Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Campaign Finance Reform: An Idea Whose Time Has Passed

Adam Liptak at the NY Times writes that the Supreme Court appears to be gunning for parts of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that was passed in 2002. This should come as no surprise. Conservatives in general are opposed to serious efforts to constrain campaign finance spending, and Scalia and Thomas are on the record as opposing the holding of even Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 Supreme Court decision that got us in this mess in the first place by equating money to political speech and striking down any efforts to limit campaign spending. To some extent I sympathize with the Court; reading the quotes from oral argument, it's plain to see that they struggle to define a working standard as to what is and is not an illegal campaign contribution. But that's because the entire framework of campaign finance, as defined by Buckley, is incoherant and unworkable. Unfortunately Democrats also certainly have no impetus to limit campaign contributions, given the massive war chest that Barack Obama accumulated through the Presidential campaign. So long as Buckley stands, serious campaign finance reform in this country is impossible, and money will continue to serve as a proxy for political influence. 

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