After attempting to clear himself in the George Washington Bridge scandal with a report he commissioned, Gov. Christie has relaunched his presidential campaign. Hence his cynical declaration last week that campaign contribution limits should be scrapped. Instead of restrictions, the governor said, there should be quick and thorough disclosure.
But Christie has a history of fighting disclosure. He has stonewalled public-records requests, forcing citizens to sue for information. He has used the Republican Governors Association, which he chairs, to travel the nation bolstering his presidential aspirations, while refusing to disclose what the state has spent to enable his security entourage to accompany him on out-of-state political trips.
New Jersey Democrats have been just as insincere, proposing campaign-finance disclosure bills that go nowhere. The most recent was introduced in January and dispatched to a committee to die. And Christie hasn't even supported those phony efforts.
The result has been that secretive campaign money groups, some of which don't even disclose their donors, have invaded the state. Their spending in New Jersey increased from $6.7 million in 2001 to $39 million last year, according to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission. In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, where campaign contributions are unlimited, transparency is hampered by a primitive system that makes information hard to find.
National efforts have been equally impotent. While the Supreme Court has been weakening protections against the corrupting influence of political money since 2010, Republicans have blocked bills to improve disclosure.
Christie has a point in that efforts to limit campaign contributions have been repeatedly frustrated. Whether donated openly or hidden in fake charities that use tax-code loopholes to hide their backers, money, like water, has found a way. It may dominate politics as long as the powerful hope to manipulate the people and as long as candidates are willing to pretend it doesn't matter.
Full disclosure of unlimited contributions could be a reasonable compromise. But politicians haven't shown nearly as much interest in the disclosure part of the deal as they have in the money.