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Monday, October 23, 2006 

Election Law Loopholes

This post from Balkinization (linked via Hasen's Election Law Blog) discusses an interesting possibility for getting around campaign finance contribution laws. This example focuses on Senator Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign and probable presidential campaign. Ian Ayres quotes the New York Times concerning Clinton's campaign cash situation...
Mrs. Clinton has raised nearly $50 million and spent about $35 million; both the infrastructure she has built and whatever money is left at the end can be transferred into a presidential race if she decides to run.
Ayres then makes this astute observation...
Imagine that a presidential candidate wants to allow people to contribute more to her campaign than is currently allowed under Federal campaign law. She could sign up to run in the off year election for the House and the Senate (and maybe have her relatives run for House and Senate in the same state). Supporters of the presidential campaign make maximum contributions to the House and Senate campaigns. To be extreme, imagine that these are sham candidacies and that she and her relatives spend almost none of the money contributed so as to maximize the amount that can be transfered post defeat to the real presidential campaign. The supporters who maxed out in making contributions to the sham campaigns can also max out in giving to the presidential campaign. And voila you have neat/scary way to end run the contribution limits.
Sure, this seems like an extreme way to avoid contribution limits, but I'm sure that there are more than a few people who would go to extreme measures to get into the White House.

During the unit on election law in my Legislation course last semester, we talked at length about the effectiveness of campaign finance laws. Some people (myself included) believe that these laws have an effect similar to that of pushing your finger into a balloon. Push all you want, but the balloon will have the same amount of air. It will just move and bulge elsewhere. Campaign finance laws are similar. A law can try to correct a "problem" and focus the regulatory might of the FEC on that area. Candidates and their contributors will always find a way around that law though.

In my Legislation course, even the most ardent supporters of contribution limits and McCain-Feingold had to admit that there will always be ways around these laws. America's law schools are churning out intelligent, creative individuals who are happy to come up with clever solutions like the one above. Meanwhile, the rest of us just watch these laws and regulations pile up, making elections and campaigning a complicated process beyond the comprehension of most ordinary people.

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