- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

For may years now, I have been suggesting that the dependence on political consultants is destructive to American politics. One of the cliches that always seems to be said about political candidates who don’t declare their candidacies early is that they don’t have time to raise the money “necessary” to run for political office these days. This is usually accompanied by the predictable lament that political campaigns cost too much.

Those who say these commonplaces rarely take the time to explain just why it is political campaigns have become so expensive.

In fact, the greatest cost of most political campaigns for president, U.S. Senate, many congressional and gubernatorial races is the cost of outside political consultants. The great push for fundraising in these campaigns come from the political consultants hired by the candidates.

And where does much of the money that is to be raised go to? To the political consultants and the television advertising they create and place (for a commission). This is the unspoken vicious secret of American politics today.

And what other lament do we always hear these days? That the candidates have to spend so much time on the phone calling donors and at fundraisers. Is it any surprise that the quality of political discourse has been transformed into TV soundbites, and that candidates have little time to think deeply about and discuss the complicated issues which face the nation? This phenomenon in recent years has brought about attempts to control campaign spending and campaign funding. The most notorious of these attempts was the McCain-Feingold bill and the public financing not only of presidential campaigns, but many statewide races as well.

But there were always loopholes, and the spirit of the campaign-financing laws have not only been broken, but the loopholes have produced worse outcomes and circumstances than existed prior to their enactment.

McCain-Feingold is now history. Most of the major presidential candidates have now said they will raise their own money without limit. The 2004 presidential campaign brought in politically motivated billionaires to spend huge amounts of unregulated funds on behalf of their candidates.

In anticipation of another round of this in 2008,vast sums of money are being sought to, in effect, circumvent the spirit of the campaign laws.

Sen. John McCain meant well, but he violated the principle of the freedom of Americans to support the candidates of their choice, not only with their vote and their voices, but with cash.

He would serve his still-viable (although he has been temporarily faltering in the polls) presidential campaign positively by acknowledging that McCain-Feingold does not work.

I think a lot of voters, particularly conservatives and independents, would think more highly of him for facing up to the reality of his campaign-financing law.

The notion that rich people in America are mostly Republicans is clearly false. The new-rich mega-millionaires and billionaires are more likely to be liberal Democrats. As 2004 demonstrated, these rich Democrats were more than willing to pour out the cash for Democratic candidates in the so-called 527 committees that were the primary loophole for campaign-financing laws.

The Republican Party is increasingly becoming the party of blue-collar conservatives, middle-income suburbanites, and the young voter. Other evidence of this reversal is the fact that today the Republican Party is the international party and the free-trade party. Formerly that was the political property of the Democratic Party. But today, the Democrats are isolationists and trade protectionists. Although many Republicans remain social conservatives, the growing libertarian wing of the GOP is beginning to change the perception of this party as one-dimensional on social issues.

The most valid and free-market way to rein in out-of-control campaign spending is for candidates to end their dependence on political consultants. This will not happen because it is “noble.” It will happen because it will be more effective. Someone in 2008, or in 2012 at the latest, will run a successful presidential nominating campaign largely without outside campaign consultants. This will happen because there is also a transformation of the American campaign process now going on, one which that is increasingly using the inexpensive (for now) new media and the more voluntary grass-roots organizing.

Political consultants, as we have known them, are not only too expensive and distracting, but they are also now, more often than not, negative to the political campaigns they are supposed to serve.

The smartest political candidates in America are those who have figured this out. Watch what happens in this regard in the months and the year ahead.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.

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