Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Problem With Campaign Finance Laws

Today's Wall Street Journal had a front page article entitled: How Milt Romney Avoided Campaign-Finance Rules. (I only have the hard copy, so, sorry, no link.)

The article describes the loophole that Romney used to raise money for his presidential campaign- because he's not a federal office holder, Romney was not subject to federal regulations until he set up an exploratory committee earlier this month. And while most states do have limitations on political donations, certain states do not have any such limits. So, before officially declaring he was running for president, Romney raised 7 million dollars in Michigan, Iowa, and Alabama- and remember, this is money not subject to the federal $2,300 individual contribution cap.

This brings to mind two comments about campaign finance laws. First, that politicians are going to continue to find their away around these laws. That's what they do. I don't think there's a system that could be put into place that politicians wouldn't find a loophole in.

Second, and more importantly, this just shows the utter ineffectiveness and pointlessness of campaign finance laws to begin with. Everyone decries "big money" in politics, but why is it that some money is bad, and other money is not? Let's look at very simple example. Say I want to run for president and I'm running againast Bill Gates. Bill Gates has billions of dollars, while I have none. If Bill Gates can spend millions on advertising, why shouldn't I be able to raise the money to compete with him? A system that gives the wealthy an inherent advantedge in running for elected office seems patently unfair.

Many people will agree with that point and say, "See, that's why campaigns need to be more heavily regulated in the first place. Either there should be strict limits set on spending by individual candidates, or better yet, all campaigns should be funded with public money."

But hopefully, most people can see the problem with that suggestion. On one hand, someone not running for elected office is free to say what they want and to spend as much money as they want getting out their message. Yet the moment anyone decides they are running for elected office, their freedom to speak their mind and get their message out is restricted? Not only does it make no sense, it seems an anathema to democracy.

The problem with all the talk of campaign finance reform is that people would like to be able to separate speech from money, as if the two concepts were completely distinct. This can't be done. Freedom of speech means nothing without an accompanying right to use your resources to spread your message. If you don't have the resources to get your message out, you might not even be heard. Imagine if someone suggested to major newspapers that the money they spend ought to be limited. The New York Times would go crazy. Yet in their editorial pages, the same New York Times constantly advocates for more restrictions on campaign contributions and campaign spending.

To distinguish campaign expenditures from campaign contributions, as the law currently does, is asinine. Speech can not be separated from money, no matter how much people may want it to be.


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