Saturday, August 8, 2009

Gaming the system: a short history

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
August 8, 2009

By Bill Kraus

In 1972 Nixon was worried about having enough money to win re-election against the lovable but self-destructive George McGovern. The prospect of Nixon losing was right up there with Lyndon Johnson’s fear of losing to the less lovable but equally self-destructive Barry Goldwater in 1964.

In both cases paranoia trumped reality. Johnson seriously considered pulling out of a race that he won in a landslide. Nixon turned the Republican Party’s very efficient fund raising into something approaching extortion.

Watergate ensued.

The reforms that followed the excesses of 1972 removed the parties from the front line of fundraising, which was the most important reason for their existence and the only reason that candidates tolerated them.

Political Action Committees’ money replaced the parties’ and the era of special interest money driven campaigning was born.

It was quickly apparent to the elected executives and legislative leaders that this put way too much power in the hands of the Political Action Committees and their money.

Toll booth politics and legislative caucus fund raising were invented to contain them. The Political Action Committees had to divert their contributions to the leaders who controlled the flow of legislation, and a new kind of order was restored to the process.

Corralling was not enough, however. The need for money for campaigns had escalated to the point that the legislative leaders and executive officers couldn’t squeeze enough out of the interests to run competitive races everywhere.

This problem was ameliorated by yellow dog redistricting. The legislators conspired to redistrict the states in ways that would drastically reduce the numbers of truly competitive, high cost campaigns. This safe-seat initiative has reached a kind of zenith in Massachusetts, where it is alleged that there are no competitive races for that state’s legislature.

All of this has led to a political system where three people run the state. The governor, the Majority Leader of the State Senate, and the Speaker of the Assembly.

How do you like it?

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