The Vain Crusade to Purify Politics

How misguided efforts to prevent corruption gave us the pretense of "independent" campaign spending.

Winning Our Future, a "super PAC" that supports Newt Gingrich's bid for the Republican presidential nomination, is spending more than $1.2 million on ads in South Carolina, which holds its primary on Saturday. That fact requires some explanation.

First, why would anyone want Newt Gingrich to be president? Second, what is a super PAC? While the former question remains a mystery, the answer to the latter reveals how the vain crusade to curb the influence of money on elections has made talking about politics needlessly cumbersome and complicated.

Unlike conventional political action committees, which give money to campaigns and must obey limits on the contributions they receive, super PACs spend money on their own ads and can receive unlimited contributions, including money from unions and corporations. They exist thanks to Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 ruling in which the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on political speech by unions and corporations, plus subsequent decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the Federal Election Commission.

Those decisions were based on the same logic as Buckley v. Valeo, the 1974 case in which the Supreme Court overturned the Federal Election Campaign Act's spending limits. "Because virtually every means of communicating ideas in today's mass society requires the expenditure of money," the Court observed, restricting spending amounts to restricting speech.  

At the same time, the Court upheld caps on campaign contributions (currently $2,500 per candidate for individuals, $5,000 for PACs), reasoning that the expressive value of such donations does not hinge on the amount involved and that allowing unlimited giving would invite "improper influence." The distinction between spending and contributions was always dubious, since the former requires the latter except for candidates who are wealthy enough to finance their own campaigns. It is even shakier now that groups like Winning Our Future and Restore Our Future (which favors Mitt Romney) are run by candidates' former staffers and financed by familiar supporters.

The New York Times claims casino magnate Sheldon Adelson's $5 million donation to Winning Our Future "underscores how the 2010 landmark Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance has made it possible for a wealthy individual to influence an election." But wealthy individuals, like wealthy candidates, have always been free to spend as much of their own money on political ads as they please.

More plausibly, critics worry that super PACs encourage reckless mudslinging because candidates benefit from the groups' attacks on their rivals but do not have to take responsibility for them. When challenged about the accuracy of independent advertising supporting them, politicians can always say, as Romney did during Sunday's pre-primary debate, "that's something which is completely out of the control of candidates," who are legally barred from "coordinating" with super PACs.

But as Romney observed, "this strange situation" was produced by campaign finance regulations. Why not "let people make contributions they want to make to campaigns," he suggested, "and let campaigns then take responsibility for their own words"?

A good question. Critics of super PACs argue that they pose essentially the same risk of corruption as unlimited campaign contributions would, since politicians are apt to be grateful to people who help them win elections. Why not do away with the pretense?

Like prostitutes who masquerade as masseuses or head shop owners who insist their fancy water pipes are intended for use only with legal herbs, super PACs have a shady reputation because of misguided prohibitions. The limits imposed by the Federal Election Campaign Act gave rise to "issue ads," which provoked the ban on "electioneering communications" that was overturned in Citizens United; now super PACs are yet another means of getting around contribution caps.

"Improper influence" is a perennial hazard in politics. It can be kept in check by monitoring the favors that elected officials do for their supporters—and, more important, by limiting their power to dispense favors. But it cannot be regulated away by increasingly creative restrictions on speech.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

© Copyright 2012 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • F Hart||


  • Suki||

    You know who else was furst.

  • Suki||

    Morning links at 9:23AM.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Is there a pool?

  • Mitt Romney||

    I'm in for $10,000. I'll say 9:17AM.

  • Suki||

    Riggs got it on by 9:05AM and he didn't go black.

  • Ted S.||

    Big Government has enormous power to *uck up (I'll let you put the letter or letters of your choice in place of the asterisk) people's lives. It is therefore logical that people will go to enormous lengths to ensure that Big Government will be *ucking up somebody else's life.

    The logical solution to this is to reduce the power Big Government has to *uck up people's lives.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    And yet it's shockingly difficult to convince otherwise-intelligent people of that very logical solution. Any idea how to fix that?

  • sarcasmic||

    You can't fix it because many people do not see it as a problem.
    They see it as an opportunity.
    They can't force others to pay their bills, but government can.
    They can't force people to buy certain types of light bulbs, but government can.
    They can't force people to go outside for a cigarette, but government can.
    They can't tell people what they may or may not eat, but government can.

    They don't want a solution because they don't see a problem.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Sort of. They don't want to find a solution because they've already found it.

  • Suki||

    Some enterprising libertarian should make a Big Government website.

  • Barbara Yawp||

    How about this one

  • Colonel_Angus||

    There should be a libertarian web site where you can type fuck. This is bullshit.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    I think you meant "*ullshit," Col.

  • Patty Kaik||

    And, please, Colonel, type "fuc*".

    *hink of the **ildren.

  • ||

    I'll let you put the letter or letters of your choice in place of the asterisk

    Nearly any consonant results in an actual word:



  • It's clear why||

    Ethics is uncool, so what do you expect?

    For the demographics that really count (i.e. those who are always beneficiaries of "reach out"-programmes) ethics and morals are completely alien concepts.

  • Balloon Maker||

    he's just trying to appeal to you, the common stupid person

  • Common stupid people...||

    ...are at least smart enough to reject libertarianism in the free market of ideas. Market win!

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I don't see how self-awareness in animals negates the concept of self-ownership. Indeed, from my cocktail-swilling cosmotarian perspective, I would argue that this concept of self-ownership should work to protect many species. I feel it is a criminal act to kill or otherwise molest highly-self aware animals, such as great apes, dolphins and other cetaceans, and so on.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Is White Indian self-aware? I have my doubts. But I agree with HM as to cetaceans, apes et al.

  • sarcasmic||

    Only because you haven't had one in a stew.

    Once you go cetacean, you never go back.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Yeah. I'm willing to convert, depending on tastiness.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I had whale in Washington state. I didn't think it was so tasty.

  • ||

    Whale and seal are both nasty. The time I tried it it was massively fatty.

  • sarcasmic||

    What about ape? Anyone tried ape?

  • ||

    I think ape is illegal pretty much everywhere. And there is a form of mad cow disease called laughing sickness that is 100% fatal and associated with cannibalism. I wonder if you wouldn't be running the same risk with ape since they are so close to human's genetically.

  • sarcasmic||

    Q: What is the definition of trust?

    A: Gay cannibal.

  • Do other animals have rights?||

  • Other animals have rights too?||


    You've just destroyed the basic tenant of Capitalism; i.e., "the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man."*

    * Lynn White, Jr. (1967). "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis." Science, New Series, Vol. 155, No. 3767, pp. 1203-1207

  • Citizen Nothing||

    I have! Oh noes! I'm so sorry!
    I'll replace it, I promise!

  • Do other animals have rights? ||

    Or do you just play sophomoric third grade rate games?

  • DK||

    Lol. Destroyed the basic tenet of capitalism? I'm pretty sure that all capitalism requires is that the means of production be privately held. It says nothing about animals as morally causative agents. That leaves quite a bit of room for ethical posturing.

  • DK||

    Sure. Let's grant that other animals have rights. Let's just say apes and dolphins for simplicity. Caveat - don't be pedantic and ask what else...treat other animals how you will. What are those rights then? Presumably the right not to be killed and eaten or needlessly injured. Fine. I'm unaffected by an ethical obligation not to kill or eat or injure apes or dolphins. I'm pretty sure capitalism is fairly unaffected as well.

    Now you have some tough questions to answer. What rights and responsibilities do we bestow on these animals? If an ape kills another ape, can it be tried for the offense? I'd suspect the answer is probably no, as the ape can't defend itself (at least in our justice system - I know little of how the apes have legislated amongst themselves). Does its victim receive remuneration? Probably not. So it would seem that, at best, apes would have the status of children under a justice system. But that, of course, strips them of quite a few rights.

    State your case. Which rights does one accord to sentient animals?

  • ||

    I can prove a human valuation of things. The last time I asked a plant or animal a question, the answer I got back was somewhat lacking.

  • Self Ownership Principle query||

    If self-awareness is the point in biological evolution that "self-ownership" (which I correlate with the more widely used scientific term autonomy) become "axiomatic" for any specie, then self-awareness in other animals negates the concept of self-ownership being solely human.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    then self-awareness in other animals negates the concept of self-ownership being solely human

    I agree. Take the example of gorillas and chimpanzees in the Congo. When rebel militas want to exploit the vast mineral wealth that lies beneath the Congolese animal preserves, they deal with them just like any authoritarian, statist group; i.e. they kill them and drive them from their land. Just as the Rwandans and Ugandans do to the Congolese.

  • ||

    Don't even try Mulatto. You can't reason with stupid. I seriously doubt he reads his cut and paste. And he most certainly doesn't understand any of it.

  • From a guy who believes...||

    ...that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

    Are you still denying the Holy Spirit, John? It's Hell for you, ya know.

  • Just saying...||

    ...for a guy who is so politically naive, he seems to have Christianity down pat.

  • Sparky||

    Cordially counting coup on you

    Counting coup.

    So basically what you're doing is copy/pasting an article you dug up somewhere on the Internet, throwing some random gibberish on top of it, then claiming you automatically win the argument. Nice work. Let me try.

    Now, instead of having robots modeling their own bodies Lipson and Juan Zagal, now at the University of Chile in Santiago , have developed ones that essentially reflect on their own thoughts. They achieve such thinking about thinking, or metacognition, by placing two minds in one bot. One controller was rewarded for chasing dots of blue light moving in random circular patterns and avoiding red dots as if they were poison, whereas a second controller modeled how the first behaved and whether it was successful or not.

    Automaton, Know Thyself: Robots Become Self-Aware -Charles Q Choi, Scientific American 2/24/11

  • Spark-gap||

    No, actually I came up with that post myself, but I did reference an excerpt that defines life as "autonomous."

    You lose. (Get used to it.)

  • Sparky||

    Nope, I count coup on you for not having a valid understanding of self-aware. You lose. Again.

  • You're pathetic, Sparky||

    In what way is my understanding of self-awareness invalid?

  • Live Free or Diet||

    P.S. Heroic Mulatto is the only one brave enough to step up to bat so far to defend this foundational premise of your ideology

    Self-ownership is not a concept I regularly employ because the concept of ownership is dependent on a prior recognition of each man's autonomy, necessitating his claim on the value produced by his own mind and actions. As it is a right, denoting more than a simple possession held by force, it requires the recognition of that same right in others. Animals cannot recognize another's right to anything, thus they cannot have rights, any more than a murderer caught in the middle of the attempt has.

  • DK||

    I'd be careful with this line of thought. Children of a young age cannot recognize another's right to things. (I'd argue that many grown humans can't, but that's another issue). Surely we don't want to be making the claim that children don't have any rights, as your statement would entail.

  • ||

    Since my answer was along the same lines (damn threading; I thought I'd checked that no one had given the same kind of answer as mine), I'll take a stab at this. You assume that humans are capable of recognizing others' right to things; even a child is granted some limited set of rights based on this assumption, because that child will grow into an adult that is capable of such recognition. Even so, I'd say that children have a limited set of rights, per se. Most "rights" that a child has I see more as responsibilities held by the child's parents, to ensure that the child is fed, housed, groomed, etc. And the greatest responsibility that a parent has to a child is to ensure that they grow up respecting others' rights, i.e., into a moral adult.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    You assume that humans are capable of recognizing others' right to things;

    Nicely done!

    Animals cannot recognize another's right, men can, whether they decide to or not. This tension between states -- an actual versus merely a potential human being -- is the basis of the right of self-defense. The same is true of children, potential human beings in proper development. A child's rights are held in escrow for him until the time at which he is able to take them up and live on his own dime.

  • ||

    It won't do any good, but here goes:

    I'll extend the principle of self-ownership to other species when they become aware of other individuals as also existing as individuals. Many animals are self-aware; only humans are aware that other creatures are self-aware.

    That, I think, is the sine qua non of rights; you have to be capable of respecting others' rights before you can expect to have rights. We assume that humans are thus capable until proven otherwise; when they prove themselves incapable of respecting others' rights, we take away at least some of their rights as a punishment.

    So there's your answer: You can be considered to own yourself when you are capable of recognizing that others own themselves in the same sense that you do.


    Can I own WI, in addition to owning myself? My yard needs mulching.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Dude, get one of your geishas to do it, topless. That would be hot.

  • Male violence toward women||

    Male violence toward women originated with agriculture, which transmuted women into beasts of burden..."

    Agriculture: Demon Engine of Civilization
    by John Zerzan

  • ||

    I like how you mock John for believing in an invisible sky fairy and yet repeatedly and loudly proclaim this hilarious noble savage bit about how murder and misogyny didn't exist prior to that ur-evil of AGRICULTURAL CIVILIZATION.

  • Humans as mere Property||

    The Libertarian creed is "Own Thy Neighbor as Thyself." One of their favorite books degrades and dehumanizes people as "The Ultimate Resource."

    Fact is, the whole "self-ownership principle" as applied by libertarians, is a toxic mimicry of real autonomy. Their proselytizing line is wielded as a bait-and-switch scam. The bait is autonomy; the switch is humans-as-mere-property, humbled before their great god Money. Thus humans can be bought and sold like a doll.

    Even sadistically whipped. Hey, it is just property.

    He'd like more than anything else to boss me around, and then whip me every time I displeased him....Slave-master Rafe would never shell out the cold cash if, after he paid, I could haul him into court on assault and battery charges when he whipped me.

    Voluntary Slave Contracts

    by Walter Block

  • The Ingenious Hidalgo||

    Yeah, and look, libertarianism is an anagram of "barren militias". I think you know what I'm saying.

    It's all a fucking conspiracy.

  • sarcasmic||

    Other anagrams include "Lesbian Air Trim", "Tibiae Snarl Rim", "Anal Timber Iris", "Salami Brier Tin", "Animal Ribs Rite", and "Labia Resin Trim".

    Most definitely a conspiracy.

  • sarcasmic||

    "Librarian Smite"

    SF should like that one.

  • The Ingenious Hidalgo||

    Also "Time Librarians".

  • It's always about "property"||

    Libertarians secretly worried that ultimately someone will figure out the whole of their political philosophy boils down to “Get Off My Property.” News flash: This is not really a big secret to the rest of us.

    I Hate Your Politics
    March 22, 2002 | By John Scalzi

  • ||

    Get off my property.

  • How Xian of you||

  • Live Free or Diet||

    The Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills or the capital of Shaanxi province?

  • ||

    Not to be confused with progressive politics, which boils down to "Give me your property, or else."

  • Capitalism = Right to Take||

    "[The Native Americans] didn't have any rights to the land ... Any white person who brought the element of civilization had the right to take over this continent." ~Ayn Rand, US Military Academy at West Point, March 6, 1974

    The right.

    To take.

    All agricultural city-Statists are the same: invasive and occupational.

    Stalin did the same thing to the nomadic herders of Siberia as Ayn Rand glorifies here.

  • ||

    He would just gambol for a few ours and then take a shit in your flower bed.

  • That's the way you'd act...|| the absence of agricultural city-Statism (civilization) governance, because you're a submissive, domesticated moron.

    Non-State society was much different than your city-Statist caricatures.

  • ||

    See what I mean?

  • Brother Grimm||


  • Live Free or Diet||

    Ownership implies value. He has none so far as I can find. Hell, the poser wouldn't even take a chance to go live his own dream on my dime.

  • I reject fraudulent offers.||

    Why are libetarians always running a scam, anyway?

  • Nigerian lottery||

    What scam? No scam here. Just people gamboling about the plains living in affluence.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    Note he didn't attempt to substantiate his assertion of a scam.
    I couldn't scam him if I wanted to. He has nothing to swindle. No challenge there either. It would be harder to fool my kid's cat.

  • Suki||

    Anybody should be free to spend their money on whatever they like, even if they like throwing it at politicians.

    The equally large outrage is government financing of political campaigns.

  • sarcasmic||

    You mean Clean Elections?

    You do know that the only alternative is Dirty Elections?

  • Suki||

    Yes, clean elections like when politicians used to give voters free whiskey they bought themselves.

  • ||

    People were just off the boat from Europe where no one cared what their opinion was about anything. The idea that someone cared what they thought at all much less was willing to pay them to think a certain way was total heaven to those people.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    He thought about occupying himself with MNG's cock, taking it into his mouth because that would definitely require all his concentration, but countless dark corners with Oliver had taught him that cocksucking was an instinct that you couldn't appreciate until the time was right

    Who the fuck is Oliver?

  • ||

    the little fucker who ruined the brady bunch

  • sarcasmic||

    Some British chef with a terrible lisp.

  • Barbara Yawp||

    What? No analingus?

  • ||

    It is always good to attract a stalker. Good for the ego. Too bad I don't attract a better class of them.

  • Sparky||

    Nope, not reading it. Not. One. Fucking. Line.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Shouldn't that be "MNG's *ock"?

  • Bruce Majors||

    So Obama is sending Biden out to speak to donors to raise money for the "unaffiliated" Priorities USA superPAC that supports the Obama campaign.

    Illegal I believe; unless Biden is not on the ticket.

  • ||

    My Dem friends tell me they are kicking him off for Hillary in hopes of getting the soccer mom vote back.

  • ||

    Probably a smart move. Gets him some favorable news cycles, doesn't hurt him with the base, and she's a better campaigner.

  • ||

    Wasn't it finally determined that White Indian was some fat college student somewhere?

  • sarcasmic||

    I thought WI was a homeless schizophrenic drunk posting from the library.

  • ||

    Not sure. A few days ago they started deleting his posts. They need to again. It is fun to screw with him. But at some point gets exploitative on our part. I don't think we are doing ourselves or him any favors by indulging and encouraging his mental illness.

  • Sparky||

    There is no such thing as mental illness, it's really just an alternate view of reality. I find it a little scary that he actually believes the things he spits out. That being said, I believe part of libertarian philosophy is "to each his own". Or maybe I'm wrong about that.

  • ||

    I am not saying we should try to stop him from saying what he does. I just don't think it is very nice to be encouraging him and screwing with him. You shouldn't pick on retarded kids even if it is fun.

  • Try answering the query...||

    ...if you're not a retard, John.

  • nobody||

    He's not fat! He's just part of the original affluent society.

  • sarcasmic||

    Who will be first on the links?

  • First of Etiquette||

    Anybody's guess.

  • sarcasmic||

    I was a minute late and a comment short.

  • ||

    That actually does make a whole lot of sense when you think about it. Wow.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    I wish the bots would be plugged into Cleverbot or some such AI chat, it would make for a nice diversion from WI's intense stupidity.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Whenever ethics is mentioned in almost any context including ones of a nature that are political, professional, academic, or religious, there is a disconnection between what has been established as ethical, and what is both logically practical and truly moral. Often something that is "ethical" is only so because of some artificial constraint or is a method to shift ethical actions from the origin of the problem to one of its resulting affects. This is just a correct observation of mine.

  • Robert||

    Interesting. Examples?

  • ||

    Hello,my friends!Here's the most popular dating site for now__SeekCasual*com, a place for people who wanna start a short-term relationship.And also for finding soul mate.Over 160000 happy members are waiting their lovers.Join free and have a try,nothing to lose`

  • mad libertarian guy||

    The allure of Super PACs, despite what Sullum says, is that the message is completely out of the control of candidates (presumably anyways).

    I can freely associate with like minded individuals, poll my money with them and produce a message of our liking. It enables regular folks like me and, presumably, most of you, to have a widespread voice in politics without it being molested by the candidates themselves.

    Citizens United not only enables speech, it encourages political speech from those who may never have had a voice of their own, or at least one tailed to their intellectual sensibilities.

    Anyone who opposes it because "KORPORASHUNS AREN'T PEEPUL!!!!!!11one1!!!! are clearly fucking tools of the establishment and have no problem with insiders controlling all political speech.

  • ||


    (Commentary in {..}, not part of proposed Amendment}

    No candidate for the Presidency or either house of Congress shall accept contributions in cash or in kind from any organization or group of persons for expenses incurred in a campaign for that office. All such contributions shall be made only by individual citizens who shall attest that the funds or other items of value are from their own resources and that they have not received, nor have they been promised, offsetting items of value from any other party in exchange for their contribution. The identity and extent of contributors to such campaigns shall be made public for a period of thirty days from receipt before being employed or used as collateral for a loan by such campaigns. Organizations of any type, {i.e. corporations, unions, gun rights advocates, environmental protection groups, even “Susie’s Flower Shop”, a theoretical small business cited in the Citizen’s United Case,} may, without restriction, expend money to advocate a position on any issue before or likely to come before the electorate insofar as no candidate’s name or description is included in their expressions of advocacy.

    {The intent of the above is to bring “transparency” to campaign financing by removing any group from the process whereby that group may conceal the identity of an individual contributor as well as limiting the influence of such groups or “special interests”. It further prevents an organization from making such contributions when an individual within that organization, such as a union member or corporation stockholder, may oppose the candidate. Considering the large equity position in certain corporations that the federal government has recently taken in response to the economic crises, this is particularly important in excluding such influence. The money from “special interest” groups will then go to promote that for which they exist, their “special interest”. The media will be directed to expositions on the issues facing the electorate, thus enhancing discussion and hopefully understanding of issues, bereft of personalities.}


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