Tom Tancredo's underdog campaign for President has its own version of the 300 made famous in the movie of that name about ancient Greece. They are the 400 who, in this case, didn't hold the gates against long odds but pushed the gates open for Tancredo to claim $2.5 million in taxpayer funding and stay viable at least through the early primary tests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Why four hundred? Because a candidate needs at least 20 donors of at most $250 in each of 20 states (20 x 20, get it?) in order to qualify for a federal match on all the dollars he or she raises. In Tom's case, according to Ann Mulkern in today's Denver Post, that is a total of $2.8 million thus far, with the qualifying subset being $176,000 in smaller contributions from 3,082 individuals in 25 states.
Pragmatically, I say way to go TT, because I welcome his rightward tug on the other Republican contenders in connection with many issues -- beginning with illegal immigration, of course, but extending across his impeccable positions on confronting radical Islam, corraling spending, appointing constitutionalist judges, defending marriage and the unborn, and opposing such statist measures as No Child Left Behind and the Bush prescription drug entitlement.
On principle, though, there is a sad irony in this exemplary small-government conservative deciding he has to join the statists in order to beat them, to the extent of putting his hand in the taxpayers' pocket for a subsidy of his pitch to voters to become the next president. Say it ain't so, TT.
There's the additional ironic fact of Sen. John McCain, Tancredo's nemesis on many of the above issues, being the only other GOP candidate so far to qualify for -- or deign to accept -- federal matching funds. The Arizona senator, whose name is on the awful free-speech trampling campaign finance restrictions that most conservatives hate, is the oddest of bedfellows for Tom in this regard.
It's true that the federal match, made possible by a voluntary checkoff on your IRS return, is benign compared to McCain-Feingold's sinister distortion of unfettered political competition and debate. But if you reason, as I said, from principle, there is no place in a free society for either of these incursions by the holders of government power into the all-important process by which we the people decide whom to trust with government power.
Bottom line, let's hope that in the next act of Tom Tancredo's distinguished public career, whether it be (cue thunder and lightning) as President after 2008, or continuing in Congress, or as a US Senator after 2010, he moves beyond this year's forgivable compromise with Leviathan and becomes a champion for abolishing tax-funded campaigning.
[Cross-posted on PoliticsWest.com]