Campaign Finance Fiasco

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Reader Tom Castle points to a great argument for abolishing campaign finance laws: A story in the Dayton Daily News about a sad sack telephone company technician who ran for an Ohio state senate seat in 1996, spending less than $200 on his entire campaign. Now Jeff McNeely is facing a whopping $59,000 fine for having failed to report a $32 expenditure. Read the whole appalling travesty here.

And while we're on the topic of limitations on purely political speech, check out Reason's great interview with maverick Federal Election Commission member Bradley Smith and this piece detailing how campaign finance laws can be used as a club to beat political opponents.

NEXT: Allegation Nation

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  1. Saying that a law is bad because someone had an asinine experience with the law enforcement agency is more than a bit of a stretch. It’s analogous to saying that because I got a $270 ticket for parking in a handicapped space, we shouldn’t have handicapped spaces. Bad results occasionally happen from both good laws and bad ones.

    Right now, one of the biggest restrictions on the free market comes from big business wanting to rig the rules of the game. (Look at the barriers to entry in the insurance industry. Look at the subsidies given to steel, agribusiness, weapons, and aerospace industries.) Until the lobbyists are restricted in their ability to dump gazillions into races, lobbyists are going to keep writing laws along with the checks. Some kind of campaign finance reform is necessary to give independent thinkers and new blood a real shot.

  2. Campaign finance laws, as they stand now, ARE barriers to entry. They ensure that only those with the time and the money will get past the complexity to influence policy makers. I would like to see no restrictions on giving, with transparency as to who gives.

    If the state had less power, people wouldn’t bother trying to influence it. Campaign finance laws do not address this fundamental issue.

    This was a bad set of laws even before Mr. McNeely’s experience.

  3. Right now, one of the biggest restrictions on the free market comes from big business wanting to rig the rules of the game.

    They can only rig the rules if an overreaching government is setting the rules in the first place. If the regulatory state was cut way, way back, so it couldn’t be a tool for erecting spurious barriers to entry, then big biz wouldn’t be lobbying to create spurious barriers to entry.

    Campaign finance laws will not affect the abuse of government powers. Money and power will always find each other. Always. After we repeal the speed of light and the law of gravity, this law of human nature will remain in effect.

    If you want big business to stop abusing big government, then you should work to get rid of big government.

  4. A late friend of mine came up with a very elegant campaign finance law:

    1) Only individual U.S. citizens can contribute. No unions, corporations, etc.

    2) No limits on contributions.

    3) Full disclosure of all contributions.

    That’s it. No muss, no fuss.

  5. There’s a lot of effort that would have to go into “full disclosure.” Would still make it hard for minor candidates like Mr. McNeely and myself.

    When I got on the ballot, I got a packet that had a lot of forms with no explanations. Luckily, a friend’s roommate worked at the sec of state’s office and could tell me what to do and who to talk to.

    A small “so you’re a candidate” note (2-3 sheets) would have been helpful, although I’m sure that the two major parties have support systems for that.

    I was Independence Party – Jesse Ventura’s designation. The party was very absent from minor candidates like myself.

  6. Dan,

    I don’t know, I think good laws would produce very few bad experiences. If someone is fined $270 for trespassing, I don’t see how that’s so unreasonable. One problem reflected in the campaign law in question is that it’s based on the presumption that only major party candidates with mucho money are involved in the political process. So when the little guy gets involved, a small error doing no one any direct harm puts him in the poor house for life. I can concede in principle that one single example is not necessarily enough evidence to show that a law is bad, but surely it’s not inappropriate to talk about the bad experiences produced by various laws. I think you just don’t want to hear about this because it contradicts what you want to hear.

  7. PapayaSF – your plan works for me. We would also have to require that people only donate their own funds, or you will get donations from corporations, unions, etc. laundered through individuals.

    I don’t think the full disclosure would need to be all that burdensome, so long as we only ask for disclosure of name, address, and amount. That information would have to be tracked in order to ensure that corp.s, unions, etc. aren’t violating the law anyway.

    Of course, such a plan provides no incumbent protection, so it’ll never fly.

  8. campaign finance laws, welfare for incumbants

  9. Mr. McNeely, Law Breaker

    As bad as this sounds for Mr. McNeely, the bottom line is that he broke the law and he must be punished. If this means that “he will never run for political office again”, then we will have one less law-breaker in office. If this means that he must file for bankruptcy, well I guess he will learn to be a little more careful when he reports his political activities to the state in the future.

    I’m sure that Philip Richter, the executive director of the Ohio Elections Commission, would agree that campaign finance laws play a very important part in Ohio politics. We can’t have just anyone running for office and speaking their mind without some kind of state control, that would lead to chaos. One advantage to laws like this is that it keeps the “riff-raff”, like Mr. McNeely, out of politics; leaving it to the professionals who have served us so well. This is a lesson I’m sure Mr. McNeely won’t soon forget.

    I think we all owe Mr. Richter, and public servants like him, a huge debt of gratitude for keeping us safe from the malicious “political” activities of crooks like Mr. McNeely. Mr. McNeely, stick to what you know, work hard so you can pay your taxes, and leave politics to the politicians!

  10. This reminds me to close my campaign committee.
    (I lost horribly for state rep a year ago.)
    Thanks Hit & Run!

  11. Good one, Trey! 🙂 I thought you were serious at first!

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    DATE: 01/20/2004 06:22:08
    Only when we have nothing to say do we say anything at all.

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