Has the Supreme Court created an environment “pregnant with possibility of corruption?” The Washington Post Editorial Board makes this case, building it around the rise of super PACs, and it locates the problem in the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Citizens United. The argument does not clarify especially well the choices ahead in campaign finances, or the role of Citizens United in shaping them, or the means of grappling with bona fide corruption. The Post’s miscue is the insistence on keeping campaign finance reform tied tightly to the corruption debate—or, more accurately, tied up with it, with nowhere to go. What the editorial has to say about Super PAC independent expenditures could be asserted about any independent expenditure. The culprit, if there is one to be found, is Buckley v. Valeo: Citizens United followed its reasoning, perhaps more faithfully than some would like, but the 1976 Court rejected limits on expenditures made without the request or suggestion of, or in consultation with, a candidate.
Super PACs are sophisticated consumers now of what the Court offered then. The product for sale remains largely the same. Individuals giving to a Super PAC can go into business for themselves, spending independently without a PAC as go-between. And as Michael Gilbert and Brian Barnes argue, anti-coordination rules won’t operate to limit the quid pro quo corruption believed to follow from unlimited independent spending.
The Super PAC is the latest in a series of developments in campaign finance that have been linked with considerable fanfare to the threat of corruption. In the 1970’s it was the contribution programs of the political action committee (the regular PAC, not then so Super), and in the 1980’s, it was party soft money. In these different forms—through or outside the parties, through contributions or independent expenditures—the corrupt money was the money in most liberal or accessible supply that candidates were seen to be chasing. And this is the point about campaign finance reform arguments centered on corruption: there is always the potential that a candidate in need of money will make an illegal trade for it, and yet no reform in a system of private fundraising, certainly none that will survive constitutional review, will eliminate that risk.
Full Article: Oversimplifying Corruption and the Power of Disgust –.