by Jacob G. Hornberger
With the ridiculous criminal indictment of former presidential candidate John Edwards, this would be a good time to call for the repeal of all restrictions on the right of people to donate as much money as they want to political candidates for whatever reason they want.
During his presidential campaign, Edwards learned that his mistress was pregnant and wished to keep it secret. He approached a couple of wealthy people, who gave him around million dollars to help hide the affair and the pregnancy.
Federal prosecutors are now using campaign-finance regulations to go after Edwards. They’re saying that the money was actually an illegal campaign contribution. How? Because, they say, the money advanced Edwards’ campaign by keeping the affair secret. Edwards, on the other hand, claims that he was trying to keep the affair secret from his ailing wife.
The prosecution confirms, once again, what I have been writing for years about the risks of living in a highly regulated society. The vast regulations under which we live, along with the income tax code, are so numerous, so complex, so nebulous that the feds can go after anyone they want whenever they want because it’s always easy to find some regulation or tax-code provision that someone is in violation of.
We have all become so accustomed to all this campaign-finance regulatory nonsense that hardly anyone ever challenges its very existence.
Why shouldn’t a person be free to donate any amount of money he wants to a candidate for whatever reason he wants? It’s his money, isn’t it? If people are upset over that, they’re free to vote for someone else.
By the same token, why shouldn’t a candidate be free to accept any amount of money he wants from a person? If people are upset over that, they’re free to vote for someone else.
If a person wishes to keep his campaign donations confidential, why shouldn’t he be free to do that? If voters are upset over that, they’re free to vote for someone else.
Would you like to know the real reason for these campaign-donation restrictions? No, it’s not to eliminate the influence of big money from politics. We all know that despite all the regulations, big money has continued to find ways to influence Democrat and Republican officeholders and candidates.
The real reason for limits on campaign donations is to inhibit candidates who aren’t part of the mainstream statist political machinery, such as independent and third-party candidates — the types of candidates who might run insurgent campaigns against the establishment. By limiting the amount of money that such candidates can receive from a few donors, the powers-that-be ensure that insurgent candidates can’t get too much traction and that the statist welfare-warfare party (which is divided into two wings — Democrat and Republican) maintains its monopoly grip on power.
Recall Gene McCarthy’s 1968 insurgent campaign within the Democrat Party against President Lyndon Johnson, the incumbent. This was before there were limits on the amount of money people could donate to candidates. Thanks to large donations from a relative small number of donors who shared his antiwar views, McCarthy was able to run an effective campaign against Johnson in the New Hampshire primary, which ultimately led to Johnson’s decision to drop out of the presidential race.
The establishment wanted to be sure that that never happened again. So, they enacted campaign-donation limits under the guise of protecting the American people from corrupt politicians who were beholden to big-money interests. But as we all know, despite the thousands of complex campaign regulations there are still plenty of corrupt politicians around who are beholden to big-money interests.
Consider, say, Libertarian Party candidates who don’t have much money but who nonetheless wish to run effective campaigns against the statism of the two major parties. They don’t have the big base of financial support that the two parties have, making it difficult for them to raise millions of dollars in $2,300 donations from thousands of people.
But there are many wealthy donors in the libertarian movement who might well be willing to donate a large amount of their money — tens of thousands of dollars or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to a few LP candidates. What would be wrong with that? Yet, the law precludes them from doing so, conveniently ensuring the continuation of the monopoly hold that the statists maintain on the political system.
What Edwards did was shameful but it wasn’t criminal. What is criminal are the thousands of statist regulations and tax codes under which all of us live, along with the people who enact and enforce them.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.
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