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February 10, 2012 10:13 AM Mega PACs? No Thanks

By Jonathan Bernstein

Chris Blattman has an idea to effectively cap the amount of money going into presidential campaigns, which is hard to do now under Court findings from Buckley to Citizens United:

One fabulously rich person (or a gaggle of them) would put X million dollars into a trust that expires November 9th. X would have to be very large. Probably several hundred million.
The rules would be simple. You could choose a funding cap for all candidates, x, which is much, much smaller than X. Say, $100 million. Plenty of money for a modest number of attack ads, since the parties must have a little fun.
The key: If any one candidate’s super PACs raised more than x, then the trust would automatically release an equivalent amount of funds to the opponent’s super PACs. The trust would be ready to hurl all its money if it must.

Would it work? Maybe, maybe not. But I disagree with the premise. Why should we cap total spending? I like spending on elections. It helps voters gather information, and makes politics generally more salient. I like all of that.

If some process-oriented very rich people have “several hundred million” dollars that they want to give to make the political system work better, I’d much rather they provide “public” financing to House elections. Several hundred million? If that’s in the neighborhood of $435 million, it’ll finance $500K to each major party nominee in every House seat. In my view, there’s no obvious reform out there that would have as positive an effect.

On a marginally related topic, I would very much like to see better disclosure laws and better disclosure enforcement. But, c’mon, we all know that Sheldon Adelson is funding Newt’s campaign, and it doesn’t seem to have made a difference to anyone. Nor did people turn away from Republicans in 2010 because of publicity about the Koch brothers. And rightly so; it’s not as if Newt was hiding his support for Israel (or at least Adelson’s version of what constitutes support for Israel), nor the GOP hiding their opposition to dealing with climate change. Knowing who was behind those positions was completely useless information to voters, as far as I can tell. I know that’s not true across the board, and again I would like to see meaningful disclosure (that is, who the actual people or companies are who are giving, not the phony shell names, and in plenty of time for the press and opposing candidates to look at it). I just don’t have a huge amount of confidence that it would make much difference.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.
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