Evil genius or guy exercising obvious free speech rights? Photographer: Jay Premack/Bloomberg 

Our Pointless, Futile Campaign Finance Regulation

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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One question I have for all those worried about coordination between candidates and super-PACs, or about any of the other campaign coordination that is semi-outlawed (but apparently unenforceable given current Supreme Court doctrine): What exactly is at stake here?

My answer: Nothing.

From the early days of modern campaign finance regulation, we've known (courtesy of the Supreme Court's 1976 decision in Buckley v Valeo) that individual expenditures would be protected under the First Amendment as a form of political speech. Whether one thinks that was a correct interpretation or not -- I think the Court got it right -- that ruling was pretty much the whole ballgame on campaign finance.

Since then, regulatory efforts have focused on finding ways to erect walls to make unlimited money, well, difficult to use. Which means that donors, candidates and parties have to spend time and effort working around those laws. For what purpose? Well, supposedly it's less corrupting for a rich dude to spend millions buying television ads to help a candidate get elected than for that same rich dude to give the exact same amount directly to a candidate's campaign fund. But I've never bought that. It seems more likely to me that reformers are just reacting to their frustration that they can't regulate what they want by regulating what they can.

We should just go with floors, not ceilings, plus disclosure. What does that mean? Partial public financing so that candidates can mount at least fairly serious campaigns, then allow candidates and parties to take in whatever contributions they want as long as it's all above-board and disclosed. Granted, that's not politically viable right now, and probably won't be any time soon, but at least it wouldn't take a constitutional amendment to get it done.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

(Jonathan Bernstein covers U.S. politics for Bloomberg View. He is co-editor of "The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2012." Follow him on Twitter at @JBPlainblog.)

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net