The first quarter campaign finance disclosures from the Presidential field draws a trio of critical editorials on the subject of the "wealth primary" from The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and the The New York Times. All pose the essential question in one form or other: how much damage is this fund-race doing to our elections, and our elected officials?
The Globe endorses public financing, as outlined by Senators Durbin and Specter in the Fair Elections Now Act, expressing disgust for the obvious influence of campaign cash on policy:
Do contributions corrupt policy? Few would answer no. Just this week, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency should be regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Candidate George Bush promised in 2000 to have the EPA do just that -- and the voters were pleased. But President Bush reversed himself a year later, putting such emissions off-limits for the EPA. Big oil and other corporate interests, which had contributed heavily to Bush's campaign, were more than pleased by the change ; they took it to the bank. Six years were lost in the fight against global warming.
The Post meanwhile asks the candidates whether they really want to keep up this "money chase", and asks the voters whether they want to support a candidate opposed to using the public financing system, imploring all the candidates to promise, as Barack Obama and John McCain have done, to use public financing in the general election if their opponent does in an effort to reign in spending.
Over at the Times, they're pulling for a restored public financing system for presidential races, lamenting the inordinate importance attached to money in the race, and the corresponding dive in open debate on ideas:
This is already a record-breaking campaign for the sheer volume of money it is generating. It also is setting a new low with a ludicrously premature handicapping of the race based on the ability to raise cash. It is 19 months before the election, and the quarterly fund-raising data were treated this week like the dawning of poll results from Dixville Notch, N.H.
All this in a race that is supposed to be a different sort of competition — if not of ideas, then at least of personalities and positions.
This is not just another example of picking a winner before a vote is cast. This year, the political industry is spinning the money before it is spent, ordaining mega-fund-raising as the sine qua non of a credible candidacy. Dispatches heralded “the winners of the first presidential fund-raising race,” pronouncing one big $20 million raiser (Mitt Romney) as instantly “formidable” and a “rising force” in the campaign, while discounting a more familiar aspirant (Senator John McCain) as “lackluster” and “anemic” for showing at a mere $12.5 million.