Jan 29, 2011 8:20 AM
Representive government is a failure-more corrupt since the political action of the Supreme Court (TFAR)
Comment: #3
Posted by: Ed Cool
Sat Jan 29, 2011 2:32 PM
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