The United States is in desperate need of campaign finance reform. The Meg Whitman-, Linda McMahon-, and (despite my unwavering affection for the Mayor) Mike Bloomberg-esque candidates cannot be permitted to buy their ways into public offices. In the long term, there should be broader limitations on PAC, Party, and, most significantly, corporate contributions to campaigns.
I enjoyed reading Eric’s substantive guest contribution to PHP, despite my fundamental disagreement with his arguments. I take biggest contest with Eric’s suggestion that limiting corporate contributions to political campaigns amounts to limiting free speech. Eric writes, “Only in some strange convoluted sense could it be reasonably argued that the restriction of free speech would lead to freer speech.” This statement is so very accurate that it is inaccurate (bear with me). Restriction of one person’s (legal or natural, assuming that one agrees with the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision that corporations are legal persons) free speech certainly does not make another person’s (again, legal or natural) speech freer. But, this is the status quo. Permitting unlimited and near-unlimited contributions from corporations, among other entities, yet a maximum of $4,600 (primary and general election campaign donations combined) from natural persons seems unjust, unequal, and unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision inherently favors “legal persons” (again, assuming that corporations ought to be recognized as persons under sections of the law) over natural persons.
While Citizens United eventually should be overturned in accordance with Justice Stevens’ dissent, there must be short-term measures to limit the impact of money on elections. First, the amount of personal money that must be spent by a candidate in order to raise contributor limitations must be more lenient to benefit the voices of the masses. Secondly, there should be more stringent disclosure requirements. Third, individual contribution limitations should be limited no further than corporate contributions are limited.
PHP’s William discussed the need for further campaign finance reform, particularly in a post-Citizens United era, in a piece a few months ago. William mentions our personal discussion of the issue in a car ride through Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. We discussed that many professors, teachers, doctors, and civil servants could be great, effective, and knowledgeable candidates for office; however, the need for a personal fortune or corporate ties could be a disqualifying prerequisite for their electoral eligibilities.
If the Supreme Court does not overturn Citizens United, there should be a Constitutional amendment limiting the rights of corporations to influence, and in cases purchase, elections for candidates. The voices of ‘human persons’ must not be overshadowed.
Election law in the United States is often vague (see Bush v. Gore), and at times unequal. Once the economy is a little more stable and the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya are sustainably resolved, the Congress will have plenty of campaign finance and electoral issues to which it must tend.