House campaign reform bill undermines Madisonian system of controlling factions within government.
WASHINGTON – When campaign finance reform surfaced as an issue in the early 1990s, many of Washington\’s representatives and senators saw an opportunity to brandish a clean vote of integrity to their constituents back in America. As elected policy-makers know, perception matters.
But as the movement popularized over the decade, diverse groups – from academics to labor unions to civil rights advocates to grassroots activists – have joined together in opposition to campaign finance reform, viewing it as an affront to free speech and an assault on the political stability that constitutional author James Madison envisioned.
America\’s constitutional system is more than a set of checks and balances between three branches of federal government. It is also a set of checks and balances between the interests or factions that attempt to gain favor with that government. In Federalist 10, James Madison states that "there are two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence: the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests."
Yet, when House members vote on the Shays-Meehan campaign reform legislation next week, lawmakers are indeed left with the same timeless choices recognized by James Madison himself. They can (1) vote to destroy the liberty essential for faction, or (2) keep in every citizen\’s hands the same power to lobby the federal government.
James Madison deliberately constructed a political system where opposing factions would battle it out in Congress. Madison knew that curtailing their liberty would confer too much power to the State, but their political maneuvering would eventually achieve equilibrium in the policy-making process. Yet, departing from the 225 years of stability wrought by Madison\’s system, Shays-Meehan destroys the very liberty that citizens, businesses, trade unions, and other groups use to lobby the federal government, by limiting their means of advocacy.
Taxpayer advocate Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform in Washington, agrees. "The Shays-Meehan legislation is flawed in numerous ways: It is an affront to free speech; it arbitrarily empowers some interest groups over others; it limits the ability of a candidate to advocate for himself; but most importantly, Shays-Meehan disrupts the very foundation of the Founders\’ system, which gave America such remarkable stability over time. America\’s tradition of campaigns and elections has given her people the stability to enjoy the highest standard of living the world has ever known. Why should lawmakers risk the Founders\’ proven system with such radical, untested reform measures?"
This paper is the second in a four-part series on the perils of campaign reform published by Americans for Tax Reform.