Monday, April 19, 2004

Courts Got in Wrong in Buckley v. Valeo
Loyola law professor Rick Hasen has an interesting op-ed column in today's Los Angeles Times. Hasen correctly points out that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) has done little to reduce the role of big money in politics. For this, he blames the Supreme Court and its 1976 ruling Buckley v. Valeo that said money in politics was free speech and struck down mandatory spending limits. He writes that

"In a particularly crucial part of the decision, the court rejected the idea that Congress had an interest in leveling the political playing field. Promoting political equality by limiting campaign spending, the court said, was an idea "wholly foreign to the 1st Amendment."

This is just plain wrong, as Hasen points out:

"Leveling the playing field is not the bad idea that the court seemed to think it was in Buckley.

Most Americans today accept the one person, one vote ideal, and, consistent with that ideal, it is simply wrong that economic power should be so easily translated into political power. Wealth should not determine one's ability to run for office, nor should it affect the outcome of close election campaigns."

Hasen suggests that the Court may be willing to reconsider it's past mistake. Let's hope he's right.

As to Congress, Hasen let's them off the hook too easily for the failures of its most recent reform. While it is true that the Court has somewhat tied their hands, no judge forced Congress to double the limits on hard money funds that candidates raise from large donors. This will be one of the main reasons that BCRA could do more harm than good. However, Professor Hasen does offer an intriguing idea for a reform that Congress could take up: Banning all private money in elections while giving each voter $100 to pass on to any candidate, party, or political group of their choosing. Reformers need more creative solutions and this is one worth taking a look at.

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