[FoRK] Aaron on campaign finance reform

jbone at place.org jbone at place.org
Wed Feb 11 12:48:04 PST 2004

Aaron's got a great write-up on campaign finance reform up on his blog:


While the system he suggests is perhaps marginally better on some 
dimensions than the existing system, I have a few (but deep) issues 
with it.  I suggest that a simpler system --- while still imperfect --- 
is equally or more effective, equally or less objectionable, and more 
financially responsible.  To wit:

> the large wealthy interests have been very good at convincing voters 
> their problems are caused by welfare queens'' and government handouts” 
> and that government programs are naturally inefficnet and bad.

There are several things wrong with this statement that betray some 
fundamental biases.  First, it implies ever-so-subtly that "large 
wealthy interests" necessarily have divergent interests from voters, 
which may or may not be true in different contexts;  it also similarly 
implies that "large wealthy interests" are duplicitous.  More 
worryingly, it seems to imply that voters who believe that their 
problems are caused by welfare queens and government handouts --- or 
that government programs are naturally inefficient and bad --- believe 
this because they've been "sold" the line by the wealthy.

The bottom line is that the statements (a) "(some) voters problems are 
caused by welfare queens and government handouts" and (b) "government 
programs are naturally inefficient" and (c) "government programs are 
bad" are:  (1) independent of each other, and (2) may be (and probably 
are) true or false independent of the provenance of the belief.

In short, the above is just populist class-warfare baiting, and 
diminishes the strength of Aaron's overall argument.


> The good news is that this is doable. The solution is called “Clean 
> Money, Clean Elections” (CMCE). First you have a qualifying period, 
> where possible candidates test their support by collecting $5 
> donations. When they have enough, they bring these small donations 
> down to the statehouse and become a candidate. They voluntarily sign a 
> clean campaign contract, promising to only use federally-provided 
> funds for their campaign and not raise or spend money from any other 
> source. Then the government gives them a set amount for their 
> campaign.

The problem here is that I would be --- as a taxpayer --- involuntarily 
forced to support candidates I disagree with.  Better men than I have 
spoken out on the moral bankruptcy of this type of thing:

"To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation 
of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical." 
  -Thomas Jefferson


> So what’s so great about this system? It’s completely constitutional, 
> because it’s voluntary.

I beg to differ.  A system that uses my money to subsidize Bush, or 
Nader, or *anybody* against my will --- is NOT voluntary.

Purely from a legal perspective --- speaking as a layman --- the 
argument that this is "constitutional" appears bogus.  I'm pretty sure 
that the idea of confiscating the assets of everyday Americans in order 
to contribute to the political campaigns of others that they vehemently 
disagree with has no precedent or basis in our Constitution and 
associated body of early law.  If that *had* appeared, I would expect 
that Jefferson would've high-tailed it to hang w/ his friends in France 
and bemoaned the rapid degeneration of the country he helped found.


I don't have a better solution that both completely preserves liberty 
and avoids coercion / theft of resources.  In practice, however, I 
suppose a complete ban on soft money and a hard cap on how much can 
flow through campaign offices might accomplish something positive.

Similarly and perhaps better, a hard-and-fast re-commitment to 
forgotten "Doctrine of Fairness" (in media) might have the same effect, 
irregardless of campaign finance reform per se.  That is, it doesn't 
matter how much money you have, because under such a system all 
candidates (how do we qualify "candidate"?) has equal access to 
airtime.  (Free speech and commons arguments can be made here, but 
capitalist and different free speech arguments may run counter.)

These both risk infringing the First Amendment and various other 
dearly-held principles, but frankly they're the only ways I can think 
of to avoid the kind of thing we're talking about w/o running afoul of 
the coercion / theft problem.  So it becomes --- as so many things do 
--- an issue of pragmatics:  choices between evils.  Or, looked at 
differently:  property is a more basic right than free speech?  (Brief 
support:  most modern / Western theories of rights proceed from a 
propertarian notion that one "owns" one's self.  If property is the 
most basic right, then the right to not have one's property confiscated 
and used for purposes one disagrees with is necessarily more essential 
and in need of greater protection than the derivative "right" to free 


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