This is the position I submitted to the New York Times’ “Room for Debate” Forum, on the question of the state of campaign finance regulation and possible directions for its future:


Forty years after the passage of the federal campaign finance laws, we have considerable experience with how they work, but the debate about them has become tired and repetitive. No one is happy with the situation as it now stands: not those who worry about corruption, not those troubled by the First Amendment cost of extensive regulation, and not those who yearn to bolster public confidence in the integrity of their government. There is everywhere evidence that reconsideration and rebuilding are in order.

One lesson of the last four decades is that the preoccupation with limiting money in politics — whether to avert corruption or “level the playing field” — has achieved neither objective. Reconsideration does not require abandoning all the elements of current law, such as reasonable contribution limits and disclosure. But the bulky regulatory system that has developed around these core elements has proved ineffective, inefficient and, especially after the McCain-Feingold amendments of 2002, highly controversial. A carefully drawn, manageable framework of rules and disclosure will bring the regulation of campaign finance within administrative capacity, constitutional limits and public acceptance.

The most productive change would be a shift away from a preoccupation with tighter limitations and controls and toward the promotion of political activity and participation — a move toward facilitating politics, in all creative forms possible. The goal should be a flourishing political process, with fresh resources made available to parties and candidates, encouragement for individual volunteer and group activity through Internet-based and other mechanisms, and as determined on the local level, experimental public financing.

Twelve years before the reforms of the 1970s, President John Kennedy’s Commission on Presidential Campaign Costs[] concluded that the campaign finance law then in place was failing because it was “unrealistic,” and it recommended removing regulatory barriers to needed resources for candidates and parties, promoting broad citizen participation and innovative fundraising, and enacting effective disclosure. This approach, and not the Watergate-era regulatory model established a decade later, would best guide thinking today about campaign finance.

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