A Modest Proposal On Campaign Finance Reform

1 comment January 27th, 2010at 11:26am Posted by Eli

Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres have a suggestion on how to (mostly) get around the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision:

While Congress can’t issue a broad ban on all companies, it can target the very large class that does business with the federal government and ban those companies from “endorsing or opposing a candidate for public office.”

A 2008 Government Accountability Office study found that almost three-quarters of the largest 100 publicly traded firms are federal contractors. If Congress endorsed our proposal, these companies — and tens of thousands of others — would face a stark choice: They could endorse candidates or do business with the government, but they couldn’t do both. When push came to shove, it’s likely that very few would be willing to pay such a high price for their “free speech.”

The Roberts court is skeptical — to put it mildly — of campaign finance restrictions. But it is still highly unlikely that the justices would strike down a law targeting federal contractors. All nine recognize that Congress may restrict free speech when there is a significant risk of corruption. That risk is obvious when corporate speakers are simultaneously doing business with the government.


Our proposal requires only a modest extension of existing law. Federal contractors already are not allowed to “directly or indirectly . . . make any contribution of money or other things of value” to “any political party, committee, or candidate.” This provision arguably bars Big Pharma from launching a media campaign in favor of a candidate who supports its special deals, thereby “indirectly providing” the candidate something “of value.” But it doesn’t cover the case in which contractors threaten to spend millions to oppose senators and representatives who refuse their excessive demands. There is a need, then, for a new statutory initiative: The same anti-corruption rationale that may prohibit contractors from spending millions in favor of candidates requires a statutory prohibition on a negative advertising blitz.

IANAL (I am not a lawyer), but this sounds pretty reasonable to me.  Of course, constitutional or not, our corporate-owned Congress still has to pass it.

Entry Filed under: Constitution,Corruption/Cronyism,Elections,Media

1 Comment

  • 1. Financial Culture  |  March 4th, 2010 at 8:04 am

    We all believe that the politicians and the congress are really doing something about the economic crises because we hear something about it everyday on the TV news. However, their futile suggestions and ineffective ideas are helping to spawn new ways to splurge more funds than they actually have that wouldn’t help the non-worthy population. We are not anywhere close to declare that the US is now out of the hazardous effects of the bubble that exploded few months ago. And look at what the government is trying to produce: Even bigger bubble. Ok. You love Obama very much and you want to know why I am mauling the innovative ideas of the Fed.

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