I’m writing this in an election year and I’m hearing an awful lot about campaign finance reform. It seems that some candidates are getting more money than others and that causes a great deal of righteous consternation. “Get big money out of politics” is the cry of the have-nots. Some people worry that big business can influence legislation by making campaign contributions. The theory is that one expects to get some benefit out of what he has spent his money on. Other, equally outraged, examples of the virtuous worry that big labor can get its way with legislators by making campaign contributions. This lot throws in the extra argument that some of the labor union members paying for these contributions might actually be opposed to some of the candidates supported by their union dues. The first bunch, of course, sees nothing wrong with this.

Having had some experience with organizations which used my dues money on things to which I was opposed, I do have some qualms about the use of union dues for political contributions. But what about voluntary contributions. What if an incumbent is supporting legislation which will outlaw a union’s right to strike. If I were a union member I think I would be glad to contribute something towards his defeat. What if I owned a factory and an incumbent was supporting legislation to double the already high sales tax I pay on all my raw materials. I think I had better try to defeat him or look for another line of work. Do I have the right to support a political candidate or not? I think the Supreme Court was right when it found a protected free speech issue in this campaign finance controversy. I think I have the right to make my opinion known, no matter what it costs. If I’m willing to pay the price, I should be allowed to do so.

The “reformers” would say that I could buy the government and make myself above the law if I were willing to spend enough money. That is assuming that: 1) anyone has that much money, and 2) the electorate is too damned dumb to know what I’m doing. I do not have too high an opinion of the electorate and the manner in which they make their electoral choices, but I don’t think the entire body politic is quite that dumb. I’m sure that even the lazy lot in the press corps would suspend talking about strategy and political tactics long enough to discover the reason behind my purchase. Once that purpose were discovered I expect that they would draw it to the attention of the voting public. If at that point, the public still wanted to vote for the man hired to deliver the government to me, I think they should be allowed to do so. They are adults who should not be protected from themselves. People get what they deserve.

But wouldn’t it be better just to prevent my attempting to buy the government by limiting how much I can spend? No! We have campaign finance laws now and no one pays them any mind. An awful lot of government time has been spent on trying to design clever strategies for circumventing campaign finance laws, on investigating the breaking of those laws, and on stonewalling the investigations of the breaking of those laws. Is there a lesson here? Yes. The lesson is: CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAWS DON’T WORK! They just waste a lot of government resources and ruin reputations. Give it up!

If we don’t limit campaign spending, how will we prevent the buying of elections? We will prevent the buying of elections by requiring disclosure of where the money came from. You can give as much as you want so long as everyone knows you’re giving it. Failure to disclose this information should carry enough of a penalty that people would not be tempted to try hiding money sources: say a minimum of ten years in federal prison for all who knew, givers and takers. Tell me the truth. If you knew that a candidate was receiving large contributions from Red China, would you vote for him? If your answer is yes, that is your privilege; but you should have the right to know where the money is coming from at the time you cast your vote. Disclosure is the key to clean elections, not a stricter limitation law that politicians will look upon as no more than another challenge to their ingenuity. As for government finance of political campaigns, that would take the country another step closer to government that is not burdened with the need to obtain citizen approval of its actions.