Since I think the first amendment means what it says, I think that there should be no limitations of any kind on contributions to political parties, movements, or candidates. If George Soros wants to give the DNC $10 million, or $100 million, why shouldn't he be able to?
I also think that the integrity of our political system requires that we know who and what is behind each candidate, so everybody should have to disclose every cent of every contribution, and should have to disclose their volunteer labor as well - the FEC could easily run a web site listing every contribution. If George Soros wants to secretly give $10 million to Bush to hedge his bets, he should not be able to do that. Everything should be on top of the table.
Total freedom, total disclosure. What's wrong with that?
Proponents of campaign finance reform say this position is terrible, that it leads us away from being a democracy and makes our political system more like an auction. There are two problems with this position.
The first problem is that it is very difficult to stop money. Fine, George can't write a check to Kerry because it's against the law. He can write a check to CBS, and to a production company, and to an "independent" ad agency, and run massive pro-Kerry ads himself. Are you going to stop him from doing that? You are? OK. He can hire 100,000 unemployed people to go door to door and say "please vote for John, he's a swell fellow." Are you going to stop him from doing that? You are? OK. He can send up a rocket and have it skywrite "John Kerry Is God" in letters 1000 miles tall over the continental US. He can send direct-mail to every household in America. He can do all sorts of things, and the laws will always be playing catch-up.
At some point we have to lean back and recognize that people can spend time and money to support candidates they like, and there isn't much to be done about it without turning into a police state. There are no ways to stop people from spending their money that don't end up relying on massively-bulked up state power.
Secondly, the auction objection applies at ANY contribution size.
$100,000,000 gets you a gigantic nationwide ad campaign - and the side with more of those has an advantage. $1,000,000 gets you a citywide news blitz - and the side with more of those has an advantage. $1,000 gets you a big Web ad push - and the side with more of those has an advantage. $100 buys you a vote in Chicago - and the side with more of those has an advantage.
Whether we like it or not, money is part of the system - as are volunteer labor, intellectual rationalizations, and media popularity. All of these things are resources - and we have to decide whether we want a system where people can use their own resources as they choose, or whether we want a system where the state decides how resources are used.
Saying that allowing money contributions makes an election an auction is like saying that allowing volunteer labor makes an election a referendum on whether labor unions like you, or that allowing media outlets editorialize makes an election a popularity contest in the newsroom. Those are all valid points. Elections ARE auctions, and referendums on what social groups support you, and popularity contests among the chattering classes, and a few other things. They are a way of letting the society decide who it wants in charge - and short of imposing fascism, we aren't going to be able to keep people from expressing their preferences in ways other than the direct ballot. I thought Kerry would make a terrible president, and I said so - and whether the audience was my wife and kids, the people who read my blog, or the millions of viewers who see my (hypothetical) TV ads, I have a right to say what I think, and to use my own resources to propagate that point of view. It doesn't bother me that people with more resources and different opinions also have that freedom - and it shouldn't bother me.
People will work for who they want, and they will give money to and for who they want. Trying to restrict those transactions simply forces dishonesty and concealment into what ought to be a transparent process.
We should abolish our entire campaign finance "reform" system, and simply require full and immediate disclosure so that the electorate can determine who is backing who. That's all that is necessary for us to be free.
(This "classic" post is brought to you courtesy of me having WAY too much other stuff to do.)