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June 27, 2008

Campaign Finance Reform Took A Hit Yesterday

In all the celebration of the Heller case, you may not have noticed another decision by the Supreme Court yesterday, Davis v. FEC.

In Davis the court declared the so-called “Millionaires Amendment” unconstitutional. This amendment to the McCain-Feingold bill created different and more generous contribution limits for candidates running against an opponent who donated $350,000 or more to their own campaign.

Writing for the majority, Justice Alito pointed out that life isn’t fair and it’s not for Congress to try and change that.

"Different candidates have different strengths. Some are wealthy; others have wealthy supporters who are willing to make large contributions. Some are celebrities. Some have the benefit of a well-known family name," Justice Alito wrote, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and justices Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas. "Leveling electoral opportunities means making and implementing judgments about which strengths should be permitted to contribute to the outcome of the election. The Constitution, however, confers upon voters, not the Congress, the power to choose the members of the House ... and it is dangerous business to use the election laws to influence the voters' choices."

While the decision didn’t overturn the entire McCain-Feingold scheme (this section was added on the floor and wasn’t part of the original bill), some see an opening to challenge the entire system, including bans on corporate and union donations.

...the ruling may undercut a key feature of federal election law since 1974: a ban on corporate and union spending on federal campaigns. "The only justifications for those laws are based on an idea of political equality," (election law specialist, Richard Hasen of Loyola Law School) said. "I think the writing is on the wall."

One can only hope.

Overturning the campaign finance scheme as it’s existed since the 70’s would probably favor Democrats thanks to the money unions would throw into campaigns but the principle of people being able to participate in the political process without government restrictions is more important. As long as there are sufficient reporting and disclosures methods, it seems citizens should be free to donate as much as they want to whomever they want.

Amusingly, the candidate who brought the suit challenging the amendment has spent $3 million on two House runs and lost both. Sure money helps, but it doesn’t buy victory.

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posted by DrewM. at 11:56 AM

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