The issue of campaign finance reform is one of the issues on which the general public skews the most toward the standard liberal position. Seventy-nine percent of adults polled last year said that they would vote for a law limiting the amount of money that candidates for the House and Senate could raise and spend on their campaigns. Fifty percent of adults said they support public funding for federal campaigns. Campaign finance reform has been favored not only by liberal politicians like Russ Feingold and Paul Wellstone but also by conservative politicians like John McCain and Zell Miller, and even George W. Bush. In what might appear quixotic, however, I am going to argue that stricter limits on campaign donations would be a mistake. In the first place, public financing for elections has two major drawbacks. The first drawback is that it forces people to pay for the campaigns of candidates when they may dislike both of them. In 2008, Georgia, where I have lived since I was born, had a Senatorial race between incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democratic challenger Jim Martin. Chambliss is a rabid homophobe. Martin, however, was not a particularly great alternative, as he opposed legalizing gay marriage and instead advocated the separate but equal civil unions as a “solution.” Why should I or any other equality-minded voter be forced to finance the campaigns of Homophobe A and Homophobe B when we think that neither one of them deserves a Senate seat? This principle applies to anyone who thinks neither candidate is worth supporting. Why should they have to put up money for those candidates’ campaigns? What if someone is an Anarchist and believes that government as an institution isn’t worth the trouble? I am not an Anarchist, but when I look at the atrocities committed by governments today and over the last few millennia, I do believe that Anarchism is definitely a valid political philosophy.
What about stricter limits on political donations? I feel a sense of reluctance to take the position I am about to take, because as mentioned earlier, former Senator Russ Feingold was instrumental in passing campaign finance legislation, legislation that was watered down by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision. Feingold, as I referenced a couple of posts ago, is a political hero of mine, and on the off chance that he were to run for president, I would support him enthusiastically. However, I still believe that there should be few if any limits on political donations. If Russ Feingold wants to run for president, I think he should be allowed to get massive donations. And therein, I think, lies the problem with campaign finance reform. Unless I am very much mistaken, campaign finance laws will never be enforced without bias. Whichever party is in power will inevitably enforce the laws disproportionately on institutions and individuals who are opposed to them. I believe that campaign finance regulations will never hold George Soros and the Koch Brothers equally accountable. When the Democrats control the government, they are likely to enforce campaign finance laws disproportionately on the Koch Brothers. When the Republicans control the government, they are likely to enforce campaign finance laws disproportionately on George Soros. The case of 1968 presidential contender, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, is worth looking at. McCarthy attempted to capture the Democratic Party’s nomination. While he was unsuccessful, McCarthy won widespread support from liberal antiwar activists, including a youthful Hillary Clinton. This is hardly surprising when one considers that McCarthy was antiwar, anti-draft, and anti-racism. Many years later, McCarthy won praise from conservatives for speaking out against campaign finance laws. He acknowledged that his 1968 campaign, “had a few big contributors.” Do liberals wish that there had been strict limits on donations back then so that the McCarthy campaign could have been prevented from raising the amount of funds that it did? I would imagine not. The best solution to counter the influence of big money in the campaigns of politicians one disagrees with is to help raise money to elect better politicians. There are enough corporations and wealthy individuals of every political stripe that it should be possible to fight massive bankrolling by one political faction with massive bankrolling by an opposite political faction.