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Mark Shields' op-ed column: Mark Hanna Was Right
WASHINGTON--Mark Hanna, the Cleveland industrialist who managed the winning presidential campaign of his fellow Ohio Republican William McKinley, offered this timeless insight: "There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can't remember what the second is."
Today, well over a century later, Hanna is sadly still right. After the Watergate and fundraising scandal of Republican Richard Nixon's 1972 winning re-election campaign, Americans adopted a reform law under which presidential candidates who complied with limits on their campaign contributions and expenditures receive public matching funds for their primary campaigns. Under the same law, the presidential nominees of the two major parties would, as long as they pledged not to collect any private contributions, received a lump-sum grant to run their general election campaigns.
Critics of the reform law condemned the public funding as "food stamps for politicians." But Ronald Reagan in his three White House bids abided by the law's limits on what his campaign could receive and on what it could spend. The Gipper (whom no one accused of being a closet socialist) cashed checks from the U.S. Treasury to finance completely both his winning presidential campaigns.
George H.W. Bush did the same. So, too, did Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Michael Dukakis, Bob Dole, Al Gore, John McCain, and Walter Mondale. George W. Bush accepted public funding for both of his winning general-election campaigns.
The stated intention of the reform law was to create a "level playing field" by limiting the influence of and the candidates' reliance upon big money. The reform law in the eight presidential elections from 1976 up until 2008 guaranteed financial parity for the post-convention campaigns of the Democratic and Republican nominees. Because Republicans are the more anti-regulation, pro-private-sector party, with greater claim upon the deepest pockets of American business, the reform law's "level playing field" deprived the GOP of a major fundraising advantage.