There used to be a saying that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. On that theory, one might say that an opponent of campaign finance laws is, well, someone who has had to comply with them. It’s not a terribly principled reason to oppose the laws, perhaps, but we’ll take our converts where we can get them.
Mickey Kaus, who just ran for office in California, might be a candidate for just such a conversion. On his blog, he quotes an FEC publication informing him that even though he lost, his campaign committee “must continue to file periodic reports after submitting a termination report until you receive Commission approval for termination.”
Got that? You need FEC permission to stop being a committee. (God forbid the IRS gets wind of this. We all might need the government’s permission to die).
Kaus continues: “The F.E.C. way is to make you record and justify each contribution and payment because as a candidate you are an automatic suspect—a constant threat to violate the law unless each movement you make is tracked and recorded.” He points out that on the same ground we might justify having a Federal Murder Commission that tracks our every move lest we start killing people. Kaus calls this an “orgy of overprophylaxis.” It is certainly that, but we might ask why we need this prophylaxis in the first place.
Giving money to campaigns is a far cry from murder, after all. In fact, it’s a far cry from bribery, which is what it is often compared to. As we might expect, many people give money to campaigns because they support the candidate’s positions. Many also give for business reasons, but given today’s business regulatory and tax climates, I’d call that a sane business practice.
Do some people contribute in order to win special favors for themselves? No doubt. But if special favors are there to be won—and all the wrangling for special exemptions from the DISCLOSE Act aptly and ironically shows that they are—then it is entirely predictable that people will try to win them. As author Jonathan Rauch has pointed out, people look to politicians for handouts for the same reason bankrobber Willie Sutton went to the bank--because “that’s where the money is.” .
The Framers understood this. James Madison made the point in Federalist 10 that government’s ability to control money and property is one reason that factions form. They gave us a Constitution that limited government in large part to prevent that from happening. In short, if you want to prevent people from clamoring for special favors from government, limit government’s ability to dole them out.
In the meantime, I’d eliminate our byzantine and pointless campaign finance laws altogether. Mickey Kaus would prefer to make them more sensible, which, in his view, would at least “free a lot of idealistic lawyers for more productive work.” As an idealistic lawyer myself, that sounds like a great idea to me.