Money and politics go together like fish and water. And, as with streams of water, you can't impede progress at a point along the stream without causing it to flow elsewhere.
That's a concept a lot of noble-minded souls seem unable to grasp when it comes to campaign finance reforms. It's also at the root of a problem illuminated recently in a report by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.
The institute found that the two major political conventions this summer Democrats will be in Denver and Republicans in St. Paul, Minn. will be financed about 80 percent by large corporations. This is no accident. As the Associated Press reported, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has asked corporations to give generously, because in turn they can expect to connect with people who soon may inhabit the White House or be part of the next administration.
Democrats have been similarly brazen. If companies want their executives to have face-time with prominent politicians in Denver, they have to pay, and do so generously.
A 2002 federal law made unlimited soft-money contributions illegal, but the Federal Elections Commission allowed an exception for donations to the committees that organize political conventions. This was done because of the belief local conventions would be supported by organizations more interested in promoting civic pride than in raw politics. That was wrong. Not only do the parties solicit corporate contributions in exchange for access, they focus on large corporations located far from convention cities.
The problem with soft-money contributions is they provide indirect support for candidates or issues that become difficult for the public to track. When corporations make up the bulk of funding for an event as large as a political convention, it raises questions about whether political platforms reflect sound wisdom and public policy over corporate agendas.
As it is, modern political conventions have become giant infomercials for parties and their presidential candidates. Despite this year's close nomination fights, the days of convention floor scuffles over nominations are long gone. Their value in the democratic process is questionable.
The FEC could cut off this source, but money would simply find a different way to flow. Instead, it should focus on ways to make the flow crystal clear and transparent.