Paul Taylor, founder and director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, was a
newspaper reporter for 25 years. He spent the last 14 at The Washington
Post, where he covered national politics and social issues.
As the U.S. Senate gears up for a vote this spring on the campaign finance reform bill drafted by Arizona Republican John McCain and Wisconsin Democrat Russell Feingold, it would do well to consider a lament from one of its recent escapees: "Today's campaigns function as collection agencies for broadcasters," Bill Bradley observed a few years ago. "You simply transfer money from contributors to television stations." In 2000 those transfers soared to record levels, not just because political donations from wealthy contributors were more generous than ever, but also because television stations were more brazen than ever in jacking up their ad rates to exploit the unprecedented campaign-driven spike in demand. As a result, political advertisers spent up to an estimated $1 billion on television broadcasting last year--five times more than what they spent in 1980, even after adjusting for inflation. "The rates are becoming extortionist," Jim Jordan, executive director of the Democratic...