If you haven’t been able to tell from my columns here, I love freedom. Freedom is a wonderful thing, and one of the most basic rights in this country is the freedom to use your resources to speak your mind. Unfortunately, many Americans do not share this sentiment, possibly out of a mild resentment for those who have the resources to be louder than most.
The concept of unlimited-expenditure only political committees (SuperPACs) is extremely unpopular, with almost seven in ten Americans wanting them to be banned. Numerous commentators have pointed to a small minority of wealthy individuals who have spent lavishly on this election and decided that these individuals are the ones attempting to purchase candidates or the election.
Many liberals point to the fact that most SuperPAC donations have been directed to conservative causes at a three to one rate as an indication that big money donors are trying to purchase policies which will benefit the super wealthy. This of course ignores the fact that much of this money is used to attack fellow Republicans during a hotly contested primary process. This is the first post Citizens United election, so we can only speculate as to what Democratic Presidential Primaries would look like with Super PACs.
SuperPACs, even if they tend to be conservative, are not tilting, but merely leveling the playing field. Recent examples in Wisconsin and Texas notwithstanding, grassroots campaigning tends to be dominated by liberals. I think that this is because many conservatives think having a job that requires them to wear a tie makes them too good to make phone calls or knock on doors.
On a practical level, the 2012 Republican primaries showed that Super PACs improve democracy and give voters more choices, rather than restrict them. Mitt Romney had a massive donor base and fundraising advantage, but Foster Friess and Shelden Adelson spent millions of dollars supporting the campaigns of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich respectively. This allowed the underfunded and poorly managed candidates to reach millions of voters who otherwise would have only heard the good word of the anointed Mitt Romney. Without Friess’ donations, the Santorum wave which swept the nation the week of CPAC might have been but a minor ripple.
What would happen in the place of a system which allows people to spend money promoting ideas and candidates they believe in? The two alternatives most frequently proposed are strict limits on political spending, and publically financed campaigns. Both systems leave the government to decide which messages voters should hear, and inherently allow less information to reach voters. Are voters so ignorant that we must protect them from factual information about candidates and ideas? Interestingly, it’s the side that has a tenuous grasp on the idea of “truth” which is most vocal about the dangers of free speech.
Most importantly, big money in politics is a symptom of big government and bad policies rather than the cause. When government grows beyond its constitutional bounds to protect life, liberty and property, and begins granting favors to well-connected individuals and firms, it becomes worthwhile to spend money to influence policy. The more government sells, the more money will be spent trying to buy it. Therefore, the best way to reduce campaign spending is to reduce the size and scope of government.