Washington Post: State campaign finance laws are on borrowed time (In the News)

By George Will

The court has repeatedly held that prevention of quid pro quo corruption (contributions purchasing specific favors) or the appearance of it is the only permissible reason for contribution limits. And the court has repeatedly stressed that “leveling the playing field” — equalizing candidates’ quantities of permissible political speech — is an impermissible reason for limiting contributions: “The concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.”

That, however, was among the Minnesota Legislature’s rationales for the “special sources” limit. Conceivably, the legislature was not entirely altruistic with rules that handicap challengers more than officials who enjoy the many advantages of incumbency.

Eugene McCarthy, a Democrat who represented Minnesota in the Senate from 1959 to 1971, said that in Washington anything said three times is deemed a fact. It is constantly said that today’s campaign regulations are “post-Watergate” reforms. Many were indeed written after the Nixon-era scandals. But the push for more government regulation of political speech began because Democrats were dismayed by what McCarthy accomplished in 1968.

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