Ah, Reform

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I have to say, I think it's pretty pathetic for Fred Wertheimer, erstwhile campaign finance reform advocate, to be punting like this on the issue of John McCain's public financing shenanigans. Pleading lack of legal expertise in this front would make sense if we'd taken the issue to a lawyer who was begging off and saying it's outside his area of competence. But Wertheimer is a reform advocate. Surely he ought to come up with an opinion as to whether or not the precedent McCain is trying to set is one we should welcome or one we should regret.

As a refresher, here's what McCain thinks should be allowable. Candidate enters the race. Candidate experiences fundraising difficulties. Candidate signs up to receive primary campaign public funds, knowing full well that this will commit him to abide by spending limits during the pre-convention period. Candidate uses promise of public funding to help secure a loan for his campaign. Candidate uses loaned funds to help wrap up the nomination well before the convention. Having become his party's nominee, the candidate's fundraising woes are gone. Candidate notes that he hasn't yet spent any public funds (merely used the promise that they would be forthcoming to secure a loan and spent the loaned funds) so asserts that he can decline to accept them, decline to abide by spending limits, and repay the loan and finance the rest of the campaign with the now-forthcoming special interest cash.

Now whether or not that procedure conforms to the law as written is clearly an issue for legal experts. But whether or not, as a policy matter, the reform community favors the creation of the kind of loophole McCain wants to create is not. I have a hard time imagining how any reform advocate could favor the McCain loophole. But maybe some reformers do favor it. If so, they should say so and give their reasons. If not, they should say so and give their reasons. But this mum's the word game, this effort to cover McCain's ass while keeping their own asses covered, is just pathetic. What do they think, that if they carry McCain's water for him and prove to all the world that he can thumb his nose at them and pay no price for it, and then McCain becomes president, then they're going to have the leverage and access they want? That's preposterous.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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