Campaign Finance Reform and Free Speech

Last night I got into another discussion about Campaign Finance Reform, we were debating the merits of John McCain and the McCain-Feingold bill came up. I was talking to a Republican and when he said he wasn’t a fan of McCain I wondered why, which is where the bill came into the conversation. Leaving aside the merits of whether it has worked on not (obviously it hasn’t) we got into a debate about the financing of public elections and whether it constitutes free speech.

My belief is that we need public financing of elections. There have been three main arguments I have heard against this, namely: it is too expensive, it won’t work, and it violates the freedom of speech clause of the first amendment. Research has shown how the money needed to pay for elections would be more than made up for in decreases in special earmarks that are essentially repaying campaign donations. And yes it won’t entirely solve the problem, but combined with more openness in the election process I think we can substantially reduce the harm that money causes in the political process.

But the main obstacle has always been the Supreme Court’s interpretation of free speech in terms of allowing people to contribute and therefore have a voice in the process. My view is that this isn’t free speech it is pretty damned expensive speech if you ask me. Where else can you think of that you have to buy free speech? If you really want to have a voice in the process their are other fora for doing so. You could volunteer for a campaign, write letters to the editor, etc. That’s free speech. The current system inherently favors those with money and people with power, something freedom of speech was trying to go against. By creating publicly financed campaigns you are freeing the system up so that people’s voices can be heard equally no matter how much money they have.

Another crazy thought I had was, what about taxing campaign contributions? We have sales tax right? Why not put a tax on buying votes? If it is high enough maybe we can cripple the high return on investment corporations are seeing from their investments in politicians.

And now for some questions for you. Do you feel like money is really a problem in politics? Do you feel like there are better ways to solve the problem? What do you think of taxing campaign donations.


One Response

  1. fwiw, I’ve felt for a while that xbrl federal and state budgets would go further than any other mechanisms to disclose what the contributions bought. Universal charts of accounts for the states would allow for more meaningful programmatic efficiencies comparisons.

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