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Two Cheers for Increasing Contribution Limits to Political Parties

One of the criticisms of the Cromnibus is that it very substantially raises the amount individuals can give to political parties.  But this change was inevitable and generally positive. It was inevitable, because recent Supreme Court and lower court decisions have protected the First Amendment rights of citizens to band together for political messaging at election time. Without corresponding increases in the capacity to fund themselves, political parties would become a relatively less important political platform.

This development is also a positive one so long as it happens in concert with empowering electoral speech by individuals not connected with parties. Court decisions that have made it easier for individuals and groups of individuals to put out their own independent messages protect core First Amendment freedoms. Moreover, outsiders’ political speech makes it harder for our two political parties to engage in duopolistic behavior where they suppress discussion of issues important to voters, like the deficit or immigration. Politics is also a discovery process, and individuals may put on the agenda salient matters  that parties may simply not see.

But there is evidence that individuals tend to provide more extreme ideological messages than parties and may contribute to the election of more extreme candidates. In contrast, political parties are classic mediating institutions. They promote compromise among many factions, including extreme ones, in the interest of getting a stable majority. And the party discipline in turns makes legislative compromise between parties easier. Thus, electoral influence of political parties is also a healthy part of the political process.

Of course, faction can be another word for special interest group. And some groups who proclaim themselves interested in good government oppose this increase in contribution limits because it will advance special interests. But, as James Madison observed in Federalist 10, it is impossible to suppress factions without suppressing liberty as well. Liberty leads directly to the expression of interests.

There are better ways of preventing special interests from getting exactions from government. One is strengthening disclosure. Contributions to political parties are eventually disclosed, but Congress should require them to be disclosed immediately and over the internet. Modern technology will then allow opponents of special interests to connect the dots between special interests and special favors.

A second remedy is to adopt rules that inhibit special interest exactions. Note that at the same time the Court has been deregulating political messaging, the Congress adopted a ban on earmarks. It should also adopt a ban on regulatory relief targeted at particular individuals or companies.

Finally, we could adopt reforms to reduce the size of government. As government grows, more and more special interests will arise to live off it. Good government groups that are concerned about special interests but not the size of government are actually left-wing groups in ideological disguise.

Reader Discussion

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on December 16, 2014 at 12:14:43 pm

"In contrast, political parties are classic mediating institutions. They promote compromise among many factions, including extreme ones, in the interest of getting a stable majority. And the party discipline in turns makes legislative compromise between parties easier. Thus, electoral influence of political parties is also a healthy part of the political process." - Really? That died in the late 1960's with the demise of the "smoke filled room" nominating process. What you have today is something akin to F. H. Buckley's *parliamentary party* in which EVERYTHING is determined along party lines. while, I do not support Buckley's recommendations, he offers a fairly apt description of what "party-sanship" is about.

"A second remedy is to adopt rules that inhibit special interest exactions. Note that at the same time the Court has been deregulating political messaging, the Congress adopted a ban on earmarks. It should also adopt a ban on regulatory relief targeted at particular individuals or companies."

Again, really? How well is this earmark ban working out. Take a look at the *cromnibus* - I guess there were no earmarks in that was there. I suspect a ban on regulatory relief will be equally as successful.

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gabe
on December 17, 2014 at 15:05:19 pm

I disagree with pretty much all of the opinions in the article.

Speech, when used for criminal ends, is not protected. If I walk into a bank and say "Give me all the dough or I'll start shooting" I am not protected from conviction because I used speech and speech is protected.

Likewise, if I use speech to let a candidate know that I am giving them money and I expect a favor in return, that is not protected. It is bribery and corruption of a public official. When a candidate proposes legislation that would damage other people's finances and communicates that they expect a campaign contribution if they want the legislation cancelled, that is extortion. While speech supporting a candidate is protected, speech that is part of criminal activity is not.

One of the central problems in American government is the criminal character of campaign financing.

My preference in campaign financing would be for a party who is not a candidate defining the rules for financing and enforcing those rules. I would much rather see reasonable and enforced caps put on campaign finance amounts. I would rather see the identities of contributors secreted from the candidates, because the act of giving money to a candidate with the identity of the contributor known creates an implied bribe or extortion payment. Low caps would help hide the identity of contributors while at the same time force candidates to campaign on issues instead of expensive marketing techniques. A party who is not associated the candidates is also necessary because it is absurd to believe that the criminals will effectively police themselves.

Most of the existing treatment of campaign financing, such as the items McGinnis describes, is intended to further corruption and to use law to gain an upper hand in campaigning.

As for the propriety of political parties, you do realize don't you that the party system has subverted the federal system. Where the original intention of the framers was to create a nation with power safely decentralized amongst the states using federalization, power is instead centralized in a duopoly that uses the states as political districts. The federal structure is in place, but it is being used differently than was originally intended. I see little to celebrate in the over-centralization of power in the parties.

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Scott Amorian

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