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Less of a Non-Sequitur Response on Campaign Finance

If you could create your own system of campaign finance laws that encourages and prioritizes transparency and disclosure, what would they look like?

After responding to a non-sequiturial (sic?) tweet from political strategist Patrick Ruffini last week, Ruffini responded by calling my post a non-sequitur. Apparently, Ruffini's tweet, which stated that the Sunlight Foundation's work would lead to a world where only billionaires would run for office, was a more general statement largely about the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and not our support for the DISCLOSE Act. While I largely disagree with the fears that campaign financing laws create incentives for the super-wealthy to self-fund their campaigns, I do--personally--agree with Ruffini that campaign finance laws have caused a ton of problems.

What I am curious about though is what a different structure, one that Ruffini and other campaign finance reform opponents, would look like? Particularly from a transparency standpoint.

Quoting from Ruffini's response to my non-sequitur post:

I for one would much rather have a system where an individual can give a candidate $100,000, fully disclosed, rather than the one we have now where members of Congress have to grovel before industry PAC representatives for 20 measly $5,000 checks.

I am imagining a system whereby contribution limits are nonexistant, but disclosure laws still exist. This is certainly a system that I could the current Supreme Court deeming legitimate and it's worth exploring what it would look like. (Most of these suggestions or questions should be adopted or explored under the current system as well.)

Transparency and disclosure policies should be designed to ensure and encourage accountability and thus should be designed to maximize the public's responsiveness. Thus, real time posting of contributions would be the first order of business in any new--even in the current--system. I don't know if this would create some onerous burden on campaigns--probably not--or perhaps all contributions could be routed through the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to ensure immediate posting.

Ethical guidelines and perhaps laws restricting graft and bribery may need to be tightened. For example, there is currently no guidelines in Congress as to whether it is improper for a lawmaker to provide an earmark for a firm or organization who's employees give campaign contributions to said lawmaker. The PMA Group scandal stands out as an example where a lack of guidelines and norms created a situation where the ethics committee could not discern if anything improper occurred. Larger contributions may create a larger perception of improper influence and a clarifying of ethical lines not to cross should be in order.

I would also put up for debate whether corporations or unions should be able to contribute money to candidates directly from their treasuries.

Those are just some quick thoughts. I know we have a lot of critics out there who support the rolling back of campaign finance reforms from FECA onward. What would your system of federal campaign finance regulation look like?

Paul Blumenthal is the Senior Writer at the Sunlight Foundation. A regular blogger for the site, Paul touches on a wide variety of transparency-related subjects including congressional corruption, the bank bailout, lobbying disclosures and the news of the day.
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