The Folly Of Campaign Finance Laws

Over the holiday weekend Politickernj and The Star Ledger  caught up with the good work that MMM contributor Harold Kane did last September in shedding light on political spending in Middlesex County.

Like Kane, Politikernj and The Star Ledger framed their articles as if the PACs set up to funnel campaign donations from engineers, lawyers and their firms to political campaigns were doing something scandalous.   Each of the articles acknowledges that the contributions are legal, yet they say that the donors “skirt” or “cloud” the law or that the contributors are “buying” the candidates that ultimately benefit from the contributions.

The real scandal is that campaign finance laws at every level of government, federal, state, county and local, that are ostensibly designed to eliminate the influence of money in our political system and to increase transparency actually have the opposite effect, by design.

Money is like air and water.  Set up a structure to restrict it and money, like air and water, will find a crack in the structure to get to where it wants to go.  With enough pressure the structure breaks.  Fix or reform the structure and the cycle repeats itself.

Our campaign finance laws decrease transparency in the process.  Kane and the reporters from Politickernj and The Star Ledger spent many unproductive hours combing through ELEC reports of campaigns and PACS to connect the dots.  Not many people have the time or resources to make that effort.  Kane, Politickernj and The Star Ledger reporters did us all a service by connecting those dots.  It is appropriate for the public to know who is financing the campaigns of their candidates for public office.

Restricting the amount of money that a person or entity can contribute to a campaign is inappropriate.  Such restrictions are impediments to free speech and push otherwise well meaning people out of the political process or into breaking ill conceived and complex laws.  Such restrictions don’t and won’t keep “bad money” out of the process.

The only way to increase transparency in the process is to require immediate disclosure of campaign contributions. Removing the limits that candidates and campaigns can accept would reduce the utility of PAC, Super PACs, etc. 

Creating a simple system of full disclosure would increase participation in the political process.  It would increase competition among government contractors and professionals.  It would make the entire process more democratic, which is probably why we won’t see such a simple system anytime soon, if ever.

Posted: April 9th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Campaign Contributions | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

3 Comments on “The Folly Of Campaign Finance Laws”

  1. Gallagher: The Folly of Campaign Finance Laws | Save Jersey said at 3:56 pm on April 9th, 2012:

    […] Cross-Posted at MoreMonmouthMusings.net […]

  2. Gideon Weissman said at 12:24 pm on April 10th, 2012:

    Increasing disclosure and transparency will certainly be good for democracy, and it is great that people are looking deeply into state data. However, a few issues with your piece:

    “Campaign finance laws…have the opposite effect, by design.”
    -Many campaign finance laws (McCain-Feingold for instance) were truly designed to make democracy better. However, laws like this have been weakened by Supreme Court rulings (Citizens United), clever attorneys who find loopholes, and new legislation to fix existing laws being defeated by the influence of campaign money.

    “Money is like air and water.”
    -If you set up a dam to contain a rushing torrent (of money), and then you make occasional fixes to it, and are diligent about it, the dam will hold. That’s what we need to do with campaign finance laws.

    “Removing the limits that candidates and campaigns can accept would reduce the utility of PAC, Super PACs, etc.”
    -Removing limits on contributions would significantly water down regular Americans’ impact on elections. I think you’d find that politicians would begin spending even more of their time courting money, instead of courting regular voters.

  3. ArtGallagher said at 6:11 pm on April 10th, 2012:


    Thanks for weighing in.

    Your first two rebuttals actually contribute to my main points…it is futile to attempt to control and limit money, or any other type of speech. You can move it around, send it underground or make it more complicated, but attempts to limit it will ultimately fail.

    Regarding your third rebuttal. I disagree. Politicians need money to court regular votes. Limits on contributions give the wealthy easier access to seeking and winning office.