January 12, 2010

Myth of Campaign Finance Reform

Law Professor, campaign finance expert, and former FEC commissioner Bradley Smith has an excellent essay in the winter issue of National Affairs on the myth of campaign finance reform. This is a great read in the lead up to an impending decision in the Citizens United case. In sum:
To anyone following the evolution of the campaign-finance reform movement, it should have been obvious that book-banning was a straightforward implication of the McCain-Feingold law (and the long line of statutes and cases that preceded it). The century-old effort to constrict the ways our elections are funded has, from the outset, put itself at odds with our constitutional tradition. It seeks to undermine not only the protections of political expression in the First Amendment, but also the limits on government in the Constitution itself — as well as the understanding of human nature, factions and interests, and political liberty that moved the document's framers.

By putting the point so bluntly before the Supreme Court, Malcolm Stewart may have inadvertently set off a series of events that could, in time, erode the claim to moral high ground upon which the campaign-finance reform movement has always relied. At the very least, his frankness invites us to consider the origins and consequences of that movement — and the implications of its efforts for some cherished American freedoms.