Money in politics

The usual handwringers have been especially vocal in the past few weeks, lamenting money in politics.

South Carolina voters “are being buried this week under an avalanche of combative and often nasty political commercials from super PACs, funded by a tiny group of super-rich donors with very particular interests in the state’s Republican presidential primary,” The Washington Post reports.

“There are probably fewer than 100 people who are fueling 90 percent of this outside money right now,” David Donnelly of the Public Campaign Action Fund, an advocacy group favoring limits on political spending, tells the Post.

In total, these new political action committees spent more than $15 million supporting GOP candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire and are now outspending the official campaigns in South Carolina by 2-to-1, according to reported advertising and expenditure data.

Campaign finance reformers point to last year’s Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court as the culprit. But the PACS were effectively created by individual campaign donation limits — all the high court did was remind “reformers” that the Constitution forbids government from barring people from spending their money on political speech.

It’s not as though the big spenders always win. Try telephoning Meg Whitman ($140 million of her own money) at the California governor’s mansion, or former Hewlett-Packard’s CEO Carly Fiorina at the offices of former California Sen. Barbara Boxer. You’ll find they’re not in.

When the federal government set ceilings on direct contributions to candidates, it had the same effect as stepping on a partially inflated balloon. One part of the balloon is compressed, but the balloon promptly inflates somewhere else.

Don’t like the relative unaccountability of the Political Action Committees? Get rid of limits on direct contributions.

Or to really “get the money out of politics,” restrict the federak government to that far more limited number of functions specifically authorized in the Constitution. If business interests no longer felt the need to pay protection money to politicians as a form of self-defense — a lesson Bill Gates of Microsoft learned the hard way — they might very well put away their checkbooks and go home.

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