Getting Real About Campaign Finance Reform

The recently passed $1.1 trillion spending bill has upset both the Left and the Right for differing reasons.  This article focuses on the campaign spending limit changes attached as a rider to that bill.  It is also an area of interest to this writer as I have tracked this issue over several cycles and come to some very real conclusions.

The main thrust behind campaign finance laws is that by restricting donations, it somehow restricts corruption or the appearance of corruption.  Except in some very rare cases, proponents of campaign finance laws cannot point to an instance of corruption.  These are the same people who rail against conservative ideas like voter ID.  They claim that there are few cases of voter fraud so the laws are not necessary.  Well, if so then the actual cases of campaign donations being tied to actual corruption is even less.  Using their philosophy and arguments, if we are attacking a perceived fraud with voter ID, then we are likewise attacking perceived corruption with campaign finance laws.

What sticks in their craw is the Citizen’s United decision that not only allows for corporate (and union) cash inflows into the electoral process, but that the Supreme Court equates donations with political speech.  However, that notion clearly predates Citizen’s United in Supreme Court jurisprudence.  And, quite frankly, how is donating to the candidate of your choice, or donating to a group that espouses views that mirror your’s, qualitatively different from volunteering your time at a campaign office?  Or going door-to-door for a candidate?  Or passing out pamphlets for the candidate of your choice?  Or putting a lawn sign outside your house?  All these acts are a form of political speech and such speech-  no matter how manifested- is constitutionally protected.

Second, if we look at the practical effects of these donations- leaving out incumbents who have a built-in advantage- we find that they who received the most money have a slightly better than 50/50 chance of victory in closely contested races.  One need look no further than the 2010 Arkansas Senate race when [mc_name name=’Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’B001236′ ] defeated Blanch Lincoln.  In the run-up to that race, Lincoln had to overcome a primary challenger who forced a runoff and was heavily backed by exorbitant amounts of union donations.  Yet, she won that runoff.  There are other cases in open races where the recipient of the most outside help or direct contributions loses the election.  Thus, in open races the recipient of the most money is not guaranteed victory.

Some of the statistics can be skewed since there are built-in advantages for certain candidates.  For example, even a heavily funded Democratic candidate would have a difficult time winning an open Senate race in conservative Wyoming.  A heavily funded Republican candidate would likewise have a hard time winning an open Senate race in liberal California.  That is the nature of those states.

Recently, Tom Steyer pledged $74 million of his own money to a political action committee (PAC) called NextGen which was dedicated to supporting candidates who address climate change.  In the races where he heavily invested, his record was roughly .500.  For example, he “won” in the Michigan and New Hampshire Senate races and the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, but he also lost in the more important Colorado and Iowa Senate races, and in the Maine and Florida gubernatorial races.  And the great bugaboo of the Left- the Koch brothers- did not bat 1.000 either.  Many of their preferred candidates lost in the primaries, or in the general election.

The reasons are simple and they seem to be beyond the ability of your average Lefty to fathom.  Simply: The money follows the viewpoint; the viewpoint does not follow the money.  Take the case of Steyer.  Does anyone believe that Joni Ernst or Corey Gardner would change their mind about the EPA had Steyer donated to them?  Does anyone believe that a Merkley in Oregon or a Markey in Massachusetts would automatically approve of the Keystone pipeline if Koch donated to them?  Had NARAL or Emily’s List donated to Joni Ernst, would she suddenly transform into a pro-choice candidate?  Perhaps the Left is confused between campaign contributions and lobbying.  The latter most definitely can be regulated and is more apt to be open to corruption.  But, that is a whole other issue altogether.

Getting back to the equivalency of the justification for these laws- perception- does this then infer that conservatives should exchange a rescission of campaign finance laws in exchange for dropping voter ID laws?  After all, they both affect an important constitutional political right.  The answer is a resounding “NO” because there is a major difference.  With voter ID, there are built-in options for those without an ID.  They can get one, they can cast a provisional ballot, they can cast an absentee ballot, etc.  But is there a fall back for the would-be campaign donor?

The only thing campaign finance laws are good for is to make the proponents feel good about themselves based on unrealistic suppositions, and to make a faux criminal out of those who violate these arcane laws.  The better solution is to simply just get rid of them and let the chips fall where they may.  Personally, I believe voters are smarter than the Left believes they are and that is what they really fear.