Here we go again: The U.S. Supreme Court has relaxed some political contribution limits. Cue the hype.
Last year, 2013, was the first year of the 2014 campaign cycle. How much did federal elected officials spend on their 2014 campaigns last year? At least $3.45 trillion — a little over $6.4 billion for each U.S. senator and representative and the president and vice president.
Every dollar the federal government spends serves one or both of two functions: Buying future support or rewarding past support for the politicians who spend it. That’s not to say that government spending doesn’t ever serve other functions — but it always serves those two.
When was the last time a challenger for federal office raised and spent $6.4 billion in voluntary, individual campaign contributions in a single campaign year? Never. Not even close.
The last time that re-election rate dipped below 80 percent in the U.S. Senate, Senators for Life (if they wished it) John McCain and Joe Lieberman threw a temper tantrum for “campaign finance reform” to “get the big money out of elections.” Not their “big money,” but the much smaller “big money” that threatened their sinecures.
The only way to “get big money out of elections” is to stop holding elections — an idea which, as an anarchist, I strongly support. But that doesn’t seem like something that’s going to happen any time soon, so I’ll settle for an end to the Chicken Little hype-fest that erupts every time a court declines to stop a few more drops of rain from falling in the veritable ocean of “campaign finance.”
If there are going to be “campaign finance” caps, those caps should be on total receipts, not on individual contributions. And the ceiling should be no lower for challengers than for incumbents — including the trillions the incumbents spend off the “campaign” books.
The writer is senior news analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society.