Wednesday’s decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission…did not affect familiar base limits on contributions from individuals to candidates, currently $2,600 per candidate in primary and general elections. But it said that overall limits of $48,600 by individuals every two years for contributions to all federal candidates violated the First Amendment, as did separate aggregate limits on contributions to political party committees, currently $74,600…
…The decision chipped away at the central distinction drawn by the Supreme Court in its seminal 1976 campaign finance decision, Buckley v. Valeo. Independent spending, the court said in Buckley, is political speech protected by the First Amendment. But contributions may be capped, the court said then, in the name of preventing corruption.
In terms of liberty for individuals it seems the correct decision. But leaving aside for a moment the dubiousness of asserting that the capping of campaign contributions actually “prevents corruption” at all (I maintain that where there’s a will to be corrupt, there’s a way), it seems nearly as arbitrary to limit those contributions to $2,600 per candidate as to limit them to $48,600 total every two years. And why one party versus another would be squawking (Democrats) about this decision I don’t know—except of course as all-important theater (“we’re for the little guy, and against corruption”). In fact, there are plenty of rich and mega-rich individuals on both sides that will take advantage of it. Corruption and the buying of candidates for favors will continue apace—as it probably always has, laws or no.
Corruption and power go hand and hand, and the best we can do to prevent the combination in our elected officials is to have an educated and aware populace willing to reject the corrupt (good luck, you say). The other way to reduce corruption would be to limit the power of those elected officials, which would involve limiting the power of government itself.
Even that doesn’t stop corruption, of course; the most it probably does is to reduce it in the public sphere a bit and leave it more to the private sphere. Perhaps it merely shifts the balance, which leaves us with the following question: which is worse, public or private corruption? I maintain it’s the former, because the power of the government is greater. On the other hand, we can (at least theoretically) vote the bums out.
[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]
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