Reality and Sanity

June 27, 2006

Campaign Finance Reform Follies

The NY Times comes out in favor for campaign contribution limits, applauding the Supreme Courts decison to leave intact Vermont’s tiny thresholds intact: Campaign Finance Reform Survives.

The Supreme Court struck down Vermont’s reform-oriented campaign finance system yesterday. But more important was what it did not do. The court, ruling on the issue for the first time since the arrival of two new justices, declined to overturn 30 years of precedents upholding limits on campaign contributions. That makes the decision a setback for the anti-reform forces who want to open the spigots for corporate and special-interest money to flood into American politics.

Open the spigots for corporate and special-interest money to flood into American politics?

You’d think these guys have never heard of 527s, MoveOn.org or George Soros.

The decision striking down Vermont’s system was not unexpected. Vermont’s limits were the lowest in the nation — an individual could give just $400 to a candidate for governor or $200 to a candidate for state representative. Even some strong supporters of campaign finance laws worry that such low limits stack the deck in favor of well-known incumbents.

Hah. McCain-Feingold does that now, which is why I have long called it The Incumbency Protection Act.

Another part of Vermont’s law restricted how much candidates could spend, an approach that had already been struck down in Buckley.

Big-money interests that are challenging campaign contribution limits may be heartened by the fact that one state’s attempt to reform its campaign finance system has been rejected. But taken as a whole, the ruling is a strong reaffirmation of the principle that the Constitution permits reasonable limits designed to prevent what the court has called “corruption and the appearance of corruption.”

Actually, there is a far simpler way to handle “corruption and the appearance of corruption” in political donations. First, do away with all limits on contributions; anybody can give as much as they want, with this caveat: all donations recieved must be made public. All candidates for any office throughout the land must reveal the identity of the donor and the amount of cash involved. Everyone would know who gave what to whom, and voters could easily see any campaign awash in “corruption and the appearance of corruption.”

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