NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

No Restrictions On Political Speech Needed

March 16, 1999

Instead of tighter regulation of campaign spending, says Charles Lane in the New Republic, we could eliminate the $1,000 limit on individual contributions, and the other limits on raising and spending cash, in favor of a simpler regime that relies on full disclosure of contributions to prevent corruption.

Among the problems with the current system, says Lane:

  • Candidates must spend so much of their time pursuing those who can afford $1,000 donations that they have no time to talk to actual voters.
  • Wealthy individuals like Steve Forbes or Ross Perot can spend an unlimited amount of their own money on their own campaigns, but can't choose to finance another's.
  • The value of the $1,000 limit set in 1974 has never been adjusted for inflation, which has reduced its value to a mere $260 in constant dollars.
  • The alternative, public financing of election campaigns, would be costly and put the government in the position of making inappropriate decisions, such as which primary candidates to fund.

The current system restricts political speech, says Lane, and encourages candidates to get around the regulations by exploiting interest-group "issue advocacy" ads and "soft money." With full disclosure, voters could decide whether they preferred a candidate funded by a few wealthy backers or one who accepted only $100 contributions.

A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a pending challenge to Missouri's $1,075 limit on contributions in state elections may change the climate of opinion, says Lane. The Eight Circuit Court of Appeals held that the state's contribution limits "have a severe impact on political dialogue" and are thus unconstitutional.

Source: Charles Lane, "No Limit," New Republic, March 15, 1999.


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