Limiting contributions is a poor approach to campaign finance reform

Once again, the evils of soft money are front and center in the national political scene. Following an agreement between Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio to ban advertisements paid for by the national parties, William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, wrote an editorial in the New York Times arguing that Republicans should embrace ending soft money politics.

While the call to end soft money and allow only direct, limited contributions to a campaign is one that sounds good at first, it is a proposal that fails to address the real problems.

The fault in our current system is that, because of spending limits, candidates cannot raise enough money to run an informative or competitive campaign without relying on underground methods of raising money. Attempting to eliminate the underground methods of raising money – the so-called soft money – fails to address the original problem: that there’s too little exposure. Campaign finance reform cannot be merely patched up by eliminating soft money; it must be completely overhauled.

Any discussion of campaign finance reform has to begin with the premise that all people have the right to associate themselves, and their property, with a cause they believe in. When the government restricts these donations to $1,000, it is a direct violation of this right.

If a person wants to support George W. Bush’s campaign, and he can only give $1,000 to Bush himself, why shouldn’t he or she be able to give money to the Republican National Committee to use to support a cause he or she believes in?

The implication of eliminating soft money is staggering. Without soft money, the candidate’s ability to let his voice be heard by voters would be severely curtailed. People would be forced to rely even more on the largely liberal media to tell them what the candidates stand for. The citizenry would be voting based upon what the media tells them about a candidate, rather than what the candidate actually stands for, as it would be impossible for a candidate to reach the 200 million voters with the limited resources allowed.

Rather than eliminating soft money, and restricting the candidates’ spending, we need to institute a simple, three-step plan that would allow for a more just system.

The first – and most important – step is to place no restrictions on the amount of money a candidate spends. There is absolutely no downside to having a candidate spend money. He or she can buy more advertisements, send more mailings and give the public far greater insight into what he or she believes. Restricting a candidate’s spending – and, therefore, the average citizen’s access to the candidate – is certainly not in the best interest for everyone in the country.

The second step is to eliminate individual spending limits. Spending limits run contrary to the foundation of this country – a citizen can, and should, be able to support a cause he or she believes in to whatever degree he or she wants. Finally, we need to make it easy to know who is giving what to what candidate. Candidates should be forced to immediately release the pertinent information about all campaign donations – who donated and how much?

This simple plan allows for a fair system for all participants. Candidates can raise money above the table that will allow them to get their message out. Individuals will be able to support causes they believe in. Most importantly, the masses will know who is in whose pocket. There will no longer be any question as to whether a senator voted for a bill because he supports it on principle or because he had to in order to keep the support of teacher’s unions, the AFL-CIO or the NRA. The nation is in need of campaign finance reform that works. Eliminating soft money is not the answer. Only by allowing voters to hear from the candidates, to support what they believe in, and to hold their politicians accountable for the money they receive can we truly reform campaign financing.