Friday, January 3, 2014

We won't get real campaign finance reform in Delaware . . . but we could

As I read the Veasey report and the various rationalizations of Democratic and Republican politicians that clearly indicate they are unwilling to address meaningful campaign finance reform, it occurs to me that we could here usefully draw on a very Libertarian principle for eliminating much of the sleaze and special interest in Delaware elections.

We take the Libertarian starting point that rights belong inherently to individuals, not groups of individuals or organizations of individuals.

We thus declare in the Delaware Code that all campaign contributions (ALL!) must be made by individuals and not groups or organizations.

That the State has the power to limit the size of any individual's campaign contribution in the race for a specific office is settled law, and the idea is thoroughly incorporated in the Delaware Code under donation limits.

Therefore I would propose that if we want to take special interests (ALL of them) out of the Delaware election process, that we continue to maintain donation limits as they currently exist, but that we also place a cap on the total amount of donations that a candidate may receive, and that that cap be set at one year's salary for the office in question.  I would not allow the candidate himself or herself to invest any more than the individual contribution amount.

For example, for the Delaware House of Representatives, this would leave us with a $600 individual limit on donations and a $41,680 limit on total donations that any candidate could accept in a given campaign.  That would mean you could fully fund your campaign with 69.5 individuals giving you the max and etc. etc. so on down.

When faced with a primary, my answer would be:  tough nuggets.  You have the same amount to get through a primary and the general.  Spend wisely.

What happens at the end if you have money left over?  Money left over could not be carried over to a successor campaign or donated to any other State campaign.  Instead, by sixty days after the election the candidate would be required to show proof that any remaining money had been donated to a charity or non-profit organization.  Any debts in excess of the money raised by election day would become the personal debts of the candidate as an individual.  Sufficient penalties could be set up to avoid multi-millionaire self-financing through excess debt.

In other words:  no PACS--either from DSEA or Rodel or the Delaware Breeders' Association or the NRA--no party contributions, and no corporate/business contributions.

You want to exercise your right to political free speech, you do so as an individual, plain and simple.

Third-party political advertising? Individuals could engage in third-party political advertising to their hearts' content (up to the individual donation limit) as long as the following provisions were met:

1.  The names of every individual must be listed prominently in all print advertisements, and on all radio/TV advertisements, along with a statement of how much that individual has paid for that advertisement.  If two or more individuals co-finance such a third-party advertising campaign, the notification requirement is for every individual and the amount that individual donated to be disclosed.

2.  There can be no coordination between candidates and their campaigns, and no individual (or member of that individual's immediate family) who makes an independent expenditure on behalf of a candidate may donate directly to that candidate.

Finally, all donations and qualifying expenditures by third-parties must be reported in effective real-time (within 72 hours on the state campaign finance system to be available for public examination within 96 hours).

And, finally, any constitutionally qualified individual is guaranteed ballot access as an independent candidate so long as he or she can prove that thirty days prior to the election that candidate has raised an amount equal to one-quarter of the maximum allowable campaign contributions.

Want special interests out of politics in Delaware?  Probably not possible.  People in Greenville will still be able to write $600 checks with far more ease than you or I.  But requiring them to support every campaign as individuals exercising their free speech rights, and leveling the playing field in terms of giant campaign war chests would give us back two things we haven't had much of in Delaware for a long time:  citizen candidates and new ideas.


Hank Foresman said...

How do you get around Citizens United? I agree with your premise, in fact I think that the founders, hell let me add Teddy Roosevelt, would be shocked we view corporations and organizations as having the same rights that each citizen has.

Steven H. Newton said...

How I get around Citizens United

1. Delaware already has contribution limits for individuals, PACs, committees, etc. DE has the ability to change those contribution limits up or down, and has changed them in the past. I would argue that the ability to change limits downward implies and includes the ability to set those limits to zero.

2. DE already has laws on the books limiting the amount than an individual can donate as an individual if that individual also donates via an LLC of which that individual is whole or part owner (in fact, the individual is supposed to declare whether he owns more than 50% of the LLC). I would argue that this allows the State to exercise a regulatory power over organizations donating to campaigns.

3. DE sets party filing fees as a given percentage of the annual salary of the office in question. This establishes that the State can create/execute limits and caps based on the remuneration for the office.

4. DE already has laws governing what you must do with outstanding monies from a campaign, which implies that the State has control of this issue. I'm merely arguing to make existing provisions more strenuous, not to create a new area.

5. DE already has laws regarding sponsorship notices on candidate and third-party advertising.

Since neither the Ds or Rs in DE would ever actually think about enacting something like this, it's kind of a thought exercise anyway. But if I ever did get in enacted my answer would be, "Go ahead, sue!"

keydet said...

I don't disagree with your analysis; however given that federal interpretation generally trumps state interpretation it would seem that if the federal government sees a restriction on corporate individual speech then it would question and see as unconstitutional a state restriction.
You are right sue, it will be interesting.

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