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Don't restrict free speech in the name of "reform"

By Scott Tibbs, August 6, 2008

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Campaign finance reform in Indiana
Date: Wed, 06 Aug 2008 09:21:54 -0400
From: Scott Tibbs <tibbs1973@yahoo.com>
To: H61@IN.gov

Representative Pierce,

I read with concern in the Indianapolis Star that public financing has been proposed in Indiana, with the possibility of strict limits of campaign contributions. I think this is a bad idea and encourage you not to support this.

The first and most obvious problem with contribution limits is that it is a disadvantage to minor parties such as the Libertarian and Green parties. Enough Indiana voters have voted for the Libertarian candidate for Secretary of State over the past few elections to give the Libertarian party an automatic spot on the Indiana ballot, and minor parties serve a valuable purpose by holding the primary two parties accountable and giving the parties a political incentive to stand by their principles.

If contributions are limited, however, the minor parties will be at a disadvantage. Republicans and Democrats can adjust to getting smaller contributions, just as the two major parties have done at the federal level. But for ideologically-driven parties such as Libertarians and Greens, a few large donations could be the difference between having an impact on the race and not making a dent. Of course, Republicans and Democrats would love to marginalize Libertarians and Greens, because that ensures that the major parties keep a monopoly on power. But you can see why this is not necessarily a good thing for a diversity of ideas.

My other concern is the free speech implications of contribution limits. While some may find this distasteful, the reality is that in modern politics money is speech. Money allows candidates to buy mailers, door hangers, radio and TV ads, and other various campaign materials such as t-shirts, bumper stickers and buttons. If a political message is an automobile, campaign contributions are the gasoline. The best automobile on the road cannot run without gasoline, and political campaigns (especially at higher levels) cannot operate without money. If you restrict campaign contributions, you are restricting political speech.

Another problem is that legislation that contains contribution limits is effectively an "Incumbent Protection Act". The vast majority of incumbent legislators in the state of Indiana are re-elected every two years, and in far too many races there is not even opposition from the other major party. It will always be easier for incumbents to raise money than challengers, and making fundraising more difficult will therefore benefit incumbents. It looks very bad for incumbent politicians to change the campaign finance regulations for the benefit of incumbent politicians.

The answer is full disclosure. Governor Daniels has already "pushed a law change requiring quarterly reporting of contributions to state candidates", and indicated he would support even more strict reporting requirements. Indiana already has a campaign finance database. I would further encourage all candidates for elective office (especially at the state level) to voluntarily itemize contributions on their campaign web sites. Contributions are closely monitored, as was demonstrated when abortion opponents made an issue of the fact that Jill Long Thompson received over $450,000 from Emily's List, which is dedicated to preserving abortion rights.

We do not need more government regulations to reduce the level of competition in Indiana politics. What we need is full disclosure and more competition. I support reforming the way the legislature redraws the House and Senate districts after each Census, to reduce gerrymandering and encourage competition. Other reforms could expand the marketplace of ideas and make races more competitive. But putting politicians on welfare (which is exactly what "public financing" is) and restricting the fuel necessary for political speech is not the answer.

Scott Tibbs