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
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.