After my column last week, I got a ton of great feedback via e-mail and I wanted to try to air some of it.
You’ll remember I recommended that, as the city begins to consider changes to campaign finance restrictions, it should dramatically increase the limit it puts on how much an individual can give to a campaign. My point was that the limit ($320 for citywide races) was way too low. A candidate who didn’t have access to the vast fundraising power of the labor unions or business lobbyists can’t raise much money even if they attract hundreds of donors.
Let’s start with this e-mail from a reader who wanted to stay private.
It is the elected officials who resist the change in limits for two reasons; first, journalists jump on them for suggesting it and second, it doesn’t make sense for them to help fund potential opponents. … Most electeds would prefer a campaign limit of 10 dollars. The have been campaigning for their entire term and aren’t desperate for name recognition or endorsements.
I think this is a great point. Incumbents can raise money easily. Look at the county supervisors. But incumbents also are the ones who get to make laws. It’s just not in their interest to do anything that would help rivals raise money.
Now, I got a lot of feedback underneath the column and via e-mail along the lines of the one below from reader AZ:
I disagree with your suggestion to raise fundraising limits as a way to level the playing field. Other municipalities in California have much higher campaign donation limits and they are no less plagued by partisanship and ideology than San Diego. In fact, the only true effect that can be seen are larger-than-ever campaign war chests. The larger the allowed contributions, the more the wealthy patrons will shell out, as in some kind of political eBay bidding war.
I think AZ Makes a good point but I would counter with this: I don’t think the amount of money spent on a campaign is a huge deal after a certain point. I think you have to have enough money to compete. I just want more people to be able to get to that point without having to engage the traditional networks for campaign financings.
I would suggest to you that there are two alternative approaches that would yield better results. First, bundling needs to be banned in order to avoid the abuse of this practice as a loophole. This may be difficult in light of the 1975 Buckley vs. Valeo ruling that set a perverse precedent: Money equals speech. This precedent has stifled many attempts to control the gross influence money has on political campaigns at every level. Defeating this precedent to ban the questionable practice of bundling may require taking the legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court.
Second, America needs public financing of political campaigns at every level.
I really don’t see how you can ban bundling. If I hold a fundraiser at my house and I take all the checks to a campaign and drop them off, I’m technically a bundler and I’m mad if someone tells me I can’t do that. To try to define bundling clearly enough that it could be banned without trampling on a fundamental liberty, I think is impossible.
The clamoring for a publicly financed campaigns is getting louder. This would be deal where, if you agreed not to take donations over a certain limit, City Hall would cut you a check to spend on your campaign thereby freeing you of the dark influence of special interests. Thing is, you’d have to probably institute a system where you required the candidate to raise a certain amount just to prove that he or she had the ability to generate enthusiasm in the community.
I don’t oppose public financing. I just really don’t think it’s possible to enact something like that here. Maybe, as I told the reader, that’s a self-fulfilling insight, but I just am skeptical.
Should I not be?