Joe Nocera of the Times covers the latest progressive fantasy on campaign finance reform. The gist - the Senator who brought us Sarbanes-Oxley is back with a plan to level the campaign playing field by empowering small donors:
For decades, the answer for those in the campaign finance reform movement had always been to try to limit the amount of money any one person could contribute. Although individual contribution limits per candidate are still on the books, that general approach is clearly not viable in the age of the Roberts court.
So Sarbanes and other reformers began to come at the problem from the opposite direction: magnifying the role of the small donor, rather than trying to diminish the role of the large donor. In February, Sarbanes sponsored a bill that tries to do just that, at least for congressional races.
It has three main components. First is a $50 tax credit per donor per election cycle. Second is a voluntary matching fund system. People who donate up to $150 to a candidate who has agreed to lower contribution limits and the full disclosure of all donations will have that donation matched 6 to 1 with federal funds. If the candidate agrees to take no contributions higher than $150, the match rises to 9 to 1. And finally, it allows candidates to raise additional matching funds in the last 60 days of the election if the candidate feels he needs it to ward off a last-minute advertising blitz. (The bill has disincentives to keep that additional money from being used unless it is really needed.)
“There is a general consensus that the way to go is a multiple matching system,” said Fred Wertheimer, the head of Democracy 21 and one of the grand old men of campaign finance reform. For one thing, it engages small donors in the political process — and gives them an incentive because their money is being maximized. But Sarbanes also likes it for another reason: It forces members of Congress and would-be members of Congress to actively solicit the money — and thus the views — of their constituents.
Eventually Mr. Noccera informs us that this bill has 149 Democratic co-sponsors but only a lone Evil Stupid Republican. I wonder why?
As a starter, the text of the bill includes this puzzle:
Sec. 504. Qualified small dollar contributions described
The contribution is made by an individual, either directly or through an intermediary or conduit (as described in section 315(a)(8)), who is not otherwise prohibited from making a contribution under this Act.
I am not a campaign finance lawyer (further evidence of a merciful G*d) and there are lots of bills with a Section 315, but the relevant links seems to lead us to this:
(8) For purposes of the limitations imposed by this section, all contributions made by a person, either directly or indirectly, on behalf of a particular candidate, including contributions which are in any way earmarked or otherwise directed through an intermediary or conduit to such candidate, shall be treated as contributions from such person to such candidate. The intermediary or conduit shall report the original source and the intended recipient of such contribution to the Commission and to the intended recipient.
My gloomy Republican reading is that any PAC relying on small donors, with special emphasis on union PACs, can, with a bit of accounting effort, qualify a huge portion of their donations as eligible for a 6 times Federal match. So a union with 1000 members can raise $150,000 directly from its members and their favored candidate will get another $900,000 from the Treasury. Small wonder Dems like it.
That said, there is a bit of a 'careful what you wish for' wrinkle here for progressives to ponder - in the twilight struggle between the wealthy Mr. Bloomberg and the numerous NRA, who benefits from this bill, hmm?
But enough about what's legal! Although we live in a country with no discernible voter fraud (or at least, none discernible to progs) it seems likely that some candidate somewere will engage in some quid-pro-quo fundraising. Supporters will be encouraged to write a check/present a credit card for $150 and get $150 cash back. Or $200 - why not, the campaign can afford it out of the 6-1 matching funds.
The text of the law has some stiff enforcement in Sec. 512 - people have to promise not to do that. Hey, that might work. Or not.
Sec. 512. Qualifying requirements
(b) Requirements relating to receipt of qualified small dollar contribution
Each qualified small dollar contribution—
(1) may be made by means of a personal check, money order, debit card, credit card, electronic payment account, or any other method deemed appropriate by the Commission;
(2) shall be accompanied by a signed statement (or, in the case of a contribution made online or through other electronic means, an electronic equivalent) containing—
(A) the contributor’s name and the contributor's address in the State in which the primary residence of the contributor is located, and
(B) an oath declaring that the contributor—
(i) understands that the purpose of the contribution is to show support for the candidate so that the candidate may qualify for financing under this title,
(ii) is making the contribution in his or her own name and from his or her own funds,
(iii) has made the contribution willingly, and
(iv) has not received any thing of value in return for the contribution;
This seems like a good moment to deplore the racism and insensitivity of the bill's sponsors. In defiance of common sense and public opinion the Democratic Party is united around the idea that certain ethnic groups are incapable of organizing their life to the point of getting a Voter ID card. Yet now small donors must have a bank account or credit/debit card? What's up with that? When did money stop talking, and what happened to Annuit Coeptis?
I assume that will be fixed later.