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MY COMMENTARIES:

A WORD ABOUT THE RECENT SUPREME COURT DECISION UPHOLDING CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM

Some thoughts I had in December, 2003 shortly after the Supreme Court ruled to uphold major portions of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance law.

Recently, in the case of McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court upheld a campaign finance reform measure in almost its entirety. Reformers hailed this as major progress. Yet others claimed that the reform would only make things worse. They may both be right! By closing up certain loopholes by which money can still unduly influence candidates and elected officials, the ruling may, in the short run, make it a less even playing field. Rather than a system where money inappropriately flows in all directions, making it so that people on all sides of the political spectrum can compete, this may limit the loopholes in such a way that certain groups can now channel these unfair funds while others can't.

As a result of this possibility, some have claimed that the lesson is that campaign finance reform is a bad idea. I say the lesson is that incomplete campaign finance reform is a necessary first step which may require the situation to get worse before it gets better. After all, would we say that it is better for a child not to learn to walk, simply because his or her initial clumsy steps increase the risk of them getting hurt over their previous stagnation? The lesson is that we need to finish the job by continuing to close more and more loopholes until all sides are on a level playing field with an equal, but minimum level of inappropriate monetary influence rather than an equal, but high level of inappropriate monetary influence.

In its decision, the court made clear its awareness that this issue would come up again. It said that money will always find its way into the system, much like water finds its own level. But is this a reason not to do the absolute best we can to close those loopholes? After all, a person dead set on murder will probably find a way just as will a person dead set on channeling inappropriate funds into our political system. Do we therefore conclude that we should not bother passing and enforcing laws against murder? I think not. The Supreme Court's decision is the beginning of a gradual, but crucial process of removing corrupt money step-by-step from our political system. It may take many years, and the situation may get worse before it gets better, but ultimately, we will all be better off for having addressed this core problem in our society.

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