In his criticism Tuesday of a case before the Supreme Court that could open the door to larger donations by individuals to political candidates, President Barack Obama argued that "there aren't a lot of functioning democracies around the world that work this way, where you can basically have millionaires and billionaires bankrolling whoever they want, however they want, in some cases undisclosed."
But that's neither correct nor factual, several campaign-finance experts told Newsmax.
"The president shows once again that he has no idea what he is talking about when it comes to campaign-finance regulations," said Hans von Spakovsky, former member of the Federal Election Commission and senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
"The U.S. has one of the most-restrictive systems in the world that unnecessarily interferes with the First Amendment rights of Americans to participate in their political system. Many other countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America have much less restrictive rules than the United States," von Spakovsky said.
His opinion of Obama's remarks at his Tuesday news conference was strongly seconded by Bradley A. Smith, former FEC chairman and now a professor at Capital University Law School
"The president doesn't know campaign-finance law, here or abroad," Smith told Newsmax. "It's not that long ago he was incorrectly claiming that Citizens United allowed foreign money to be spent in elections. And I'll bet that he couldn't tell you what is required to be disclosed if his presidency depended on it."
Smith and von Spakovsky's opinions are supported by "Funding of Political Parties and Election Campaigns," a handbook published by the nonpartisan International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
It spells out rules for campaign finance and disclosure in electoral governments throughout the world.
In Africa, for example, the study found the "raising of funds by parties and candidates is a matter of unregulated self-help. Fewer than one in five African states has comprehensive laws to govern the raising of revenue, detail permitted sources of revenue, prohibit others (such as foreign and corporate donations), or impose ceilings or specify sanctions."
"Laws demanding the disclosure of sources of party funds and audited accounts … exist only in a tiny minority of African states. Even in those states, implementation is usually a problem," the study said.
Turning to Asia, the handbook said that "a substantial number of countries in Asia do not have laws regulating party funding."
"Even in democracies such as India and Bangladesh, the regulations are focused on individual candidates and not on political parties as critical actors in the democratic political system," the study said.
The survey noted that to date, "only Sri Lanka in South Asia has public funding of political parties, whereas in Southeast Asia such laws have been introduced only in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. The other countries in the sub-continent, including the Philippines, do not have public funding or laws controlling the flow of money into politics at the party level. This leaves only a few countries in Asia with experience in party funding laws and regulations."
In the young democracies of post-Soviet Central and Eastern Europe, the conclusion of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance appeared to directly contradict Obama's remarks at his news conference.
"Large donors play a special and disproportionately large role in [central and Eastern European] political finance, often more than that of direct state funding," the study said.
In Latin America, researchers found, until quite recently most countries were "fairly permissive with regard to legislation on financial control of election campaigns, and consequently the public has placed little importance on violations of electoral laws. This situation has started to change with growing popular impatience with political corruption scandals."
All told, this is not exactly solid evidence for the president's case that "there aren't a lot of functioning democracies" that work without strict government regulation of campaign spending.
Following Obama's news conference, former Republican National Chairman Michael Steele told Newsmax that "if the president is so concerned about America's example when it comes to campaign finance reforms, why didn't candidate Obama set the example in 2008 and 2012 by taking only public money?"
"His faux comparisons are just wasted rhetoric," Steele said. "Besides, he was wrong on the facts. Typical."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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