Campaign finance reformers are worried about the future. They contend that two Supreme Court rulings — the McCutcheon decision in March and the 2010 Citizens United decision — will magnify inequality in U.S. politics. In both cases, the court majority relaxed constraints on how money can be spent on or donated to political campaigns. By allowing more private money to flow to campaigns, the critics maintain, the court has allowed the rich an unfair advantage in shaping political outcomes and made “one dollar, one vote” (in one formulation) the measure of our corrupted democracy. This argument misses the mark for at least four reasons. First, the money spent on federal campaigns is not excessive; quite the contrary. Second, elections — and politics in general — are inherently unequal for many reasons other than money. Third, incumbency is by far the greatest source of this inequality, and the limits on contributions — and thus on most candidates’ spending — that reformers want to retain would only worsen it. Finally, the claim that generous donors and big independent spenders in effect buy federal elections and policies is contradicted by the empirical evidence.
Voting Blogs: A Novel Proposal from Heather Gerken: Plus One More, Also from Yale | More Soft Money Hard Law
In an interesting Washington Post article, Professor Heather Gerken has proposed with co-authors a new strategy to advance a core reform objective, the enhancement of transparency, as other options seemingly dwindle after CItizens United andMcCutcheon. Heather is well known and well-respected for just such an insistence on thinking beyond the well-traveled, now largely exhausted policy choices. A good example is the Democracy Index, which she constructed to “harness politics to fix politics,” by generating political incentives for the improvement of performance on election administration through the publication of public rankings. What she and her co-authors now suggest is that 501(c)(4)s and other organizations not publicly reporting their finances be required to disclose that they do not disclose. Public opinion would do the rest: politics would be harnessed to fix politics. Suspicious that the advertisers won’t say who is paying for their messages, the audience would be mistrustful, the ads would have less value, and donors would have reason to doubt that their money is well spent. Money might then flow to messages financed by disclosing organizations. This mode of attack, Gerken et. al believe, might also help with the “whack-a-mole” problem: that regulators and lawmakers must chase ever-changing organizational forms, from “527” to 501(c) organizations. This new regulatory program would target the ads, irrespective of the type of sponsor.