SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Outside Funds Can Dilute Vote
Finally, money in politics and the state of election law are getting where they need to be.
If you've read recent new stories about how North Carolina's donor limits on campaign giving have essentially been gutted by the U.S. Forth Circuit Court of Appeals, you may be a bit stunned by that statement.
But, in fact, if big money and special interests in politics are ever going to be restrained to reasonable limits, we needed to get to this point. Now, we need people to stop nibbling around edges when it comes to buying and selling elections. Just do it.
Based on the state of the law, some rich billionaire probably could.
Don't misunderstand. I'm not talking about some fabulously rich guy, like former U.S. Sen. John Edwards or New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, financing his own election.
No, I'm talking about George Soros or T. Boone Pickens deciding to pump millions into your North Carolina electoral district, putting so much money behind a candidate that it simply overwhelms the opposition in an avalanche of negative images.
Perhaps that sounds far-fetched. But maybe Mr. Soros happens to be friends with some fellow living in Asheboro who has decided to run for state House. Maybe Mr. Pickens' old college roommate has a daughter living in Asheville who has decided that she wants a Senate seat.
Do you want to try to match $10 million, Harold Brubaker? What about you Martin Nesbitt? No? Oh, well. See you later.
Based on the recent Fourth Circuit opinion, and a change in North Carolina law to comply with it, any billionaire could set up a political action committee here, pump unlimited amounts into it, and then run ads saying pretty much whatever they chose about the candidates. The only restriction is that they couldn't coordinate with the candidates.
These independent expenditure campaigns have been going on for a while, but until the court decision the state's $4,000 individual contributor limits applied. Other so-called 527 groups were restricted in the types of ads that they could run.
The court decision led the Republican Governors' Association to set up immediately a political action committee here to support Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory's gubernatorial bid.
But this development pushes the debate where it needs to be.
Earlier this month, the anti-union National Right to Work Foundation asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the Service Employees International Union because of its fund-raising practices. SEIU also funds independent expenditure campaigns, typically in support of Democrats.
The anti-union group's complaint focused on another issue -- compelled donations from union locals. Still, it was interesting to see its lawyers complain of voter disenfranchisement and vote dilution.
Yes, the courts can equate money with free speech. They can do away with contribution limits. But at a certain point, vast sums of money flowing from outside an electoral district dilute the votes within that district. Free speech rights butt heads with the constitutional requirements of one-man, one-vote.
We're reaching that point.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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