Should Political Contributions Be Limited? Proposition a Is Rich Man's Law That Curbs Freedom of Speech
Deaton, Patrick, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
The First Amendment protects all of us from a Trojan horse, a bad idea such as Proposition A that looks like a good idea. As a former candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, I understand how Proposition A favors incumbents and wealthy candidates. It is a rich man's law.
Tom Carver, who filed a lawsuit challenging Proposition A, contends that its contribution limits are unconstitutional because they violate the First Amendment by restricting his exercise of freedoms of speech and association. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled almost 20 years ago that contribution limits are constitutional as long as the limits are not too low.
The problem with Proposition A is that its contribution limits are not narrowly tailored to meet the potential problems of undue influence or the appearance of undue influence that large contributions might have.
Proposition A's limits are lower than the limits ruled unconstitutional by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a challenge to a similar Minnesota statute. The Minnesota law set an annual limit of $100. Proposition A's contribution limits are per election cycle so they cover an entire term of office.
Free speech is expensive. Will Rogers said that politics was so expensive it took a lot of money just to lose an election. The Supreme Court recognized in 1976 that raising large sums of money was an "essential ingredient of an effective candidacy" because of the "increasing importance of the communications media and sophisticated mass-mailing and polling operations." What was true then is still true today.
I do not suggest that contributions under $100 are not important to a campaign. These contributions pay the day-to-day office expenses. The larger contributions allow campaigns to save money for the final weeks of the campaign when television, radio, newspaper, yard signs and mail are so important.
A candidate would have no time for anything else if the campaign had to raise its media money within Proposition A's limits. Candidates who spend all their time raising money are not working on public policy problems or listening to voters.
Private fund raising is the only means for a candidate who is not wealthy to broadcast his message. Missouri has no system of public financing for campaigns. The news media provide little coverage of most challengers. Candidates who raise the most money will get what little coverage is available because the media perceive these candidates as the only serious campaigners.
Any problems caused by contributions are not caused by gifts in the $101-$301 range. …