Brady's First Law of Politics - There Are No Reformers, Only Insurgents

Robert B. Brady and his partner Blossom G. Saxe were election lawyers who handled much of the work for the Brooklyn, New York Democratic Party. Brady and Saxe are the founding trustees of the Institute of Election Analysis.

While all honest politicians favor a fair set of rules and a level playing field in elections, the need to guard against fraud makes absolute impartiality impossible. All rules favor candidates with different kinds of strengths.

What the adage "There are no reformers, only insurgents" means is that all rule changes favor some group in the political process. For example, campaign spending limits favors candidates who have the support of the media. Newspapers and television stations have no limits placed on them as to which candidates they can cover, how much coverage to give them, and whether or not this coverage is favorable or unfavorable.

Now, say a candidate wants to end the postal subsidy for newspapers or wants to end the newspaper monopoly on "Legal Notice" advertising. Naturally, the newspapers will not give this candidate positive coverage if they bother to cover her at all. Yet, the campaign finance "reform" rules limits the amount of money she can spend to answer charges in the newspaper, or to communicate directly with the voters.

Campaign finance reform in practice usually favors independently wealthy candidates over those who have to raise money for themselves, and in New Jersey, it has become a device to give public subsidies to millionaire candidates like Governor Whitman who run unopposed in the primary, while simultaneously keeping ballot qualified candidates with no money out of the state sanctioned debates which are a requirement for receiving public funds.

So, every proposal to reform anything should be carefully analyzed to see who is hurt by the change and who is helped. Usually, the people advocating change are not in power. They are trying to make it easier for the people they support to gain power. There are no reformers, only insurgents.

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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf