May 5, 2007
Learning the hard way
By Jim Babka
Comedian and former "Man Show" (final season) co-host Doug Stanhope has abandoned his Libertarian Presidential campaign. His reason? The federal campaign finace laws make an effective effort impossible. And my first thought was, "They just don't believe you when you try to tell them." In 2000, I was the Press Secretary for Downsize DC co-founder Harry Browne who was then running for President. It was his second campaign and the Harry and his campaign team wanted to tell the world just how bad the campaign finance laws are. These laws help skew the system. They're Incumbent Protection Acts. After the campaign was over, we formed, educated a tiny base of people on a shoestring budget, organized a group of plaintiffs, and took our case all the way to the US Supreme Court. But the point here was that we hadn't been listening either. We had to learn things the hard way. Ed Crane, of CATO fame, after years of top party activism, had told the libertarian world back in '83 or so, that minor parties had no chance in the current campaign finance regime. But Crane wasn't listening either. He could've paid attention to former 1968 Democratic Presidential aspirant Eugene McCarthy who had said that the system of registration, reporting, and contribution limits, entrenched by the 1974 Buckley v. Valeo case, would've killed his campaign -- would've made his New Hampshire primary shocker, which provoked Lyndon Johnson to drop out of the race, "impossible." Johnson would've won the Democratic nomination that year if we had the campaign finance laws we have today. Perhaps that's a clue as to why we have them? And it got a lot worse when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the McCain-Feingold, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, in the McConnell v FEC case. But Ed Crane, had to learn the hard way. Harry Browne (Perry Willis and I) had to learn the hard way. And now, Doug Stanhope has found out the hard way. He told his supporters on My 1,
"We're done, at least so far as being a candidate. For all of our false optimism, forced enthusiasm and the tireless effort of a small team of close friends, we couldn't get past the wall of bureaucracy. The Federal Election Commission proved insurmountable in their spiderweb of legal fingerf*#king. The idea that I could run an effective campaign rested on the fact that I tour constantly for a living and have a built-in audience & media wherever I go. FEC rules would not allow for me to campaign at paid gigs while also retaining a personal income from those shows. If I can't recruit from my shows, I'm about as effective as standing on a milk crate in the city park. Even our crafty attempts at creating our own loopholes in the laws - like jailhouse attorneys trying to invent and employ makeshift last-minute defenses - still came up short in the face of the Federal Election Commision. The system is set up to keep the two-party monopoly as free from competition as possible. [Emphasis added] The penalties for f*#king up with FEC rules make IRS penalties look like fetish spankings and I f*#k up quite a bit. The other problem was simply in making the whole thing fun. The more rules, paperwork and bulls*#t we'd run into the less creative and funny it was becoming. The process started to feel like when we had to 'clean it up' for the Man Show - and we all know how well that worked out."
Stanhope's right. It's not any fun. And it's even less fun to rain on the parade of good people who believe what I once believed with all my heart. But the truth must get out: The system is rigged by campaign finance laws. And until that's fixed, candidates considering a run for office, must first step through a door with a sign above that reads, "Abandon Hope, all ye who enter here." We'll have more to say about "the rigged system" in the coming weeks and months. For now, suffice it to say, trying to elect the right person is going at this backwards. There just aren't enough people who believe the size, scope, and power of the federal government is the biggest, most important issue. Our position is not getting enough airtime. If we change those two things, we have a whole new environment in which the type of politicians showing up to run will begin to change. Then, if we can keep them honest to their campaign promises, the system could begin to change. And until we had a tool like the Internet, that just wasn't possible. Carpe Diem. Viva la Downsize DC!
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