The Spectacle Blog

Limits on Campaign Contributions Serve Incumbents

By on 4.17.14 | 11:44AM

Thomas Sowell knows why politicians on both sides of the aisle are so upset that the Supreme Court overturned limits on campaign contributions—because such restrictions hurt political challengers and protect incumbents. I think he hit the nail on the head:

The recent Supreme Court decision over-ruling some Federal Election Commission restrictions on political campaign contributions has provoked angry reactions on the left. That is what often happens whenever the High Court rules that the First Amendment means what it says—free speech for everybody.

Opponents say killing these limits will lead to electoral corruption. What exactly do they mean? President Obama cries that removing restrictions “will open the floodgates for special interests.” Sowell explains, “Those unfamiliar with political rhetoric may not know that ‘special interests’ mean people who support your opponents":

Even in an age of polarization and gridlock, the one area in which it is easy to get bipartisan support in Congress is in passing campaign finance laws, restricting how much money can be spent publicizing political candidates. What Congressional Democrats and Republicans have in common is that they are all incumbents, and they all want to keep their jobs.

Incumbents have an advantage on the campaign trail simply by holding office. They get free publicity through media coverage and interviews. They send mail to their constituents at no personal cost to themselves. Campaign finance laws restricting contributions and political ads “are all restrictions on political challengers who have to buy their own publicity,” Sowell says, and continues:

If truth-in-packaging laws applied to Congress, a campaign finance law would have to be labeled an “Incumbents Protection Act.”

Is that what our federal government has come to? Are they so afraid of a challenge that they need a handicap to compete? 

Clearly, the powers that be are afraid of a free exchange of ideas. As long as they stay in the limelight and make it difficult for other voices to be heard, they keep their positions. Unchallenged, they can continue to make decisions that go against the American people’s rights and desires.

The Supreme Court’s decision is a victory for the grassroots. 

Contrary to the impression given by some media outlets, the McCutcheon ruling did not blow the cap off all regulations for campaign contributions. It removed the stipulation that an individual or group can only give so much to political candidates—total—over a period of years. Those who wanted to contribute more had been forced to choose how to split their contributions between candidates. Often lower-profile races (read: state and local level) lost funding to more publicized races. 

With the overall limit gone, lower-profile candidates will likely receive more contributions and more attention—heartening news for those of us who believe that local governance is key to keeping the people free. Gifts to a single candidate are still limited, but now individuals are not limited in the number of candidates to whom they may contribute.

This decision is a victory for free speech, and will empower candidates to challenge the status quo in Washington. 

Send to Kindle

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article