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Wednesday, August 09, 2006 

Campaign Finance Laws and Lamont

I haven't really been following national politics for a while. I just think it's become insanely dull, and the people involved are usually a bunch of brainless reptiles. Law is a much more interesting field. I'd much rather hear Chief Justice Roberts speak on a topic than hear Nancy Pelosi talk about anything. However, I did find this post on Cato-at-Liberty interesting. The intersection of law and politics is usually enough to bring me back into the political arena, at least for a while.

In the post, Ed Crane takes a look at the Democratic primary in Connecticut featuring Senator Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont. Ignoring the party politics and blog-related implications of the election, Crane talks about one of my favorite topics, campaign finance reform. Crane first takes a well deserved shot at the abomination known as McCain-Feingold (or BCRA to us election law nerds). He then looks at the true focus of his post...
But the worst part of these laws came with the 1974 Amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act, which instituted a $1000 contribution limit to candidates running for federal office (now slightly more than $2000, but less in real terms than the '74 limits). Incumbents have earmarks to pass around and large mailing lists. Challengers do not. Advantage, incumbents.
Contribution limits make it very hard for a challenger to amass enough money to mount an effective campaign to unseat a well-known incumbent. Incumbents, like Senators for example, enjoy a hell of a lot of free publicity. They are on the news quite often. They bring home pork projects that make them popular and widely-known in their state. They also get to send out mailings from their offices, designed to look like "here's what I've been working on" newsletters but are in effect "here's why you should re-elect me" campaign materials. If a challenger wants to get known, he or she will have to spend a lot of money on print, radio, and TV ads. That takes big money. Contribution limits make it hard to build that kind of bank account.

Crane says that campaign finance laws in general, contribution limits specifically, are designed to protect incumbents, the very people who vote these laws into existence...
Ned Lamont's remarkable victory over three-term incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman yesterday exposes the true nature of contribution limits. They aren't about the "appearance of corruption." They're about preventing a challenger from having a snowball's chance in hell of winning.
These laws are incredibly self-serving and serve to entrench politicians in office for years. They want to save their jobs and will do anything, including changing the law, to make it harder for them to lose.

Fear not, there is hope! Well, hope for some of us...
The one "loophole" the Supremes created with their incoherent 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo was that candidates have rights the rest of us don't have. Apparently, they can't be corrupted by their own money, so there are no limits on what they can spend on their own campaigns.
That's right. There is hope for rich candidates...
More than 60 percent of Ned's campaign expenditures came from Ned. Without Ned, Ned loses. In fact, no political observer thought any candidate dependent on a $2000 contribution limit had any kind of chance of ousting Lieberman.
It takes a special kind of person to beat an incumbent, usually one with old money.

Crane then makes the point that Connecticut is lucky that Lamont is rich...
But by spending his own money he enfranchised the Democrats of Connecticut who otherwise, given the contribution limits, were disenfranchised. The Democrats in Connecticut hate the war in Iraq, Lieberman has rather energetically endorsed it. Yet the federal election laws would have assured Lieberman reelection were it not for the "loophole."
Isn't that interesting? The people who have fought so hard for campaign finance laws are the ones who were almost screwed by them.

Crane's final point is this...
Give everyone the "loophole" of being able to spend as much of their own money to promote their political beliefs and we'll throw a remarkable number of incumbents out of office. And with good candidates instead of bumbling millionaires.
I'd rather not be stuck living in a country run by a bunch of John Corzines.

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  • From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
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