Campaign Finance Reform and Free Speech, Again

In this thread, I managed to pull an utterly shameless hijack, from a discussion on the debt to campaign finance reform.
So, I’m starting a thread on this. Hasn’t been done since December 23, 2000, when the last post was made to a similarly titled thread.
The basic thesis that I advance: that attempting to restrict money flows into political campaigns is a) a restriction on free speech (which the Supreme Court, in Buckley v Valeo, found could be regulated, BTW, a finding I disagree with) and b) is about as useful and about as likely to be successful as “pushing on a string.”
The situation we have today, of uncontrolled soft money - money given to issue-oriented organizations - and controlled giving to campaigns, where individuals are limited to $1000 contributions, is a result of a previous effort at reform counterbalanced by the usual finding of the loophole.
Which, I submit, would be the fate of any and every future effort at limiting contributions, because it’s an attempt to limit something that is inherently uncontrollable, and that people will always have a strong self-interest in getting around.

Giving money to someone is not a form of speech. People speak. Money buys. As I said when this topic came up before it is perfectly within the rights of the FECA to regulate how much money candidates can recieve from interested parties. This is done to acheive a parity, by which, at least in theory, Joe Lunchpail is given the same voice as Jim Magnate.

Currently it isn’t successful for the very reasons you list below; loopholes which the reform bills are aiming to close.

Sure, but when the new loopholes open up, we’ll just work twice as hard to shut them again. By your logic, why bother prosecuting murder, people have always murdered and are always finding new ways to murder, let’s just let it go shall we? I’m not a big supporter of apathy as a counter argument. Nobody ever said self-government was going to be fun, but it sure beats the alternative. :slight_smile:

I stand by all I’ve said in the thread linked by pantom, in the thread linked from that thread, and in several previous threads. I suggest again a perusal of Thomas Emerson’s The System of Freedom of Expression. And regarding Buckley, I’ll dredge up a particular statement of mine once again:

Here’s the relevant quote from the decision:

The issue isn’t speech but the appearance of corruption. As with most judicial doctrine, a balancing act is necessary between conflicting rights and freedoms.

Which brings me to your last point, pantom:

Self-interest, you say? At what point should self-interest be constrained by the interests of society in, say, a democratic form of government in which no cohort of people feels unfairly excluded? Where, in other words, does your self-interest end and my nose begin?

My proposal:

(well, not just mine, but the one I’m pushing)
If you don’t get to vote, then you don’t get to give.

You can give as much as you want.

All donations need to be made public as soon as is feasible.
(I’m currently thinking 48 hours and available on the web)

Any issue ads that non-voters take out need to have their funding made public at the time the ads air. As much information as possible about where the money came from should be included.

Let the candidates show any correlation between encumbents and donors.

If it bothers the public, then they get the boot. If it doesn’t, they get another term.

If there is direct bribery, toss both parties in jail.

Posting from work, so I can’t really get into it from here, but before this gets hot and heavy, I need data:

Specifically, I read up on McCain-Feingold (the thread and the bill) and I want to know: how can this bill restrict soft money if the SC already decided that these contributions are constitutional? Wouldn’t this require constitutional action?

I assume this is supposed to stop corporations from buying elections. It won’t. They will simply vote to “give” their money to a member of the board, who will then donate it “to express his own voice” to the candidate of the corp.'s choice. It will be just as ineffective at stopping other groups from doing the same (Unions, PAC’s, China, etc.)

How is this, in any way, beneficial to a fair electoral process in a Republic? What is the advantage to unrestricted spending over the system that the FECA has in place now?

I don’t even know where you’re going with this. What abuse is this designed to curb? You do know that everyone who votes doesn’t have Web access right?

As an example of why this doesn’t actually serve the needs of the republic, let me point to the case of the V22-Osprey. It is, in theory, a state of the art amphibious assault aircraft being built for the marine corps. It’s built in Misissipi, the home state of Trent Lott, who is more or less responsible for getting the project federal funding. The problem? Neither the Pentagon nor the Marine Corps actually wants the plane. It is an unsafe design, which killed 23 marines last year alone.

It’s great for the economy of Misissippi, so the people there would, presumably, have no problems with contined donations from the manufacturer to Senator Lott’s campaign fund. However, to those of us on the outside, it appears at the least a little questionable.

This I agree with :slight_smile:

The Supreme Court merely ruled that soft money contributions do not directly violate the letter of the 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act. In Buckley v. Valeo, 1976, the Court struck down only the limitations in the act with regard to a candidate spending his own money to his campaign.

The Court found, by a five to four majority, that the provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act which impose ceilings on political contributions did not violate First Amendment speech and association rights or invidiously discriminate against nonincumbent candidates and minority party candidates. This majority concluded that these provisions were supported by substantial governmental interests in limiting corruption and the appearance of corruption.

So, if I’ve got this straight, it is within current Constitutional doctrine to restrict donations to a campaign and contributions to a political organization. But you can’t restrict a candidate from spending as much of his own money as he feels like to get himself elected.
Do I have that right?

You are correct, sir. It’s more or less the only way Steve Forbes has managed to make a run at the Republican nomination the last couple of years, since the only people who really think his* flat tax scheme would work are from the planet Xybor, and ineligible to vote.
*Note the emphasis on the word “his”. Flat tax plans are not, on their face, a totally ludicrous idea. Just Mr. Forbes’.

So, if we pass laws that conform to this constitutional doctrine, which I believe McCain-Feingold would be an example of, then it would be the case that a rich person could run for office with no restrictions, while an ordinary Joe would have to spend huge amounts of time fundraising rather than advancing his agenda. Indeed, as of right now, some Congresspeople resign precisely because they find themselves spending way more time fundraising than they want to. This has become necessary because of the currently existing limit on campaign contributions.
Having tied down our representatives in this way, we now propose to tie them down even more by closing the only loophole they had around this nonsense.
Sorry, but I can’t see how this could be a good thing. Full disclosure, as in Freedom’s proposal above, combined with currently existing bribery laws, should be enough. It should be obvious that we’ve already done more harm than good with the current law, and that making it tighter will only do even more harm.

Okay, you seem to be going all over the board here. In your initial post, you said that restricting money amounts to a restriction on speech, right? Now you’re all for restricting what you consider speech as long as it only applies to the very wealthy? Help me out here. . .

On the contrary, it is the current lack of restrictions that force or Senators and Representatives into the never ending cycle of fundraising. Should McCain-Feingold, Shays-Meehan, or a similar bill be enacted into law, the large soft-money contributions would be strictly limited. The end result - candidates would spend more time governing and less time raising money since fundraising would no longer be as profitable, or so the theory goes. (As an additional side benefit, the bill would almost certainley reduce the number of political advertisements that we plow through every couple of years :))
Just for some background, in the recent presidential election George W. Bush and Al Gore received a combined $135 million dollars in public funds, compared to the $262 million in soft-money campaign contributions.

Around which nonsense precisely? Privately funded campaigns are a rarity. In the most recent elections only Maria Cantwell (D), Washington and the aforementioned Steve Forbes contributed any significant amount of money to their own campaigns. Forbes was previously discussed. Cantwell, on the other hand, refused to accept any soft money contributions in her race against the incumbent Slade Gorton, choosing instead to try to compete using only her own money.

Full disclosure is already a part of existing campaign finance regulations, and although I can’t find a specific cite, I’m pretty sure bribery is still illegal, too :rolleyes:

No, I’m not all over the map. A rich person can, under current doctrine, spend his own money, presumably because it is after all his own and nobody can tell him what to do with it.
But should a citizen or a private corporation (which for purposes of the law is a person) choose to use his or her own money to support the candidate or cause they have chosen, this is restricted.
As a direct result of this restriction, candidates, especially non-incumbent candidates, have had the bar raised, so that they have to get a lot more people to back them than used to be the case. Why? Because, going back to first principles, the freedom of that candidate’s constituents to back him to the extent they consider necessary and worthy has been restricted. So they have to spend large amounts of time fundraising, something which a rich candidate who chooses to use his own money doesn’t have to worry about.
So, in an effort to get around this, these constituents give “soft” money. This is now about to be restricted as well. So candidates, especially, once again, non-incumbent candidates, are going to have a much harder time raising money. The freedom of constituents to give has been further restricted, to the extent that even giving to favored causes is now going to be scrutinized.
These are clear restrictions on freedom. They are being put in place for no good reason, since, as you point out, there is full disclosure right now. (But not, I believe, immediate disclosure on the Web, which is what Freedom was proposing. I could be wrong, God knows, but I don’t think so.) Which means that if you need to connect the dots, you can. Indeed, this was all we had going during Watergate and the dots got connected.
Why you would need anything else at all is impossible for me to fathom. Unless, that is, you’re an incumbent looking to cement his position.
And remember, re that weird theory about fundraising not being as profitable any more, if you’re not the incumbent then your first task is to get people to even know you exist. This can be a very expensive task, and all of these restrictions on campaign finance aren’t going to make it any easier. And the reason, lest we forget, is that the freedom of the candidate’s constituents has been restricted.

Their freedom. Can’t say that enough.


A senator is acting in the interests of his constituents? For shame! Seriously, this is an issue of interstate cooperation, not of finance reform. Bribery is giving money to someone to induce them to go against the interests of those that put them in power. Seeing as how it is Mississippi, not the Republic, that put Lott in power, any actions against the interests of the Republic are irrelevant to whether he is corrupt.

As for whether money is speech: in general, no. But when money is given with the express purpose of paying for speech, is in not essentially speech? If I give $10,000 to Candidate X, and tell him to use it to pay for a 30 second commercial, am I not exercising my freedom of speech, with Candidate X as an intermediatary?

I think that JDeMobray missed your statement

and thinks that be describing the current state of affairs, you are somehow expressing approval of them.

You’re right. It sure won’t. In fact, nothing will. The problem I have with your approach to this issue is that you are acting like a parent who knows what’s best. The fact is that we are all adults, and if we want to give some money to someone we supprt, we will find a way.

Just because you (or some law) can create what appears to be some watertight box to keep all “unwanted” (defined by you) money out of the elections, does not mean that this doesn’t trample our rights.
Here is an ANALOGY to your view:

Drugs are illegal.
Screw the right to privacy.
Drugs are really bad, so bad in fact that we need to randomly search all homes.
Drugs are bad.
We will clean things up and then you will be happy.

Ummmm… It’s that freedom to make your own decisions thing. You know individuality? Making choices that serve your own best interests.

I am not resigned to spending my life correcting abuses. It is merely meant to inform to electorate. As far as I am concerned, everyone who votes does have web access. Libraries across the nation are hooked up to the web, and I am naive enough to expect people to put some effort into learning about who they vote for.

More importantly though, we have this thing called a free press in this country. They have this nasty habit of paying people to dig through public and (sometimes) private information to find corruption. Most candidates also have an opponent. I would think that the average Joe would just have to read the front page of the newspaper or read some campaign literature from the other candidate to benefit from this service.


I can’t believe those horrible people from Mississippi are voting for stuff that would benefit them. I forgot that the other 49 were involved in a contest to see who could vote themselves the LEAST money from the government:(

The bottom line is that we are free to make our own choices. When you try to unreasonably regulate a free population, you create problems. Similiar to the drug war causing gang violence, unreasonable campaign restrictions CAUSE the corruption they seek to prevent.

The reason that rich people can buy into their own campaigns is that they don’t always win with their money. The problem with unrestricted contributions from other people to the campaigns is that it can buy to much unwarranted influence and sometimes buy justice (witness the Mark Rich pardon, and the NYS pardon of that robber who happened to be a son of a rich Asian tycoon for examples).

I’ll grant that it can’t be eliminated but I don’t understand how curbing political “donations” causes corruption. The problem to be prevented is the bribing of politicians. That hardly seems an unreasonable restriction to me.
How is doing our best to see that they are not being bribed going to increase the amount ( or effect ) of bribery?

Just my 2sense

My theory goes kind of like this:
[li]Normal everday people want to do something (can be anything)[/li]
[li]Someone takes advantage of part of what people are doing.[/li]
[li]They get caught, they are punished.[/li]
[li]Some people think we should try to prevent the problems instead of just punishing them when they are found.[/li]
[li]Normal people start to see a difference in how they are supposed to act, but since it is for the common good, they accept it.[/li]
[li]Some people still take advantage of the sytem.[/li]
[li]This cycle goes on and on until a decent part of the everyday law abiding people start to lose respect for the law since it seems to punish them with endless rules and regulations, while having no real effect on the criminals.[/li]
[li]The normal people start breaking the laws.[/li]
[li]Once you have made a concious decision to break certain laws, it becomes progressively easier to break other laws.[/li]
I see human behavior as this huge river of water. 90% of the water is benignly going in the same general direction. The other 10% is the part that we consider behavior we can not tolerate. (crimes) If you put up walls based on where the 90% is, you are going to be succesful in drawing boundries to keep the other 10% in line. If you decide that you can put up walls where ever you like, and try to control the 90% based on your opinion of where the water should go, you are going to fail.

At a certain point your walls gets breached and they don’t matter anymore.
I guess a simplified way of saying that, is that laws should follow human behavior, and not try to control it.

You had to go and get all esoteric didn’t you? :wink:
Seriously, some topic specific examples would help me out.

How would outlawing campaign contributions affect how people are supposed to act?

Just my 2sense

Whoa, hello. Do you have a cite for that? Every Marine I’ve ever talked to (granted, nobody higher-up) has said basically the same thing: “It’s exactly what we need!”. It’s a high-speed, high-mobility, long-range transport, which suits their mission requirements to a T. In fact, I’ve heard exactly the opposite of your argument about the Osprey: they want it badly and are fighting hard (and some folks are doing unsavory things like covering up maintenance records) to get it, while Congress wants to cut the funding for it due to its rather costly (in lives as well as money) development. It’s the typical battle of all such cutting-edge aircraft, like the F-16 and Harrier.

So, I wonder what your source is on this…