The Moderate Loophole Is Moral… If Only Block Would Admit It
As it happens, I spent more than a few moments pondering the statutory language in which Moderate Party founder Ken Block found a campaign financing loophole:
17-25-10.1 Political contributions – Limitations. – (a) No person, other than the candidate to his or her own campaign, nor any political action committee shall make a contribution or contributions to any candidate, as defined by § 17-25-3, or political action committee or political party committee which in the aggregate exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) within a calendar year, nor shall any person make contributions to more than one state or local candidate, to more than one political action committee, or to more than one political party committee, or to a combination of state and local candidates and political action committees and political party committees which in the aggregate exceed ten thousand dollars ($10,000) within a calendar year, nor shall any political action committee make such contributions which in the aggregate exceed twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) within a calendar year, nor shall any candidate or any political action committee or any political party committee accept a contribution or contributions which in the aggregate exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) within a calendar year from any one person or political action committee.
(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision (1) of this subsection, a person or political action committee or political party committee may contribute an amount which in the aggregate does not exceed ten thousand dollars ($10,000) within a calendar year to a political party committee, which funds can be utilized for organizational and party building activities, but shall not be used for contributions to candidates state and local for public office.
My impression of the intent is for subdivision (2) essentially to allow a person or committee to donate his, her, or its maximum to one local committee. Block’s argument is that the word “notwithstanding” overrides everything in subdivision (1) (the first paragraph), and as a matter of the law, that’s clearly correct. Indeed, one must admit that my impression has no textual basis.
Of course, reading the whole of section 10.1, one is struck by the sloppiness of the legislation, which raises the relevant point, in my mind: The whole endeavor is dumb and overreaching. I’d be a whole lot more inclined to support Block — in this and in general — if he’d just come out and say, “These laws are inappropriate, and I feel no moral compunction about poking holes in them.” Instead, he offers this, from Ed Fitzpatrick’s column, today:
Common Cause Rhode Island executive director John M. Marion said, “I don’t think the law, as it’s written, prevents [what Block did].” But he thinks it did go against the spirit of the law. He said the law aims to place a $10,000 limit on the amount one person can give to a party, but with 39 cities and towns in Rhode Island, Block has found a way to funnel up to $390,000 to a party.
“I think we should plug the hole that Ken Block found in the dam,” Marion said.
Money has found its way around such dams for years. “So that’s why we have embraced public financing,” Marion said. “Instead of trying to stick your finger in the dike, you create a new structure and chase the special-interest money out by putting clean money in.”
Block said he supports publicly financed elections. “Ultimately, that’s the right way to go,” he said. “But you don’t unilaterally go in and operate in ways you’d like everyone else to do it.” …
But Marion noted there’s a reason for limits on money in politics: “So no one citizen can have an outsized voice in our political system. If the ideal is one person, one vote, money can act as a magnifier.”
Actually, my objection is more directly to Marion: Lot’s of things are “magnifiers,” and money probably isn’t the most insidious of them. Fame is a magnifier. Media access is a magnifier. So, it winds up being not just money that must be curtailed, but political speech. Why not take the next step and insist that all candidates must run anonymously? That way we might avoid any more Al Frankens.
Attempting to bottle political genies is a fools errand that only winds up giving advantage to people whose advantage can’t be captured and who have the resources to exploit loopholes or work around the law — spirit and letter.