Friday, July 13, 2012

What Would Happen ...

... if corporations could make direct campaign contributions to candidates for political office?

Such direct contributions have long been illegal in federal elections, and remain so. Limits on direct campaign contributions or expenditures (as opposed to "independent expenditures") have been upheld under the First Amendment, as applied to both individuals and business entities, because of the compelling governmental interest in limiting corruption or even the appearance of corruption in political elections. (Independent expenditures, whether by individuals or corporations, do not implicate this interest because of the supposed lack of an apparent quid pro quo—at least according to the Supreme Court.)

In Citizen United, the Supreme Court struck down limitations on the ability of corporations and labor unions to make certain independent expenditures to candidates for federal office. Previously, such expenditures had to be routed through political action committees; now they can be made out of general treasury funds.

Mr. Gillette and I have previously pondered whether this change in the way that corporations and unions can spend their money (out of their general funds, rather than through PACs) would really change how much they spend in attempts to influence elections. Particularly because PACs may allow corporation to spend money on politics without alienating potential customers who may disagree with the corporation's preferred policies.

Anyhow, that's a long-winded way of getting back to my original questions—what would happen if corporations could go ahead and make direct campaign contributions? Would they? I don't know the answer to this question, but I did today discover a way that we could perhaps find out what the answer is. Katrina vanden Huevel has a post at The Nation discussing an ordinance proposed in the District of Columbia that would ban corporations from making direct contributions to candidates for office in the District. This is necessary because right now such direct contributions are legal there. And, it turns out, only 21 states actually ban direct contributions by corporations in state elections. That means that direct contributions by corporations are legal to candidates for state and local office in 29 states.

The study is just waiting to be done! Are corporations making direct contributions in those states? Perhaps more interestingly, are there significant differences in political corruption between the 29 states that allow corporate donations and the 21 states that ban them? If not, does it at least seem like those states are more corrupt? (Ha ha.) Do corporations have those 29 state governments by the neck? Is democracy even possible in those states?

This will be something I get around to studying when I go for my Ph.D. in law.

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