Thursday, February 14, 2008

"Secret" Money in Campaign Funding

It is irresponsible campaign finance media reporting like this that just drives me insane:
A torrent of secret money is flooding into the leading presidential campaigns, with more than $118 million, or one-quarter of the total raised in this cycle, banked without disclosure of who gave the funds or where the donations originated.

The money is coming from hundreds of thousands of donations of $200 or less, which have been widely praised for democratizing the system for funding White House bids. However, the surge in low-dollar gifts has come at the cost of transparency, since federal law only requires campaigns to itemize donations when a donor gives more than $200.

According to an analysis being released today by a Washington think tank, the Campaign Finance Institute, Senator Obama of Illinois led the pack with such small and secret donations, pulling in about $31 million during 2007. Rep. Ron Paul ran second in small gifts, raking in more than $17 million. At the end of the year, Senator Clinton and John Edwards, who has since dropped out, were essentially tied for third in unitemized, small contributions, with each candidate raising about $11 million.
The law says that amounts of less than $200 don't need to be itemized. The whole stated purpose behind campaign finance disclosure laws is to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption. Fine, then a calculation was made that amounts under $200 were so small that the risk of corruption was considered nil and thus the rule.

Now the $200 limit was created in 1974, when campaign finance reporting was done largely by hand, including typing the reports. Now in teh modern age of computers and sophisticated databases, it is possible to have a lower disclosure threshhold. But really, if $200 in 1974 was considered a level under which no corruption was possible and the average congressional campaign cost under $80,000, how can $200 be corrupting with the average congressional campaign costs in excess of $800,000 and the presidential campaings will cost $250 million each?

The thing that chages me, in addition to the inflmatory headline, is that it takes four paragraphs before anyone learns that the "torrent of secret money" is in fact actually legal.

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