Transcription – John Ryder Interview

Q:              — sponsor?  I’ve got several questions on this and maybe I can just package them into one or two.  One is what was the problem to which McCain-Feingold was intended to be a solution?  And then, what were the consequences of this new campaign finance legislation for the parties — for the political parties?

RYDER:      Yes.  Well, the problem that McCain-Feingold was attempting to solve is a pure fantasy in the minds [00:31:00] of people like Common Cause and the media and John McCain, and does not exist in the real world.  And the problem that they thought they were trying to solve is that there’s an enormous amount of money in politics.  And as I think George Will has pointed out from time to time, manufacturers spend more money advertising pet food annually than the combined total of all political campaign spending in a presidential year.  And one would think that the fundamental issues of democracy in this country are somewhat more important than pet food.  But, nonetheless,[00:32:00]  there’s a group of people who think that money in politics is a terrible thing.  And the problem with that theory is that money is like the Mississippi River, which we have blocked from view in this interview, but (laughter) the Mississippi River — you can put a dam across the Mississippi River and you’re not going to stop the water from flowing down to the Gulf of Mexico.  Now, you may flood the State of Arkansas and you may divert it somewhere else, or you may back up some tributary, but you’re not going to stop the water from flowing from north to south and you’re not going to stop the flow of money into politics.  As long as political actors are making decisions that affect the lives of American people — and that’s what they do — the American people, in various permutations and combinations [00:33:00] and organizations, are going to funnel money into the campaigns that select the people who act upon them.  So what McCain-Feingold did, by banning soft money from the — banning — prohibiting the National Committees from soliciting or receiving unlimited contributions — commonly called soft money contributions — was to divert the flow of those soft money contributions to non-party organizations.  And so you had –in 2004, you had the beginning of the phenomena of the outside groups — the 527s, so-called because of section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, which permits a political organization to raise money without disclosing [00:34:00] much about them — and spending in unlimited amounts.  And that was this Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that ran attack ads against John Kerry as independent expenditures — because they can’t be coordinated with the Bush campaign and they can’t be coordinated with the National Committee.  So you’ve got these free actors kind of roaming around in the atomic universe of politics, spreading their own message.  That trend has accelerated since 2004.  And you’ve had a proliferation of 501(c)(4)s and then the Super PAC concept.  And so you have a situation like you did in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, where one single individual — Sheldon Adelson, from Las Vegas [00:35:00] — was able to send tens of millions of dollars through a super PAC in support of Newt Gingrich as a candidate for the Republican nomination.  And I do not think this is healthy for the American political system.  I think we would be much better served if all that money were coming through the National Committee.  And that’s because I think what political parties — when they do their job right — is they aggregate, mediate, and moderate various interests.  Parties are coalitions of interests; they are not interests themselves.  So in the Republican coalition, you have people who are strongly in support of Second Amendment rights; that’s their principal policy initiative.  You have folks who want low taxes.  You have folks who want less regulation.  You want people – [00:36:00] you have people who are opposed to redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships.  So you have all these different interests and they come together, aggregated in un– in one organization.  And they often have to sit down at the table together and kind of mediate their differing priorities, and allocate resources based on the priority of winning as a coalition and not just winning as an individual interest.  The other thing that happens when you have this aggregation is that because the coalition that is a national party has a long-term view of things, it’s not looking out just to this election.  It’s looking out to this election, and the election after that, and the election after that.  You know, both of our political parties have now been in business in this country for over 150 years. [00:37:00] They have a long — a far horizon that they’re looking at.  The campaigns look only at the next election.  And it’s amazing the number of these super PACs, 527s, and 501(c)– 501(c)(4)s that spring into being in an election year and then dissolve by December; they’re gone.  They’re like, you know, toadstools after the rain.  And so what you have — and so those outside groups behave, I think, like the factions that James Madison identified in Federalist number 10.  You know, it’s a small group acting contrary to the public interest.  And I think that when you can get all those factions to operate together as part of a coalition, I think it’s much healthier for the politics of America.  So I think that that aspect [00:38:00] of McCain-Feingold was very injurious to the American political system.

Q:              So in 2004, as a result of McCain-Feingold, the parties couldn’t raise as much money —

RYDER:      That’s right.

Q:              — and how did that affect the ability of the Republican National Committee to do its job?  What were — what weren’t you able to do that you would have been able to do if that law hadn’t been passed?

RYDER:      Well, you have a number of impacts.  Number one, it makes an enormous amount of work for lawyers, trying to figure out how to get around the restrictions (laughter) of McCain-Feingold.  And what it means is that instead of the National Committee raising money for a national convention — and a national convention is a hugely expensive project.  You know, $50, $60, $70 million. But instead of the National Committee raising that money — because remember, the officers of the National Committee cannot solicit soft money contributions for anything.  So instead of the National Committee doing that, you have to create a host committee, which is a separate entity.  And it can raise soft money.  But then it can’t spend that money on the political aspects of a convention.  So you have to separate who’s paying for what.  And it became– it’s really fairly artificial.  But it’s all about, you know, how many accountants can dance on the head of a pin and satisfy the requirements of the Federal Election Commission and their staff of lawyers and accountants.  So that’s — you know, that’s a typical example.  The other things is, is soft money would have been used to do data builds, [00:40:00] turn out the vote efforts, some mass communication.  And instead, that has to be done either directly through the campaign or it ends up being done by these independent groups who, by law, cannot coordinate their message with the candidate.  So you get — if you’re a candidate, this is horrible.  Because you’ve got a plan to get your message in front of the American people:  who you are, what you stand for, what you want to accomplish if you get elected.  And you’ve got somebody else out there who has a different agenda, but a lot of money, putting out a message about what they think you ought to be doing or why they’re — or attacking your opponent in a way that you find unseemly.  So it’s a nightmare [00:41:00] for the campaigns and it’s not healthy for the national parties.

Q:              Well, you mentioned the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacking John Kerry right after the Democratic convention, at which he had sort of asserted his national security credentials based on having been a Vietnam War veteran and so —

RYDER:      Well, John — yeah, John Kerry tried to have it both ways.  I mean, you know, he had made — he had made his political career on the fact that he was a young Vietnam veteran opposed to the war, and famously testified before Congress in opposition to the war, and was, in essence, a war protestor during the war.  Not all of his colleagues in the Army appreciated the position he took back in 19770.  So when he came to the Democratic National Convention and tried — you know, and said, you know, “John Kerry reporting for duty,” and tried to assert his military bona fides, the people who were offended by his attacks on the military — or what were perceived as attacks on the military back in the ’70s — threw that back in his face.

Q:              What my question is, did that add — help the Bush campaign?

RYDER:      I think it — well, I think it emphasized the contradictions in John Kerry’s own career.

Q:              So here was a case where —

RYDER:      So that was helpful.

Q:              So here was a case where the independent group did something on the — on behalf of (inaudible) —

RYDER:      Well, no, not on behalf.  They did something to vent their own frustrations with John Kerry, which — from which Bush was able to benefit.