Over the weekend, Dede Feldman, a “former member of the New Mexico Senate who served for 16 years and was the sponsor of many state campaign finance laws,” penned a column attacking Gary Johnson for announcing his senatorial candidacy at an event sponsored by Elect Liberty, a Salt Lake City-based independent-expenditure political entity.
Predictably, Feldman charged that Johnson was able to appear at a Super PAC shindig because Citizens United v. FEC, a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, “opened the door not just for unlimited, and in many cases undisclosed, campaign donations, but for a vague interpretation of campaign finance laws that created more loopholes than any enforcement agency could track.”
Technically, Feldman is incorect. While Citizens United set the precedent, Super PACs, such as Elect Liberty, were created by SpeechNow.org v. FEC, a unanimous decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But let’s not quibble over details. Feldman admitted that “everything Johnson is currently doing is legal,” but lamented that prior to Citizens United, “there were safeguards in place that both required transparency and limited the ability of corporate interests to influence elections.”
Some of us don’t see the First Amendment as a “loophole” that requires “safeguards.” As the Institute for Free Speech explained:
Though campaign ads are often derided as a nuisance, political spending can have positive effects for democracy. Studies have found that higher campaign spending increases voter participation in state legislative elections, and “that exposure to campaign advertising produces citizens who are more interested in the election, have more to say about the candidates, are more familiar with who is running, and ultimately, are more likely to vote.” These effects suggest that super PAC spending can improve democracy by increasing Americans’ engagement in the political process.
Through the creation of super PACs, SpeechNow made it easier for Americans with common beliefs to join together and share information and opinions about candidates. This has led to an increase in speech about elections that produces voters who are more motivated and better informed.
As for “corporate interests,” contrary to liberal talking points, for-profit entities are hardly monolithic in their priorities. (Does ExxonMobil have the same legislative agenda as Tesla?) And Feldman conveniently overlooked the most deep-pocketed player in advocacy and elections: Big Labor. The National Institute for Labor Relations Research found that in the 2016 election cycle, $1.3 billion was spent “directly from union treasuries (filled with forced dues and fees) … on politics”:
Obsessed with controlling Americans’ (voluntary) political speech, Feldman and her band of ill-informed, virtue-signaling “reformers” have long waged war on citizens’ rights to pool their resources in order to amplify their influence. Misguided McCainiacs should heed the wisdom of John Samples, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Representative Government:
Beneath all the pious talk about equality, fairness, and the integrity of the process lies this unpleasant truth: those who write campaign finance laws seek primarily to repress and harass those who would challenge their power. Sometimes they do it to preserve the power of their party and almost always they do it to sustain the power of incumbents.