Campaign Finance, Ideology, and Doubt
This month’s Cato Unbound is on campaign finance disclosure law. It’s been a fun one to watch as editor, and it certainly runs the gamut of opinion. There’s my colleague John Samples, who worries that disclosure will chill campaign contributions and distract from what ought to be the real debate, namely the issues of a campaign. And there’s Nikki Willoughby of Common Cause, who flatly declares that people who don’t want disclosure probably have something to hide. The other two participants, Richard Hasen and Bruce Cain, are somewhere in the middle but still somehow fail to see eye to eye.
On some issues, I have no terribly strong convictions, and campaign finance regulation is one of them. I’m an interested agnostic. I don’t feel the burning moral clarity here that I do with, say, marijuana reform or occupational licensing. I find an excess of possible “bright lines,” but none of them compel. There is a line between the individual and the organization, the non-profit and the for-profit, the money contribution and the name on an initiative. There are, of course, lines we could draw between varying amounts of cash.
Put another way, there are conflicting interests here, but I can readily think of scenarios in which each of them should prevail. Compromising might just be the best that politics can do. But compromise doesn’t make for the most riveting online reading, alas, and we will always be able to second-guess ourselves. I’d be very interested to hear what other members of the League and commenters think on these issues.