Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. The early read from the proceedings suggests that the court might be leaning toward doing nothing about our ridiculous campaign finance system. Currently, the only entities that face campaign contribution limits and regulations are the national political parties and federal campaign committees. Super PACs and other organizations fueled by billionaires and special interest groups can raise and spend all the money they want to. And they can keep the identity of their donors secret.
The court should make these outside organizations unnecessary by allowing parties and campaigns to accept all the money people want to give them, with the stipulation that they have to report all contributions received in real time — both publicly on the Internet and in statements to the Federal Election Commission. Let voters decide whether a contribution is corrupting.
The problem with our current system was captured perfectly in an exchange yesterday between the clear-headed Justice Antonin Scalia and the confused Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. I generously say “confused” because Mr. Verrilli actually said that independent expenditures “do not create a sufficient risk of quid pro quo corruption to justify their regulation.” Why would he say such a thing? The lack of cameras in the court make it impossible to know whether he said that with a straight face. Well, maybe Mr. Verrilli kept a straight face when making that statement, but he had to have blushed a little. Either he is trying to keep money flowing to Democrats from labor unions and billionaires, or no one has told him that the president, White House staff, most of the Cabinet and the bipartisan leadership of both houses of Congress know exactly who these contributors are. Virtually all of these officials have appeared at some point at events for these outside groups, which are often run by their former staff members, consultants and allies. Good grief.
The Supreme Court should not hide behind Mr. Verrilli’s fig leaf. It is already too crowded behind that little shield. The court should acknowledge the obvious and remove the campaign contribution restrictions so this charade can end and the parties and campaigns can be held accountable to voters and be openly scrutinized by the media. Without campaign contribution restrictions, the parties and candidates will be empowered to run campaigns that are not swamped by the parallel participation of these anonymously funded campaigns. I say “anonymously,” but that is not accurate; the identity of the contributors to these outside groups is only hidden from the voters and from the media. Everybody else is in on the secret but is legally required to pretend otherwise.
Follow Ed on Twitter: @EdRogersDC