While a Virginia-based public interest group argues for a slight change in Louisiana campaign law that it says would rectify an unconstitutional situation, a different change would moot the whole point and make state and local elections that much more transparent.
The Freedom Through Justice Foundation asked the Louisiana Board of Ethics to issue an advisory opinion that it stop enforcing the state law that limits individual contributions to political committees that make only independent expenditures concerning candidacies (meaning that they do not donate money to campaigns nor coordinate activities with them). The Board correctly said it could not do anything regarding this $100,000 limit over a four-year period to a committee since it lacked jurisdiction over the law, it merely enforced it.
This group now could bring suit in state court, where it bases its objection to the decision in Speechnow.org v. Federal Election Commission, which involved federal law.
While state law is operative here, in the related Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission the U.S. Supreme Court overruled a state statute implicitly regarding limitation, so it may be reasonably inferred that the judiciary would do the same in this instance. So the foundation seems likely to win, given enough time and resources assuming the state would fight the matter.
But why go through all of this when a much simpler solution exists – just throw out any limits on donations directly to a state or local campaign by any individual who is a citizen of the U.S., but mandating reporting of every single contribution? Because right now, the structure serves more to obscure than to provide clarity as the limits can be gotten around.
For example, let’s say you want to give more than the $5,000 limit per election to a Democrat running for lieutenant governor (who happens to be your daughter). You give up to the limit to the candidate, then you have to search for committees likely to give money to that candidate. You find one, and then proceed to plunk down $90,000 to it over the course of five months, surely part of if not all given of the $770,508.22 given to the candidate by the committee through in-kind contributions by the end of the election. It’s nothing more than money-laundering, and would have been a whole lot simpler just to report a donation of $95,000 to the campaign.
One could argue, as courts have in past campaign finance cases, that such laws are justified merely on the basis that they discourage the appearance of corruption. But isn’t it worse if one can use these committees to obscure deliberately a fact because of legal hoops? What appears more “corrupt,” an easily-spotted donation, or one parceled out and fanned through multiple sources that takes going through reams of paperwork to rescue from obscurity?
And who needs to waste donations on paying for all of these people to file forms and to have entire organizations dedicated to funneling money by donors frustrated with the limits? Accountants and lawyers don’t need the work this badly. Dropping any limits and making everything reported will increase transparency, reduce campaign costs (meaning less reliance on donors), and obviate the need for potential upcoming litigation on related matters. State policy-makers need to look seriously into this proposal.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 07:10