12/07/2005 12:53 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The System Works

The Jack Abramoff scandal, fueled by associate Michael Scanlon's guilty plea and agreement to cooperate, has Republicans and Democrats on the Hill running scared. And it has talk radio hosts on both sides of the ideological divide waxing outraged about the outrageousness of it all.

Missing from all the froth being whipped up around Abramoff is the reason the Delays and the Dorgans need his money so badly: a high percentage of the take has to go to pay for broadcast political advertising. This is the only advanced democracy that allows paid political ads in this fashion, that does not require broadcast media to offer substantial hunks of time for political broadcasts during election campaigns. Then the same media companies get to earn high ratings by denouncing the craven pols who take money from fixers like Abramoff.

It's a perfect little closed system, undisturbed by the reformers who tinker around the edges of fund-raising regulations without daring to strike at the heart of the problem: political advertising. In the benighted 1950s, alarmists like Vance ("The Hidden Persuaders") Packard used to scare Americans with the dystopian vision of a political system where candidates were sold like soap. Since Cheer's spots don't accuse Surf of supporting treason, one could only respond to the Packards of the world: we should be so lucky.