The Problems Associated With Campaign Financing and How They Can Be Solved
The main problem associated with campaign financing is that large campaign contributions by vested interests or the lobbyists that represent them may cause members of Congress to vote on legislation favorable to those vested interests. Now, no lobbyist would be foolish enough to make the quid pro quo explicit, for example, by saying to a legislator something like: “The party that I represent has authorized me to give you a $50,000 campaign contribution if you vote ‘yes’ on Bill X.” Any lobbyist making such an explicit offer would risk being prosecuted for attempted bribery. Instead, the lobbyist is likely to say to the legislator something like: “The party that I represent believes that it would be beneficial if Bill X were passed for the following reasons …” (and gives the reasons). The lobbyist would then give the legislator a campaign contribution if and only if that legislator voted “yes” on Bill X. Such an understood quid pro quo can be every bit as effective in influencing a legislator’s vote as an explicit quid pro quo and, unlike the latter, is legal.
Efforts to curb the undue influence of campaign contributions on members of Congress have focused mainly on limiting the amount of money that an individual or an organization can contribute to a candidate. However, such limitations have been largely circumvented by the use of super PACs, to which contributions are unlimited. In any case, such restrictions placed on campaign contributions unnecessarily limit the ability of individuals or advocacy groups to support the candidates of their choice, even in cases where there is clearly no conflict of interest. As long as the contributions are made to a legislator whose voting record and public statements make it clear that he would vote on bills in a manner favorable to the advocacy group providing the contributions even in the absence of such contributions, there is no indication of any quid pro quo. It is only when a legislator changes his voting pattern in close proximity to receiving a large campaign contribution to a voting pattern favorable to that of the contributor that one has reason to suspect that an explicit or implicit quid pro quo may be involved, although even here it is possible, albeit unlikely, that the case made by the lobbyist representing the donor was so persuasive that the legislator would have changed his voting pattern even in the absence of the campaign contribution. Crafting campaign finance legislation that distinguishes between these two situations would be a herculean task.
An alternative method of curbing the undue influence that lobbyists have on legislators that doesn’t require restricting campaign contributions is to eliminate or at least reduce the ability of members of Congress to pass legislation that favors particular individuals, corporations, or industries. For example, legislators could no longer pass laws giving certain industries preferential tax treatment if, as advocated in my article A Proposed Method of Eliminating All Taxes, all taxes were eliminated, nor could they reward agricultural interests with farm subsidies or advocacy groups for the poor with social programs if, as proposed in my article Dealing With Entitlement Cost Escalation, we do away with all entitlements and subsidies.
Finally, let’s end the practice of political appointment used by elected officials to reward their supporters. Appointments to government jobs should be based solely on merit, not on political affiliation. The spoils system has no place in our government.