The McCutcheon Decision and the Role of Money in Politics

Posted on

Wednesday’s McCutcheon decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated limits on the amount of money any single contributor could give to all federal campaigns combined, called forth a depressingly predictable response from editorialists who never seem to ask themselves why there is so much money in politics.  But readers who long to find an island of thoughtfulness in this sea of outrage will be happy to read Greg Weiner’s take on the Liberty Law Blog.  Advancing an idea he calls “Supply-Side Campaign Reform,” Weiner suggests that legislators bent on reform should focus not on the amount of money people donate to politicians, but on “the goods they receive in return.  If government does not distribute discrete and discretionary economic advantages, there is no self-seeking motive for contributions.”  (In the past, I have tried to sum this notion up with three words:  “Power attracts influence.”)

Here is how Weiner unpacks the idea:

[I]t is micro-government—not big government, not small government, but government in the permanent business of distributing and regulating ever smaller economic advantages—that creates access points that, in turn, drive the supply of self-interested contributions.  By contrast, a government that does a few things, even big things, and does them well—without picking winners and losers—will find itself bereft of self-seeking contributions because there will be no motive to give them.

The whole piece is short and definitely worth a read.  And one of the commenters provides a bonus analogy:  restricting campaign contributions on the ground that they encourage corruption is like restricting banks because they encourage bank robbery, or restricting the sale of property insurance because it encourages arson.  In all three cases, the focus should be on the bad guys rather than the unobjectionable conduct the bad guys are exploiting.  Unfortunately, in the case of campaign finance reform, the bad guys are the ones already in office.  Ending their incumbency is where reform really needs to start.