Throughout American history, most campaigns against "corruption," "special interests" and "big money" have in fact been covers for other special interests, often less defensible than those they oppose.
One of the earliest of these campaigns was Andrew Jackson's war against the second Bank of the United States. Jackson claimed to defend the common man against a vast conspiracy of bankers and established wealth. But the practical result of the bank's destruction was the transfer of financial power from Philadelphia to Wall Street in New York. This was no coincidence. Jackson's chief adviser in this matter was Martin Van Buren from — where else? — New York.
The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, which passed the Senate on Monday this week, is no different. For all the talk about the evils of "soft money," "phony issue ads" and "special interests," the one interest that will benefit the most from the new reforms hasn't been mentioned at all: Big Government.
Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on two things: First, money equals corruption. Second, because there is an awful lot of money in politics today, our political institutions must be awfully corrupt. Their conclusion, of course, is that we must further restrict the amount of money Americans spend on politics.
But the most important question — the one that gets to the heart of the problem — is not being asked: Why is all this money going to politics today?
The answer is Progressivism, a philosophy of government that was new and radical when it swept across America a century ago. Regulating how citizens engage in politics is but one of its legacies.
Many politicians simply don't understand the Progressive transformation of government in America. Some do, but they are loathe to discuss such things in public, because in many ways Progressivism sees the public as the problem. Besides, politicians are part of the new Progressive government, and benefit from it, so why reveal the real interest they are serving?
The brainchild of Darwinian thinkers and political leaders such as Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, John Dewey, and Herbert Croly, Progressivism sought to build a national "state." In particular, Progressives wanted to replace limited, constitutional government by consent with more "scientific" social management and government regulation by unelected bureaucrats.
Government-by-bureaucracy was supposed to be an innovative government reform, because professional bureaucrats would be impartial in doling out justice. Unlike elected officials, bureaucrats would not be beholden to "special interests." Sound familiar?
The one thing standing in the way of the Progressives' new idea of politics was the United States Constitution. The Framers of the Constitution believed it important to protect individual rights by limiting the power of government. From the Progressive point of view, this was a problem, because a limited government could neither regulate the lives of Americans nor redistribute wealth in the name of Progressive "social justice." For the Progressives, the Constitution was something to be overcome. The Constitution was nothing but "political witchcraft" from the past, as Woodrow Wilson once described it.
The Progressive project did not experience any real success however until it was taken over by more able politicians, such as Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, under more auspicious circumstances. FDR's "New Deal" and LBJ's "Great Society" represent the second and third waves of Progressivism, when America began to implement many of the regulatory schemes only dreamed of by Wilson and the original Progressives.
Naturally, as government increasingly regulated how Americans do their business, American businesses wanted to influence those regulations. Suddenly, business had an interest in government affairs it never had before.
It is no coincidence that every major campaign reform law in our history has followed a surge in the growth of government regulation, such as the Tillman Act of 1907, which followed the Progressive Movement; the Hatch Act of 1939 following the New Deal; and the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 — the most sweeping attempt to implement government control over campaign finance — which followed the Great Society.
This is all part of the Progressive plan to build a large national regulatory state with increasing power over the lives of Americans. And it is wonderfully self-serving: Government regulation grows. Americans respond by engaging in politics. Now government says it needs to restrict how Americans engage in politics. How will government do this? By more government regulation, of course. Does anyone see a pattern here?
In the end, campaign finance reform is nothing more than a cover for increasing the size and scope of the federal government, a government that already exercises too much unconstitutional power over its citizens. Whether reformers identify themselves as Democrats or Republicans is unimportant. In truth they are neither. They are above all Progressives, and they are enemies of what is left of constitutional government in America.