Don't Wait for Watergate

Jonathan Salant at Bloomberg thinks he knows what's on the horizon if the presidential public financing program is not revamped: Watergate all over again.

As the frontrunners in the presidential contest one by one declined public financing and set out to round up a stable of bundlers and high dollar donors to finance their run in this most expensive of campaigns, the door that the post-Watergate public financing program was supposed to close on buying influence swung wide open.

 

The lack of public financing will magnify the power of lobbyists and other well-connected givers who collect and ``bundle'' donations from their family, friends and associates. Besides enhancing fundraisers' influence in Washington, supporters of campaign limits say, it may also sow the seeds for another massive scandal like Watergate, which drove Nixon from office and shook citizens' faith in their government for a generation.

``The amount of money that's being raised this cycle raises the specter of the presidency going back on the auction block,'' says Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington group that favors curbs on political donations.

 

As the saying goes, if you forget history you are doomed to repeat it. With even those candidates who speak out on the stump against the influence of money in politics forced to choose between the principle of public financing and the competitiveness of their campaigns, this is clearly going to be a decisive year for dealing with how we finance our elections. No one wants to have the next Watergate hung around their necks -- but who will take decisive action to stop the current trend before the public financing option is dismantled entirely?