In my article, “The First Amendment Protects Dirt,” I pointed out how ridiculous it is to think that Trump campaign officials and maybe even President Trump himself are in legal jeopardy because a group of Russians supposedly provided the officials with some political dirt about Hillary Clinton. The First Amendment, which expressly prohibits Congress from enacting any law infringing freedom of speech, trumps (sorry!) any congressional law that purports to criminalize the utterance of anything, including political dirt.
The controversy raises a larger issue, however. Why shouldn’t foreign citizens and, for that matter, American citizens be free to donate whatever amount of money they want to political candidates, and why shouldn’t candidates be free to accept whatever amount of donations they want from whomever they want?
Under principles of economic liberty and private property, a person has the fundamental, God-given right to do whatever he wants with his own money. It’s his money, his private property. It doesn’t belong to the government, society, or anyone else. The principles of freedom and private property naturally entail the right to do whatever a person wants with his own money–invest, spend, save, donate, or even destroy it.
Moreover, as Thomas Jefferson pointed out in the Declaration of Independence, natural, God-given rights adhere to everyone, including people of every race, color, creed, and national origin.
Why shouldn’t the rights of economic liberty and private property extend to donating to people who are running for political office? Why shouldn’t such rights be freely exercised by everyone, regardless of citizenship? Under what moral authority do U.S. officials infringe on the right of people to exercise such natural, God-given rights?
The campaign finance laws were supposedly enacted to eliminate the influence of “big money” in political campaigns. How is that working out? It seems fairly clear that “big money” continues to play a big role in politics, especially in the way it perpetuates incumbents and establishment candidates.
Under the law a person is free to spend his own money to any extent he wishes. If a candidate is a multimillionaire (like Trump), how does the law eliminate the influence of “big money” from political campaigns? It doesn’t. It simply makes it difficult for non-rich people to run against incumbents, candidates with establishment mindsets, and millionaires.
Suppose a poor African-American from Richmond named John decides to run for U.S. Senate. The big issue he plans to run on is ending the war on drugs, the most racist government program since segregation.
John’s friends are all poor, but they want to help him. John immediately runs into a big obstacle. The State of Virginia requires that he secure 10,000 valid signatures from around the state, which means that he has to secure around 15,000 signatures to be safe. That is not an easy task. In fact, it is an extremely difficult one. It would mean that John’s friends would have to travel around the state and find places that would give them permission to accost customers and ask them to sign John’s petition. It would also mean hotel, meals, and incidental expenses for John’s friends. They cannot afford it.
So, John proceeds to raise money to hire professional signature-gatherers. But the campaign finance law limits the amount of money that people are permitted to donate. That makes the signature barrier extremely difficult to overcome. And that’s just to run for office!
Suppose, however, that there are five multimillionaires from the United States, Russia, Canada, and Mexico who strongly believe in drug legalization because they have seen how the drug war has ravaged people all across the globe. Each of the millionaires is willing to donate $1 million to John’s campaign.
The campaign finance law won’t let them do it. Never mind that the law lets candidates who are multimillionaires spend $5 million on their campaigns. Since John isn’t a multimillionaire, he is just out of luck.
Without campaign contribution limits, insurgents could run campaigns against incumbents and establishment candidates by securing large donations from a few wealthy people, whether such donors be Americans, Russians, Canadians, or Mexicans. Obviously, that would not be in the interest of incumbents and establishment candidates, which is precisely why there are campaign-finance limits.