In usual fashion the editor of The Berkshire Eagle has set keyboard and ink to rail against the mote he sees in the eye of a Republican but ignores the beam in his own eye. As stated in a recent editorial, the recent Supreme Court decision in "... McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission decimates regulations on campaign contributions from individuals." McCutcheon abolished the aggregate limits which an individual donor was allowed to contribute to a number of candidates within in a given campaign cycle it, however, left intact the limits an individual may give to a single candidate. The decision also addressed individual contributions to political action committees but this article will only address individual contributions to individual candidate.
For purposes of discussion we will take an individual contributing to candidates in Massachusetts under the campaign finance law prior to and as changed by McCutcheon. Under Massachusetts law prior to McCutcheon an individual could contribute up to a maximum of $500 to a single candidate. An individual was then subject to an aggregate limit of $12,500 for contributions to multiple candidates, again, no more than $500 to a single candidate. McCutcheon simply declared the aggregate limitation to be unconstitutional. An individual can now contribute up to $500 per candidate without any limitation on the number of candidates he can contribute to.
Let us take a trip back along the campaign trail to the presidential election of 2008. In 2007 candidate Barack Obama challenged Republican candidates to agree to the spending limits that accompany a candidate accepting public financing. Sen. McCain accepted the challenge. Sen. Obama, realizing the restrictions on fund- raising that come with accepting public financing reneged on his challenge. To justify his decision he claimed the system was broken and he was left with no choice but to disavow his willingness to accept public financing. The result was Obama raised about $740 million for his 2008 campaign and McCain raised about $370 million.
After assuming the presidency in January 2009 Obama left the "broken system" intact. In 2012 Obama raised about $1.1 billion and Romney raised about $1.01 billion. So much for fixing the "broken system." It should also be noted since the post-Watergate era only one president has rejected accepting public campaign financing for his campaign: Barack Obama.
Transparency in campaign fundraising and spending as well as on ballot initiatives is and should be the main focus of any statute or regulation imposing limits on fundraising. Even transparency itself is fraught with peril. Having your name listed as contributing to a candidate or ballot issue, that others deem objectionable might lead to your being targeted by the free speech police.
As noted in the Sunday, March 16, Eagle editorial titled "Calling Out The Kochs," "The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has established a website, www.kochaddiction.com, to help voters learn more about the brothers' industries and their campaign practices." The real purpose behind such activities is not educating the public but an attempt to intimidate individuals from exercising their right of free speech by contributing to a political campaign. An individual is exercising free speech when he contributes to candidates or on ballot issues if he chooses to do so and attacking them for doing so does have a chilling effect on free speech.
John Cowie is a lawyer residing in Adams.