Eliza Carney has an interesting article in the August 7, 2010, edition of the National Journal (subscription required). Entitled “Six Myths About Campaign Money,” it is an-at-times refreshing look at a number of popular ideas about so-called “campaign finance reform” and the impact of Citizens United. Carney’s six myths are (i) corporate money will now overwhelm elections, (ii) Citizens United won’t change much, (iii) Congress is more corrupt than ever, (iv) money equals speech, (v) disclosure is the silver bullet, and (vi) public financing will never happen.
Carney does an effective job of dismantling some of the more obvious misconceptions about campaigns and money—read it for yourself to get her full analysis. But, ultimately, she wants to dispel these myths for one reason: to make regulating political speech more effective. Her goal is to “identify solutions and common ground… Inevitably, regulating democracy is messy and complicated.” In other words, it’s not that campaign finance regulations are wrong—it’s just that the ones that are in place or being debated are based on misconceptions and more realistic regulations would be more effective.
Her effort is in vain, however. Better informed attempts to “regulat[e] democracy” will fail like past attempts. This is because campaign finance regulations treat a symptom—corruption—and not the disease, which is a government that has grown far outside its constitutional boundaries. The problem is not that the government gives out favors to the wrong people; it is that our elected officials think the government has the power to give out favors at all. When the government acts like a piñata, people are going to try to get candy from it. It is senseless to try to solve this problem by allowing the same politicians who refuse to recognize Constitutional limits on their power to chip away at the First Amendment. The only solution is to insist that they respect the Constitution, even when it tells them that they cannot simply do as they please.