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Foxes Guarding the Henhouse

Jeffrey Milyo does top-flight, rigorous research on politics and elections.  In today’s edition of the New York Post, Jeff explains that campaign-finance regulations stifle public discussion and participation in politics.  Here’s some of Jeff’s op-ed:

Under the First Amendment, every citizen should have an unfettered right to participate in public debate. But try
to get involved in political life, and you will soon see how far we
have come from the time of anonymous pamphleteers holding forth on the
great issues of the day. Apparently, it takes a lot of bureaucracy and
red tape to oversee free speech, even when it involves relatively
straightforward debate for or against a clearly defined ballot measure.

citizen groups as small as two people with as little as a few hundred
dollars must register with the government as a "political committee" in
order to speak about a ballot issue. State campaign-finance laws also
require detailed disclosure of almost every transaction by such
committees; most states then post the names, addresses and employers of
most committee contributors on the Internet.

These laws cover
more than monetary transactions. Yard signs, flyers and other
"non-monetary" support for a ballot issue can subject ordinary citizens
to state disclosure laws. Dare to engage in similar political activity
with neighbors or other like-minded citizens, and you will probably
become a "political committee" under the law. Either way, detailed
reports on your activities are likely required. Fail to file them and
you could face large fines or even be sued by political opponents.

Worse still, state campaign-finance disclosure rules are so complex and
confusing that even professional political groups sometimes have
trouble making heads or tails of them. Pity the hapless ordinary
citizens who feel moved to speak out on a public issue. What are the
chances they would even know about such rules, let alone be able to
comprehend the legalese and comply with unfamiliar bureaucratic

Rhetorical question for you Cafe patrons: Who’s bright idea was it to let politicians determine the rules that govern competition for political office?


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