For Real Reform, Repeal All the Campaign Laws

by Harry Browne

April 9, 2001

Youíve undoubtedly read enough articles to know already what a farce the "campaign finance reform" bill is. Among other things, it outlaws most candidate advertising during the last 60 days before an election and imposes even more limits on raising money.

Most likely, the Senate Republicans will fold and offer to compromise, the bill will pass, President Bush will sign it, and all sides will declare victory.

Needless to say, the new law is designed to increase the reelection prospects of incumbents. The "statesmen" in office can use the power of their offices to obtain the exposure and resources that the law prevents challengers from obtaining.

In fact, the incumbents have already figured out how to raise all the money they want under the new system. All it requires is to be in office and have favors to dispense.

In other words, campaign laws donít make elections cleaner; they make them more one-sided.

How Soon We Forget

What would make elections fairer?

Most people seem to have forgotten the days when there was very little concern over money in politics. When was that? Before the passage of the first campaign finance law in the mid-1970s.

Once the federal government started regulating elections, all sorts of abuses began to develop. So more laws were passed, and still more abuses arose.

No one seems to wonder why itís necessary to pass one new law after another ó when each previous law was supposed to have solved all the problems.

Whatís Wrong with the Campaign Laws?

There isnít a single aspect of the current or proposed laws thatís fair.

Donation limits: Since incumbents have favors to dispense, organizations line up to raise money for them ó taking on the arduous task of getting individual donations within the $1,000-per-donor limit. Challengers donít get that kind of help.

Reporting: Today a great deal of donation money is wasted complying with reporting requirements. But why should your donations even be reported for all the world to see? Should your vote be reported as well?

Reporting allows incumbents to know who their friends and foes are ó so they can enact favors and tyrannies accordingly.

Thereís no practical, ethical, or historical reason to make the reporting of donations mandatory. Each candidate should decide for himself what his reporting policy will be. Every voter can consider the candidateís policy when deciding whether to vote for him.

Mandating "full disclosure" is one more way politicians and reformers impose their own self-interest on everyone else. In this, as in financial and personal matters, each person should be free to decide for himself what he wants from candidates.

Campaign subsidies: In the last presidential election, George W. Bush and Al Gore each received $67.6 million of your tax dollars. And you paid for their nominating conventions as well.

In addition, your tax dollars helped finance the primary campaigns of several candidates. Naturally, the money went to the candidates who already were receiving maximum publicity and needed the money the least.

Why should you be forced to support one or more candidates you donít like?

Presidential debates: The presidential debates are financed by corporations to whom Congress gives special exemptions from taxes and the campaign laws. The two major parties use the power of government to limit the Debate Commission to members of their own parties, finance (with other peopleís money) a series of debates, and (surprise!) decide not to invite anyone but themselves.

The Solution

The obvious solution to campaign abuses is to repeal all the campaign laws and return to the pre-Watergate system.

Whatís the chance of Congress doing that?

Zero, of course.

Thatís why Iím a party to a proposed lawsuit to nullify all the federal campaign laws ó on the basis that the laws are unconstitutional.

Whatís the chance of winning that suit in the current Supreme Court?

In my view, about 50%. Some of the judges have already said they think the laws are wrong, and others have said the laws should be reviewed. But the Supreme Court hasnít considered the constitutionality of the laws because itís never heard a case that challenged the laws directly ó only ones that nibbled at individual provisions.

If we somehow win the suit, politics truly will become fairer, third parties will become influential (almost every western country but the U.S. has at least three strong parties), and youíll no longer have to vote for the lesser of evils so often. Youíll be more likely to be able to vote for what you really want.

Abandoned again

In the meantime, the Democrats will tell supporters that theyíre cleaning up elections, while in fact making them more one-sided. The Republicans will tell supporters that theyíre preventing the worst of the latest bill, while selling out the faithful once again. And you will have even less freedom than before.

Now that George W. Bush has proposed further federal intrusions in health care, education, and in fact most every other area ó and has ordered a carload of pens for the "campaign finance reform" signing ceremony ó do you still think heís a friend of small government?

For a more detailed analysis of the campaign laws and the proposed lawsuit, click here.

Harry Browne is the Director of Public Policy at the American Liberty Foundation. You can read more of his articles at HarryBrowne.org, his books are available at HBBooks.com, and you can hear his weekly radio show via the Internet.