Proponents of campaign finance reform have long insisted that their goal was to end the corrupting influence of “too much money in politics.” The heart of their argument is that democracy is subverted when wealthy individuals or Fortune 500 corporations are able to use campaign contributions to exempt themselves from public policies that threaten their own interests.
Trouble is, giving elected officials the power to regulate how their campaigns are funded makes no more sense than putting the proverbial wolf in charge of the hen house. Doing so turns campaign finance laws and regulations into little more than incumbent protection tools. At the most basic level, putting a $1,000 ceiling on individual contributions to incumbents and challengers seriously handicaps the latter by magnifying the advantages of incumbency. Those advantages include, among much else, huge tax-paid staff, office and communications resources that hardly any challenger can match.
|Giving elected officials the power to regulate how their campaigns are funded makes no more sense than putting the proverbial wolf in charge of the hen house.|
Despite the many legislative successes that campaign finance reform proponents have scored in recent decades, they keep running up against the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from limiting freedom of speech, and the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law. As long as federal judges insist that giving money to a candidate is a form of political speech that must be equally protected for all individuals, there is no way to achieve the reformers' ultimate dream of imposing targeted contribution limits intended to minimize the influence and power of particular wealthy individuals.
So now steps forward Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with a solution: If the problem is the Constitution, well, then just amend it. The Nevada Democrat is determined to negate the influence of the Koch brothers in American politics, so he's pushing a constitutional amendment drafted by New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall to empower Congress to regulate campaign contributions. Adopt the Reid amendment and Congress can then pass laws to stop those evil Koch brothers from completing what Reid calls their “hostile takeover of American democracy.”
As Byron York, the Washington Examiner's chief political correspondent, put it, the “amendment would grant incredible power to Congress: the authority to regulate every dollar raised and every dollar spent by every campaign and every outside group in every federal race in America. It would do the same for non-monetary, or in-kind' contributions -- that is, when a person or organization contributes goods or services to a campaign.”
Give Congress explicit constitutionally sanctioned authority to regulate campaigns in this manner, and it will no longer matter what federal judges think about campaign cash and freedom of speech. At that point, the career politicians will have turned the Constitution into the ultimate incumbent protection pact.