Tribe on Constitutional Amendment

Slate is having a little thingummy about how to improve the constitution. The most relevant for me is the latest from Laurence Tribe on campaign finance.

Here’s his proposed amendment:

Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to forbid Congress or the states from imposing content-neutral limitations on private campaign contributions or independent political campaign expenditures. Nor shall this Constitution prevent Congress or the states from enacting systems of public campaign financing, including those designed to restrict the influence of private wealth by offsetting campaign spending or independent expenditures with increased public funding.

I’m not exactly sure what he means by “content-neutral” but it seems to me like the spirit of this proposal is correct. We need to limit contributions and expenditures. A rich man does not have more free speech than a poor man. And we need to provide for public funding of campaigns.

But I doubt that this will work very well. Successful politicians are now those who are best at campaign fundraising. We should not rely on them to put limits on how much they can raise. We need to cap individual contributions and outside expenditure at $0 and provide public finance for all federal elections (and allow states and municipalities to do the same).

Public funds should be provided based on demonstrated public support. Let’s say you’re running for the House. If you can get 500 signatures, you can have $10,000 in campaign funds. If you can get 1,000 signatures you can have $50,000. If you can get 50,000 signatures, you receive $100,000 (or whatever).

We should recognize that this does limit free speech. As a non-candidate, I would no longer be able to produce and air a television commercial trying to influence an election. There is some danger in this. But if we want each person to have an equal voice in his or her government, this is the only solution.


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