Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fighting for freedom of money

Portrait of entitlement, peering somewhat myopically into the future. Photo by Cary Norton for the New York Times.
I was interested in the arguments of Shaun McCutcheon, whose lawsuit against the Federal Elections Commission will be heard in the Supreme Court next week, with [jump]
the help of a corporate friend that goes by the name Republican National Committee*, and, as the Times informs us this morning, could
destroy what is left of federal campaign finance regulation.

“It’s the second bomb dropping on controlling the abuses of money in politics,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, which supports strict campaign finance laws. “If you knock out aggregate contribution limits, you create a system of legalized bribery in this country.
McCutcheon is an Alabama entrepreneur, and to him it's all a simple question of investment:
“I think we need to spend more money on politics, not less,” he said. “I think we need to improve it.”... His goal, he said, is to encourage the adoption of conservative principles. “To me,” he explained, “being a conservative means smaller government and more freedom.”
Because anybody can tell you if you want them to be small and leave you alone you'll have to pay for it. No point in being stingy!

But the thing that particularly got to me was the logic of his objections to the law as it is:
He has no quarrel, he said, with the familiar base limits on contributions, currently $2,600 per candidate in primary and general elections. What puzzles him, he said, is why he is subject to a separate overall limit of $48,600 every two years for contributions to all federal candidates.

The base limits on donations to individual candidates make sense, Mr. McCutcheon said, because large contributions could buy undue influence. But he said he did not grasp why he can give to 17 candidates, but not to an 18th. “If I give that same legal amount to an 18th candidate, I’m somehow corrupting the system,” he said in a recent speech. “Really?”
No, Shaun.
Image via Vitamin-Ha.
It's a little bit like traffic safety. If we valued safety above all things, we wouldn't allow private driving at all—everybody'd have to use public transportation. But we don't (and I'm really OK with that!). We do have speed limits, and thus for example in a 55-mph zone if you are driving at 56 mph you can be busted. You do not say you can't grasp why you can go 55, but if you go 56, you are somehow speeding. That is, you don't unless you are an incredibly annoying Libertarian. That's just where they drew a line that needed to be drawn.

Similarly, if we were determined not to have political corruption, we would not allow any private or corporate campaign contributions of any kind. Zero. But we aren't (and I'm really sort of OK with that, too; not exactly happy, but meh). All those 17 contributions were just as corrupt as the 18th, Shaun. It's just that we have to draw the line somewhere.

*That's just so lovable:
“I don’t have the ability to do a case this large,” Mr. McCutcheon said. “So we joined up with the R.N.C.”

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