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Super PACs can't crown a king

| Thursday, March 1, 2012

Super PAC donors acting as kingmakers in presidential contest

-- The Washington Post (Feb. 22)

WASHINGTON

When Communists and sympathizers made excuses for Stalin's terror, they said, "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs." To which George Orwell responded, "Where's the omelet?"

The Post, dismayed about super PACs, reports "a rarefied group of millionaires and billionaires acting as kingmakers in the GOP contest, often helping to decide, with a simple transfer of money, which candidate might survive another day." Kingmakers• Where's the king?

If kingmaking refers to, say, Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino owner, keeping Newt Gingrich's candidacy afloat with large infusions to the super PAC supporting Gingrich, then kingmaking isn't what it used to be.

Every melodrama requires a villain, and the people currently hysterical about super PAC money in politics blame the 2010 Citizens United decision, wherein the Supreme Court held that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts on political advocacy as long as they do not coordinate with candidates or campaigns. The court's unremarkable logic was that individuals do not forfeit their First Amendment speech rights when they come together in corporate entities or unions to speak collectively.

This decision's practical effect is primarily in empowering unions and incorporated nonprofit advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association. But The New York Times says (Jan. 10) Adelson's spending "underscores" how Citizens United "has made it possible for a wealthy individual to influence an election." Many columnists and commentators embrace this solecism.

Actually, Citizens United has nothing to do with Adelson and others who are spending their own money, not any corporation's. People have done this throughout the nation's life, and doing so was affirmed as a constitutional right in the court's 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision.

It might be more wholesome for the speech-financing money that is flowing to super PACs to go instead to parties and candidates' campaigns. But the very liberals who are horrified by super PACs (other than Barack Obama's) have celebrated the laws that place unreasonable restrictions on such giving.

The threshold choice is this. Americans can keep the system they currently have -- campaigns financed by voluntary contributions of after-tax dollars from individuals eager to participate in politics by funding the dissemination of political advocacy they favor. Or they can choose government funding of politics. The latter is what many critics of Citizens United want, although they are as sly about their real aim as they are confused about Citizens United .

The one certainty about campaign finance laws is that all of them are written by incumbent legislators. Were Congress to write laws establishing government financing of campaigns, Congress would be uncharacteristically parsimonious, setting the government funding low enough to handicap challengers to well-known and entrenched incumbents.

Happily, such laws will never be written because voters, those puzzling nuisances, do not want a new entitlement program -- welfare for politicians. We know this because every year Americans have a chance to check a box on their tax returns to give $3 -- without increasing their tax liability -- to fund presidential campaigns. More than 90 percent refuse to do so.

Perhaps they object to funding candidates they oppose. Who knew?

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