TOPICS > Politics

Shields and Brooks on the power of campaign donors, baseball vs. baby

April 4, 2014 at 6:33 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including a Supreme Court ruling that lifts campaign donation limits, as well as public commentary for a pro-baseball player’s paternity leave.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

And I have to say, before we start talking, that was a very difficult report to watch.

Let’s talk about the Supreme Court decision this week. David, closely divided court, 5-4, ruled that there should be no limits on the total amount donors can give to political candidates, political parties. What did you make of the decision and what the majority and the minority justices had to say?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I’m in a distinct minority in my reaction to the decision because I do see a silver lining.

My view is that, for 40 years, we have had these campaign finance reforms, and they have been failures. Money is more coursing through our system than ever before. Incumbents have used the laws to advantage themselves. And one of the reasons I think they have been failures is we have tried to crush down the money in places like the political parties, and it has squished out into opaque super PACs and sort of hidden channels.

And so we have weakened the parties and strengthened all the special interests. And I think one of the things this decision does in a small way — not sufficient way — is it strengthens the party establishments. So the party establishments, which are much more transparent than all these little super PACs and everything else, which are much more accountable, which involve a lot more people, which have national coalitions, are strengthened by this decision.

So I think it’s actually in some small way a step in the right direction, because the way to solve all the money in politics is not to pretend we can get money out of politics. That will never happen. We have to channel it in ways where we can see it and hold it accountable. And I think the parties are the best vehicle for that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, a step in the right direction?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I don’t think so, Judy.

And just to kind of revisit the historical record, from 1976, Judy to 1996, we had six presidential elections. And it was run under the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 1974. In all six of them, every candidate agreed to limits of what he could collect in contributions and what he could spend in seeking a nomination. And they all abided by it.

And the reality, and they — then each of them accepted public funding for the general election, and they could collect no other. That’s six presidential elections during which we had incumbent defeated in 1976, an incumbent defeated in 1980, and then later an incumbent defeated in 1992.

So it wasn’t an incumbent protection act. I mean, Ronald Reagan four times accepted the limits in contributions of what he could take, what he could spend, and the public funding for the general elections. So I just think the idea that it didn’t work, and didn’t work — it did work. It worked brilliantly.

George W. Bush changed it in 2000, when he went to private financing for the nomination, but he accepted public funding in the general. And, quite frankly, so did — it was broken in 2008, when Barack Obama decided he wasn’t going to do that.

I say that because, there is — going to the chief justice, there is nothing more basic to our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders. And I wish they felt the same way about voting rights, which they didn’t, that somehow this giving — and that these people, these five majority justices must be hermetically sealed.

They are unaware of the fact that big money buys access in Washington, and access purchases influence. It is as simple as that. And they have basically given a green light, a further green light, after Citizens United, to the biggest money to have the bigger voice in our politics, and to sound out and drown out the voice of just ordinary citizens.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, just first, on the historical record, I agree with Mark about the presidency. I think the presidency is a bad way to measure the effective campaign finance, because in the presidency, there is so much publicity, there’s so much money floating around.

Everyone’s got a lot of money. Everyone’s got a lot of publicity.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s the only place we have tried, though.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, if you look at the House and Senate races, in the — 1970, when we started this last chapter of campaign finance, the challenger — the incumbents had on average $3 for every $2 for the challenger, 3-2. Now it’s like 4-1 or 5-1.

The incumbents just have a ton more money because they have rigged the system to help themselves, because they have these networks of small donors. Meanwhile, the amount of people, the incumbents being reelected has just been — that has been going up and up and up.

It’s just a lot safer to be an incumbent. So I think they have used the campaign finance reforms. They have passed laws that will help themselves stay in office. And I think that’s one of the flaws that we do have in the system.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you think that is what is going to change?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, on the separate issue of this particular decision, I — you know, I want to limit the effects of the power of donors, no question about it.

Roberts’ opinion doesn’t strike me as stupid. I’m not sure I would agree with it just on what’s — how it’s going to shake out. The opinion is, if you have the right to give to one candidate or five candidates, why shouldn’t you have the right to give to 20 candidates? Why — and he’s seeing it from free speech grounds.

That doesn’t seem to me completely irrational to think that you should be able to give to 20 if you can give to five.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because there’s still limits in this ruling. They’re not doing anything about the limits on individual…

DAVID BROOKS: Right. So, you can just give to more candidates.

And the way it strengthens the parties, it limits — raises some oft caps on what you can give to a party. And the party can create these joint super committees pooling a lot of money and deciding which candidates to give it to.

MARK SHIELDS: Chief Justice Roberts and the majority just apparently are oblivious to the robber barons of the 1890s, to the Watergate, to the soft money scandal of 1990s, and the influence of money.

Their limitation, their narrow definition of corruption is a bribe, where I give you $10 and say I want your vote on the teacher’s bill, and you agree. I mean, it has to be that.

And I just — I have to read something. All right? Joe Scarborough, who writes “Morning Joe,” does “Morning Joe,” was a member of Congress from Florida from 1995 to 2001. And after he left, the Center for Responsive

Politics, they all — talked to the insiders. And Joe Scarborough had this to say.

“The lobbying over China most favored nation trading status was disgusting. There’s no way in hell that MFN would have passed in ’95, ’96, ’97, ’98, ’99, 2000 if all these companies hadn’t come in flooding and making campaign contributions and ask for people’s support. That drove the debate. Every year was the allure of corporate dollars flooding into members’ bank accounts.”

And that’s — quite bluntly, I mean, that’s it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is a Republican conservative.

MARK SHIELDS: I saw — I saw money change votes is what Joe — I mean, they just seem unaware of this, that money is something — if they want to see the appearance of corruption, all they had to do was look in Las Vegas last weekend.

You had five Republican governors, former governors showing up at Sheldon Adelson to genuflect, to beg for his support, to seek his — they were sycophants. John Kasich was — debased themselves.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The governor of Ohio.

MARK SHIELDS: Governor of Ohio.

MARK SHIELDS: You know, Sheldon, thank you for inviting me. God bless you for what you’re doing? For $93 million?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I agree. I mean, I don’t have anything to read, but I have got studies.

And the studies that show the reason Washington real estate is booming and there are so many lobbyists in town, it does pay. The corporations who invest in lobbyists, it pays in terms of tax loopholes, tax subsidies, all the rest. It pays. Clearly, the money has a big effect.

But my point is, the Sheldon Adelsons, the Koch brothers, the George Soroses, what we want to try to do is force them into the parties, not so that Kasich or whoever is going to straight to them and trying to kiss up to special interests, but so the parties have the power and they can direct the money.

They’re still a subject beholden to special interests, but at least they have a national constituency. At least they have to think about national majorities.

MARK SHIELDS: If limitations worked for Ronald Reagan four different times, if he could accept it, and win — win election in an equally funded general election, I mean, that is the — to me, that was the golden period of American politics, from 1976 up to 1996, and really to 2008, basically, when we did have public funding.

I’m telling you, it would be so much cheaper for the American people if we had public funding of elections. We wouldn’t have the kind of loopholes you’re talking about.

DAVID BROOKS: I almost think — well, that would — I’m a little nervous about public funding. It’s better than what we got now. I do agree with that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we have only got a little bit of time left. And I want to leave time for baseball.

Very quick question on the health care law. They did — the administration did get 7.1 million Americans to sign up. Has that — have the Democrats, has the White House stanched the bleeding on this? Are they — or is it still the massive liability, David, that the Republicans say it is?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the numbers are moving a little in the health care — the law’s favor. It’s still, I think, going to be an albatross for Democrats.

But let’s give the president some due here. They had a mess, and he fixed it, and they mobilized a lot of authority, and they did it.

MARK SHIELDS: Turned the corner.

Has it — is it a complete turnaround? I don’t know. But I will say this. This is a White House that has been very short of smiles. And they have gone from finger-pointing to a little limited fist bump this past week, and for real reasons. I mean, this is a major accomplishment.

And the Republicans, they are in the danger right now of rooting for the country to fail. They look bad that way, I mean, and I want to say to them, cheer up, Republicans. Eventually, things will get worse.


MARK SHIELDS: I mean, they — they couldn’t handle this good news.


JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we want to leave time for baseball.

Opening week, how is your team doing, Mark, the Nats?





JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m sorry. I’m thinking about the…

MARK SHIELDS: The Nationals are doing very well. The Nationals were off and running.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, they did lose today.

MARK SHIELDS: They had the good luck of opening against David’s team, the Mets.


MARK SHIELDS: But they lost — they did lose today.

But, in Boston, the world champions opened up today, and it was exciting and classic. And opening day is really a marvelous thing. And, I mean, generations of males and I guess females have come up with counterfeit excuses as to why they can’t…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even females…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the Mets have been a little shaky.

DAVID BROOKS: The Mets, we have achieved a moral victory this week. So, we’re 0-3 so far.

Nonetheless, Daniel Murphy, the second baseman for the New York Mets…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, this is what I wanted to ask you about…

DAVID BROOKS: … AKA the Irish Hammer, who I have watched turned himself from a very mediocre second baseman who could not turn a double play without getting injured, to turn himself into a perfectly adequate second baseman and quite a good hitter, he took the first two days off — games off, because his wife was delivering a baby, Noah, I believe.


DAVID BROOKS: And that’s a heroic moral victory for the New York Mets,. It may be the only kind of victory we’re achieving this season, but he set a good example for professional athletes and the rest of us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But there are some sportscasters, male sportscasters out there who were criticizing Daniel Murphy and said he shouldn’t have taken a game…

MARK SHIELDS: One of whom, Boomer Esiason, former pro football quarterback, did a mea culpa on the air, saying he was wrong about it.

I think, in a strange way, it was because it was opening day. I think opening day — if he’d taken off two games in the middle of July, it wouldn’t have meant anything. But opening day really does — Judy…

MARK SHIELDS: … pitched a no-hitter.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s your kid. It’s your kid.


JUDY WOODRUFF: I just want to get both of you on the record that…

MARK SHIELDS: I’m talking about — I’m talking — if somebody took off two days in the middle of July, they wouldn’t make the big thing. But opening day, I think that’s it. But I think the criticism was unfounded.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re on the side of who, the wife or the…

MARK SHIELDS: I’m on the side of Noah that he has both his parents there, and he will remember it well.


DAVID BROOKS: I just, frankly, wish the NewsHour had let me take off when my three kids were born.


DAVID BROOKS: It’s sad. It was sad.



MARK SHIELDS: … when you were born.


JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re just glad you both were born.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.