By Christopher B. Daly
The Boston Globe’s estimable, veteran political reporter Brian Mooney has a front-page story addressing the question: what has happened to the “Watergate reforms” in the 40 years since the Watergate break-in that began the fall of Republican President Richard Nixon.
Turns out, one of the great post-Watergate reforms — the public financing of elections — is all but dead.
Not only that, but the larger trend of political changes in recent years mark a move away from the lessons learned in Watergate.
One lesson was that power corrupts. Therefore, the power that comes from making big donations to a politician was limited by the caps placed on individual giving. The Supreme Court, however, decided to get rich people back into the business of financing elections, through the Citizens United ruling.
Another lesson was that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Therefore, Congress required all candidates for federal office to account publicly for every dollar raised and every dollar spent. Not so for the new Super-PACs.
Another lesson was that money corrupts. Therefore, Congress almost got up the courage to ban all private donations and institute a system of 100% publicly funded elections. But they blinked and created a hybrid by which politicians had to opt in or out. When the amounts available through public financing failed to keep pace with the amounts candidates could get through private fund-raising, almost every serious mainstream candidate rejected public financing and started holding fund-raisers with wealthy donors.
It appears that the past is prologue.
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