A federal Supreme Court ruling today striking down bans on corporate contributions to political campaignshas been anticipated by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada (R-Franklin), who introduced a bill to allow for corporate and union contributions to political campaigns in Tennessee which are currently banned. As Tom Humphrey shares with us, the typical liberal moaning and whining about allowing freer political donations has begun:
The 5-4 Supreme Court decision does not immediately impact Tennessee’s law, which is similar to the federal ban that was struck down, said Dick Williams, state chairman of Common Cause, quoting a lawyer for the national organization.
But it sets the stage for changing Tennessee’s ban, he said. That could come either by enhancing prospects for passage of a bill in the legislature to repeal the current state law or by setting a precedent for a lawsuit to strike down portions of the Tennessee law, Williams said.
The ruling lets stand the ban on direct contributions to candidates, but says corporations can spend their own money on political advertising.
Many of the people who seek such strong regulations and restrictions on political donations are well-intentioned. They see how money can “corrupt” the political process-which it certainly can-and they would like to see that corruption curtailed. The best way, those people presume, to limit the corrupting influence of money in politics is to limit what entities can donate money to political campaigns, and further set limits on how much money individual people may give. That sounds great in theory, but in practice the people who believe that contribution limits are the only way to keep the system clean are simply asking for more “average joes and janes” to be excluded from the political process. When government overly limits what entities can give to campaigns, it also-perhaps inadvertandly-says to someone from an ordinary middle class home “we want you to vote, but we don’t want you to run.” Contribution limitations make politics even more of a rich man’s game than it already is.
Tennessee’s campaign and ethics disclosure laws already frighten away good people from the middle class. When I filed my candidacy for Alderman in 2008, one of White Pine’s more prominent police officers drove me to the County Election Commission that day so that I could do the honors. This same officer admitted that he was considering a run for the Jefferson County Commission in 2010. After I received my packet from the Administrator of Elections and signed all of the necessary paperwork, I received the instructions the Election Commission must give to every candidate about disclosure, conflicts of interest, and what needed to be declared to the then-Tennessee Ethics Commission. After this, my police officer friend said “gosh, I had no idea that just running for Alderman was that involved.” What he meant, of course, was that he didn’t know you had to tell the State so much about you and your business that had nothing at all to do with your ability to do the job you were running for. At last report, that officer has decided not to run for office in 2010, and I can’t help but wonder if the experience with me at the election office that day might have played a role in his decision. He would make a fine county commissioner.
I’m not advocating the abolition of ethics laws designed to expose and prevent political conflicts of interest, I understand that these laws serve an important purpose. I do believe that we need to be careful about restrictions on the political process which impair someone’s ability or desire to become involved in public service. The liberalization of campaign contribution laws may open the door for a greater and richer participation from folks who need to raise money other than their own in order to serve on office, but who have as much right to participate as Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander, or Bill Haslam.