After critically examining Lawrence Lessig’s “dependence corruption” theory, Bruce Cain concludes with a few of his own suggestions. Bruce Cain, Is Dependence Corruption the Solution to America's Campaign Finance Problems? (May 19, 2013). Available at SSRN: One of these is meant to address the disclosure issues he sees presented by 501(c)(4) advertising to influence elections. As he has done before, Cain explores the grounds for compromise between those committed to disclosure and those who are afraid, and spirited in expressing their fear, that it invites political harassment and reprisal. His proposal is for full reporting but “semi-disclosure”: regulators would collect the information, reserving its use for enforcement purposes, and would provide the public only with data in the aggregate that is useful in identifying in broad terms the sources of candidate support and, perhaps, future officeholder indebtedness. Bruce Cain, Shade from the Glare: The Case for Semi-Disclosure, Cato Unbound (Nov. 8, 2010),

Levitt, Smith, and the Possibilities in Discussion

August 9, 2013
posted by Bob Bauer
Justin Levitt and Brad Smith are each top-flight thinkers about campaign finance who bring very different perspectives to issues in their field. Now a Professor at Loyola, Justin’s affiliations have included the Brennan Center for Justice. Brad, a Professor at Capital University Law School, founded and chairs his own Center, (the Center of Competitive Politics) and the two Centers are not at all alike in outlook or mission. Levitt and Smith have each recently written a piece—Levitt on the contribution/expenditure doctrine, Smith on the regulation of tax-exempt organizations—that, read side by side, track major, persistent disputes in political law. Each gets much right, but then overstates his case. For Levitt, his defense of regulation comes at the price of an understanding of the political costs. Smith is highly skeptical of regulation but in a way that gives short shrift to one complex regulatory goal that will not go away—public disclosure of certain kinds, and at certain levels, of spending to influence politics or policy.
Campaign finance jurisprudence is caught in the crosscurrents of formal doctrine and less clearly articulated judgments about the interests it is crafted to serve. One such judgment has to do with the “little guy”: the pamphleteer or small-scale political enterprise that raises and spends money to influence elections but whose activities have little or no corrupt potential and should not come within the regulatory grasp of the state. The Court has gone to considerable and inventive lengths to spare the little guy the dead weight of the rulebook, See, e.g. McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n, 514 U.S. 334 (1995) and FEC v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, 479 U.S. 238 (1986) and it may have occasion in the near future to do more of the same. Because the doctrine is only roughly fitted to the purpose, the protection of the “little guy” has served the “big guys” well; an approach cobbled together on the fly for the smaller, more local enterprise has shielded the major political spenders.
Mark Schmitt has replied effectively and thoughtfully to Ezra’s Klein’s warning about small donors and their politics. Klein contends that we are overlooking the polarizing tendencies of small contributions made by Americans at the extremes of our politics. He argues that, just as small donations are becoming the stuff of myth, big money, while more “corrupting,” gets less credit than it should for pushing against polarization: “Big money often wants the two parties to get along” whereas small money exacerbates political divisions. Schmitt questions Klein’s claims about the part that big or small fundraising plays in either promoting or lessening polarization—and he decries “cynicism about money and reform that seems to be infecting the wonk class.”