Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Campaign Finance Law Follies, Part Two

What you begin to see whent you examine the laws enacted as campaign finance 'reform' is that one size does not fit all- just as with most public policy. It creates winners and losers.

Since the laws are written by incumbents, you can bet that if incumbents face the effects of these laws, they will be the winners, and everyone else will be the losers.

I am a Libertarian candidate for Secretary of State. I am not raising millions of dollars. I am raising modest amounts of money. My goal is to raise at least $100,000 over the life of the campaign, and have raised less than $20,000 thus far, so I am the furthest thing from someone who is buying an election.

Some of these laws are designed to make it difficult for political action committees (PACs) to masquerade as simple grassroots organizations. These grassroots organizations that are organized under 501-c-4 are not allowed to endorse political candidates. The idea is to prevent a big corporate interest from forming a bogus grassroots organization for the purpose of funnelling dollars into it so as to make it look like the support of a candidate was coming from The People, rather than the corporate interest that might really be behind it. Seems like a good idea.

But, in the interest of transparency, they make people do a tiptoe through the political tulips, which I find distasteful.

I do work with genuine grassroots organizations, such as the Geist United Opposition. I have supported their fight against forced annexation by the Town of Fishers. Naturally, their contributors- mainly folks who are property owners in the Geist area in Hamilton County- are interested in supporting my campaign. I thought that one way they could support me is to endorse my campaign.

Sorry, that kind of speech is forbidden by law. Wither the First Amendment? Yes. Political speech has been curtailed by the campaign finance laws. The leaders of grassroots organizations cannot lend the name of that organization beyond a very limited usage.

So, the persons who would lend me their name have to completely divorce themselves from their affiliations. They have to sign on to my campaign strictly as Joe Citizen, and as a resident of their neighborhood.

Kind of defeats that whole interest in transparency, doesn't it? Wouldn't it be more transparent if they listed their affiliations?

With every law comes the law of unintended consequences. One size does not fit all.

I would like to urge readers for a change in the laws, but I cannot. It is forbidden. If I did, I would be subject to the Federal requirements spelled out under BCRA. Instead, I can only tiptoe through the tulips, dropping hints, but not speaking plainly. This is all that the law allows me to do.

So, are you satisfied with laws that have this blanket effect, that have no exemptions for legitimate grassroots interactions?


Jeff Pruitt said...


I support public financing of elections. Where do you and/or the LP stand on this issue? You seem to lament the problems that private financing, incumbants and large PACs have caused our current system.

So why not be a voice for fundamental change that eliminates the legalized bribery system we have in place now?

Todd S. said...

I can't speak for Mike, but as a Libertarian I am strongly opposed to public financing. What will end up happening is that, again, incumbents will write the laws that will favor themselves. Then, the money that is set aside will go to those groups who are already more politically connected. Public financing will make things worse; not better.

If you really want to lessen the influence of money and PACs in elections, reduce the power of the Federal government. With less influence there will be less of an incentive for corporations and individuals to spend lots of money on lobbying/campaign donations.

We have all kinds of rules now, and it hasn't stopped the scandals from occurring. We need less public "oversight;" not more.

Mike Kole said...

Jeff- I am not lamenting the private financing of campaigns at all. If people value the Republicans or Democrats more than the Libertarians, so be it. What I lament is the rules that knowingly eliminate the First Amendment. These rules were written by Republicans and Democrats, and they really have nothing to do with eliminating money in the system. They have everything to do with making it harder on the smaller voices.

I get that you conclude that the solution is publicly financed campaigns, but I do not support public financing of elections, for two reasons:

1. It means then that the taxpayers would be funding the points of view of all of the candidates and all of the parties included on the ballot, regardless of whether or not they believe in them. I do not believe it right to take Jeff Pruitt's tax dollars and distribute them to the Republican Party, to Mitch Daniels, etc. (I use these real-life examples because I know that you are stridently pro-Democrat.) But, that's what publicly financed campaigns do- They take money from all taxpayers, even those with no interest in paying for political campaigns; they distribute the tax dollars evenly, including to points of view that the taxpayer might abhor. Would you want your tax dollars going to back the White Peoples' Party? In a publicly financed campaign situation, it would... except...

2. Because taxpayers wouldn't want to fund points of view they abhor, they would clamor for ways to eliminate the parties they don't like. If you think the ballot access threshholds are high now, just wait until you see them under public financing of elections. Goodbye, Libertarians. No chance, Greens.

Bill Stant and the Greens had a devil of a time getting their signatures this year. I assure you, because the laws are written by Republicans and Democrats, they would make sure all but the Ds & Rs were excluded from the ballot. The threshholds would be made impossible for any but them.

My proof is the license plate money. Recently, the legislature decided to eliminate the money that was distributed to the political parties out of the vanity license plate money. The threshhold was 5% in a statewide race. The Libertarian candidate for Secretary of State earned 4.1% in 2002. I will earn more than 5%, so the LP would have been in line for about $100,000. So, they changed the law. That money helps us way more than it helps the Ds or Rs.

You may feel that the current system is legalized bribery, but I like the fact that people give to support my campaign because they believe in me and my efforts. I do not wish for a compulsory contribution to come my way. That's theft. Is that better? I say no.