Democrats’ “howls of outrage” over Republican campaign spending should be treated “with a hefty helping of cynicism,” said Ruth Marcus. Yes, it’s slimy that Republicans are spending more than $100 million from anonymous donors. But in 2004, the shoe was on the other foot. Democrats set up campaign groups with innocuous-sounding names, raised more than $150 million from labor unions and big-bucks donors, and spent it on attack ads. Thanks to hapless enforcement by the Federal Election Commission, the pro-Democratic groups agreed to pay a measly $1.3 million fine for violating elections laws—three years later.
When it comes to campaign cash, Democrats and Republicans have essentially the same position: When we have more to spend because of some loophole in the law, that’s just fine; when the other side has more money, democracy is being subverted. In 2004, when the Democrats were on their spending binge, Republicans were bemoaning a “total meltdown of federal campaign-finance regulation” and demanding more transparency. Now they say transparency isn’t important. In politics, morality is “all situational.”