Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Reforms for me, but not for thee

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post examines Arizona and pinpoints the culprit for allowing conservatives to get elected to the state legislature - state public financing of political campaigns.
One admirable notion underlying the law was to make campaigns more competitive, leveling the playing field between entrenched incumbents beholden to moneyed interests and upstart challengers otherwise unable to amass the necessary resources.

Trouble is, it worked -- perhaps too well. The barriers to entry were extremely low. People with little experience in politics at any level ran for the legislature and won. Previously, for better or worse, candidates of both parties were "vetted" by business groups that then proceeded to help them raise money, a process that served to filter out extremes on both sides.

And, as it turned out, a law pushed by "good government" types, primarily Democrats, ended up benefiting conservative Republicans who quickly figured out that the Clean Elections money could be used to take on Chamber of Commerce-type Republicans.

"Clean Elections allowed individuals . . . not to have to compete financially since they didn't have to build constituencies," Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, a Democrat, said in an interview.

J.D. Hayworth, the conservative former congressman who is challenging Sen. John McCain in the Republican primary here, told me that "for those of us who derided it as nanny-state government, and properly so," the "unintended consequence is that it has empowered conservatives."
Horrors! Unintended consequences that benefit those who aren't liberals. Nasty, nasty. That is not what is supposed to happen with progressive reforms. Perhaps that is why there is an effort by Arizona's own progressive Supreme Court justice to repeal the law.
Retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor is spearheading a reform effort that includes repealing the financing law. But a measure to do so died in the just-concluded legislative session.
Marcus concludes,
I am a firm supporter, in theory, of public financing and, even more, of nonpartisan redistricting. But the Arizona experience offers a sobering lesson to reformers. It's not necessarily to be careful what you wish for. But craft your wish with precision, or you may regret making it.
Yup, that's the rub with such progressive reforms. They don't turn out the way they planned. Think of all the campaign finance reforms these good government folks have supported for decades. Have you noticed how money has been removed from politics since the first reforms were passed in the early 1970s?