Constitutional Campaign Finance Reform

Crafting meaningful campaign finance reform is hard. Placing limits on the collection and use of private funds almost never works, as there are always loopholes to be found. Voluntary public financing is going to be opted out of. Mandatory limits on spending would be ruled unconstitutional. The solution I used to prefer – banning private donations and giving each campaign which demonstrates its viability a lump sum from the public coffers – would be struck down in an instant.
Given all these difficulties, I really enjoyed this Salon piece, linked to by Mori Dinauer, detailing a proposal from Yale profs Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres that’s constitutional and yet just might work wonders. Here’s the gist of the plan:

The first part of the Ackerman-Ayres plan calls on the government to give every voter $50 to donate to candidates running for federal office. The second part will sound almost as crazy, until it sounds brilliant: Make all campaign donations secret, so that nobody — especially political candidates — knows where any citizen’s money is going. Anonymous giving means no quid pro quo.

The first part would be great even under the current system; democratizing the fundraising process, even with sums as small as $50, is an excellent idea. But the secret donation plan – as the piece says, that’s just brilliant. It would basically eliminate corporate and special interest donations, as there’d be no way for them to prove they were donating to a campaign. Without the assurance that the donor would know they were being assisted, it’s doubtful the corporations/PACs would bother donating. Of course, there’s the possibility for loopholes. If a corporation has been giving a Congressman $5,000 a cycle (that’d be the limit under the Ackerman-Ayres plan) and tells him as much, and the Congressman votes against their interests in a subsequent term, they could stop giving, which he might notice. But still, that’s a very subtle method, and $5,000 isn’t a very noticeable sum. I doubt it would ever get passed, but here’s hoping some Congressman or Senator at least introduces this as a bill. It has the potential to do a lot of good.

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