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04/08/2012

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Sam

interesting

Peter Pearson

Note that the goal of allowing "speech" while preventing bribery is largely addressed by allowing unlimited contributions to an anonymizing, "laundering" account. Contribute all you like, but you cannot prove to the officeholder that you made those contributions.

rxp

I think that direct expenditures on advertising are materially different from other forms of speech, though, because they are a measure of how many "dollars" are supporting a candidate, rather than how many voters. At least with a large number of enthusiastic supporters, you know that a number of people actually support the candidate.

Elections are based on the principle of "one man, one vote" (modulo the Electoral College, of course), and we should by default be very suspicious of anything which moves us in the direction of "one dollar, one vote", because it would amount to a de facto partial disenfranchisement of large parts of the country.

Mitchell K.

"Time spent by supporters is often as effective and “corrupting” as money spent influencing political outcomes and policies."

Becker makes a wonderful point that very few journalists have made. Many of the people who work for a candidate do so with the implicit assumption that they will rewarded by having their policy preferences reflected in the candidates platform or by being appointed to a position within that candidate's office. This includes not just senior advisers but virtual unknowns who act as "bundlers" for a candidate.

These bundlers aggregate large numbers of campaign donations and funnel it towards a campaign. Individual campaign donors are capped at several thousand dollars, but these bundlers can essentially "donate" millions to a candidate. One such bundler for President Obama's 2008 campaign received an appointment to the Department of Energy and was instrumental in securing a government loan to the now-defunct solar panel company Solyndra.

My capping an individual's donation to a candidate, campaign finance laws have empowered bundlers to new heights.

JCH

The argument that money and time are similarly influential sidesteps the main issue, which is the vastly disproportionate distribution of money. We all have 24 hours per day and therefore the influence each of us can have is in proportion to our vote. The influence of money varies by many orders of magnitude and therefore gives those with money a disproportionate voice in our politics. One can debate about the extent to which that is a bad thing, but it is an undeniable difference. If you accept the proposition that both money and time support can be corrupting then you must conclude that the "corruption" of money skews the political process in ways that contributing time does not.

Igor Faynshteyn

There are 2 flaws in this argument. One is that there are critical differences between Rush Limbaugh/Bill Maher promoting their political viewpoints, and contributions made by individuals or corps to Super PACS. The difference is, as Posner pointed out, is the concern that particularly large contributions from big donors may lead to corruption. And as Posner highlighted, the difference between making contributions to Super PACS and to candidates directly are slim to none.

Therefore, the argument that such contributions to PAC's should not be limited due to the fact that similar regulations are not, and likely cannot, be imposed on Rush or Maher, or FB, or Youtube does not seem relevant.

Secondly, even assuming the validity of that argument, the conclusion that therefore contributions should not be limited to PAC's is only one possibility. The alternative conclusion may very well be that perhaps similar regulations can and should be imposed on other expressions of speech.

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Time spent by supporters is often as effective and “corrupting” as money spent influencing political outcomes and policies.

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These reflections lead me to question whether it is wise to control one form of interest group politics; namely, direct and indirect monetary contributions to political campaigns, in an environment where other types of interest group politics are important and are only weakly controlled.

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Does unlimited campaign money actually weaken the relative advantage of incumbency?

The argument that weakening one form of support for candidates while others remain unchecked makes sense, but only if those forms of support operate independent of one another. My concern here is that this is not the case. The example that you used, personal fame, WOULD have a larger effect on elections if that fame had no impact on a candidate's ability to attract donors, but I sincerely doubt that this is the case. If donors are giving not for ideological reasons, but to curry favor with potential office-holders, wouldn't it make more sense for them to give their money to a Kennedy who is likely to be an attractive candidate from the getgo than to an unknown upstart? By the same token, it seems likely that unlimited campaign contributions could actually ENHANCE the value of incumbency, because it would seem foolhardy for most donors to bet their money and influence against a candidate who has such a clear advantage.

And if anything, the proof is in the pudding here. If we assume that incumbents are rational actors just like everyone else, it would make sense that they would favor policies that enhance their own chances for re-election. However, despite the general popularity of the separation of money and government among people across the ideological spectrum (from the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street), politicians are rarely willing to take a stand on it. One very logical explanation would be that they resist campaign finance reform because they know that unlimited contributions actually help them retain their offices.

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