Did you know that our Republic ended last week? It’s true, at least if you believe the left wing:
In a sharply divided ruling Wednesday, the Supreme Court further eroded campaign finance laws by striking down limits on the total amount that an individual may donate across political candidates and committees in an election cycle.
The decision — written by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito — held that “aggregate limits are invalid under the First Amendment.” Justice Clarence Thomas concurred with the other conservative justices but penned a separate opinion arguing that campaign finance restrictions should be wiped out further.
The conservative justices argued that eliminating aggregate cont limits doesn’t give rise to “quid pro quo corruption” which the court recognized as a legitimate rationale for campaign finance restrictions in the landmark Buckley v. Valeo case in 1976.
Basically, when it comes to political donations, you are limited to personal donations of $2600 per candidate. But there is also an aggregate limit of $48,600 to candidates and $74,600 to committees. The Supreme Court tossed out that limit.
Here is a typical reaction from the anti-campaign-contribution crowd:
Under the old aggregate limit, it used to be that the most a donor could show up with was $123,000. Now, one donor can cut a $3.5 million check to a joint fundraising committee. The kind of people who are willing to drop more money than most Americans will make in their entire lives on one election can now wield enormous leverage over entire political parties.
Um, didn’t they already? Haven’t we been hearing for the last few years how the Koch Brothers are corrupting the system, destroying the environment, ravishing milk maids and poisoning the wells?
That means a big donor could go to the head of a JFC and says “gee, I’d sure love to send this $3.5 million your way, but I can’t do that until I’m sure none of it will go to candidates who support closing a tax loophole I like.” Suddenly, the head of that JFC has 3.5 million reasons to call up every single member of his party and make sure that everyone is on the same page about keeping that tax loophole open for another couple of years. At which point everyone has to raise money to run for office again, and the whole cycle starts over.
I find this to be … incredibly naive. The minimum bribe level for our Congress is a lot lower than $3.6 million. I suspect it’s lower than $123,000. In fact, it’s probably even lower than $2600. In fact, you often don’t have to donate much of your money at all. Simply raising money for a candidate (bundling) can get you government-guaranteed loans for your business, exemptions from regulations and an ambassadorship. And it works the other way too. A regulator ruling in favor of a big business can then walk into a six-figure job with that business.
All this really changes is how money is shuffled to candidates. In 2012, Sheldon Adelson donated $5 million to Newt Gingrich’s PAC, which was essentially a donation to Newt. That has just as much potential corrupting power than $3.6 million spread out to 525 campaigns and various committees. So why all the fuss over a law change that involves open direct donations? Is it just because the Left Wing has a hysterical reflex whenever a Supreme Court decision doesn’t go their way?
The issues, to me, are pretty clear. Political donations fall under the aegis of free speech. Mataconis:
As I’ve noted in the past, though, the arguments against “money in politics” are typically misplaced for sseveral reasons. First of all, as much as it gets derided by critics, the Supreme Court has recognized since its first campaign finance decision, Buckley v. Valeo, that money is indeed equivalent to speech in the political context. Functionally, there is no difference between me written a blog post endorsing a political candidate, and me writing them a check, and any effort by government to restrict my ability to do either should be subjected to the strictest form of scrutiny. Second, history has shown us that any attempt to decrease the role of money in politics only tends to drive such activity underground where it is much harder to keep track of.
The proponents of campaign finance restrictions, when you get down to it, don’t like the political speech that money enables. That opposition often falls away when it’s their own cause. But when you have campaign committees pointing out the flaws in Obamacare or our huge deficit or the state of the economy … well, then it’s time to fire up the campaign finance laws.
Unfortunately for the campaign finance reformers, but fortunately for us, the Courts have long recognized that corruption is the only reason to restrict campaign donations. Not liking “money in politics” is not reason enough to bottle up people’s free speech rights. And it’s hard to argue that these aggregate limits stop corruption in any meaningful way.
But I’ll tell you in a little secret. Lean in close to the screen and I’ll whisper it:
I don’t like money in politics either.
Seriously, I don’t. I do think money in politics has a corrupting effect — most notably the crony capitalism that has dominated this country for the last decade and a half, wrecked the economy, left millions unemployed and massively increased the gap between rich and poor. It is a corruption that is a lot more subtle than the crude bribery HuffPo describes above. This corruption often comes in the guise of “reform” or “good regulation”. It manifests in regulations that bankrupt small toy makers while leaving the big industries intact. It manifests in financial reform that insulates the banking industry even more from their own mistakes. It manifests in an “energy policy” that gives the President billions of dollars to play scientist with.
Certainly massive campaign donations play a role in that corruption. But the role they play is symptom, not disease. The disease is a massive, bloated government that foists tens of thousands of regulations on us and has virtual monopsony power over many industries. The disease is a system where big businesses and rich tycoons have no choice but to be political. We have seen, over the last decade, what happens to businesses like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Paypal when they don’t want to play politics. Pretty soon, they have no choice. And after a while, they’re part of the system.
I would prefer a more open political donation system: you can donate whatever you want to whomever you want, it just has to be disclosed (although last week’s hounding of Brendan Eich illustrates the pitfalls of such an open system). But in the end, this comes down to a government that is massive, powerful and will demand its cut by hook or by crook.
I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: if you want money of politics, get the politics out of money.