Politics

Why Can't I Give More to My Candidate's Campaign?

There should be immediate disclosure of every donation to every political fund of any kind. That’s crucial for a healthy democracy.

Q. I asked a candidate for a congressional seat how much I could lawfully contribute to his campaign committee, and he said just $2,700, which would have to be publicly disclosed. But some individuals (as well as corporations and unions) are pouring millions of dollars into political organizations that have no contribution limits and, in some cases, not even donor disclosure. Does this strike you as bizarre?

A. It sure does. Reasonable people can disagree on the big philosophical issues of campaign finance: Should all elections be publicly financed, with strict spending limits and no private donations allowed? Or, conversely, is campaign finance a First Amendment, free-speech right that shouldn’t be abridged by any restrictions on giving and spending?

But everyone should agree that after court rulings opened the floodgates for “independent” campaign donations—for good or ill—the 1970s-era restrictions on donations to particular candidates are pathetically archaic. We’re left with a patchwork of laws that make no sense—inconsistent, inscrutable and expensive to comply with.

You are constrained in your giving to a candidate’s campaign. But megarich donors, such as conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch and liberal financiers Tom Steyer and George Soros, can give unlimited amounts to SuperPACs, which operate independently of a candidate’s committee. So can businesses and unions.

The most bizarre anomalies relate to disclosure. It’s required for donors to all traditional campaign committees, plus political action committees (PACs), SuperPACs and even certain nonprofit advocacy groups—which promote causes but do not expressly urge the election or defeat of a particular candidate. But one fast-growing species—501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations—can collect and spend unlimited millions on general political advocacy, often without revealing the names and donated amounts of supporters.

The most needed reform—-modest but feasible in the current judicial and legislative climate—-would be immediate disclosure of every donation to every political fund of any kind. That’s crucial for a healthy democracy.

Have a money-and-ethics question you’d like answered in this column? Write to editor in chief Knight Kiplinger at ethics@kiplinger.com.

Most Popular

Dying Careers You May Want to Steer Clear Of
careers

Dying Careers You May Want to Steer Clear Of

It’s tough to change, but your job could depend on it. Be flexible in your career goals – and talk with your kids about their own aspirations, because…
September 13, 2021
5 Top Dividend Aristocrats to Beef Up Your Portfolio
dividend stocks

5 Top Dividend Aristocrats to Beef Up Your Portfolio

The 65-member Dividend Aristocrats are among the market's best sources of reliable, predictable income. But these five stand out as truly elite.
September 14, 2021
7 Best Commodity Stocks to Play the Coming Boom
commodities

7 Best Commodity Stocks to Play the Coming Boom

These seven commodity stocks are poised to take advantage of a unique confluence of events. Just mind the volatility.
September 8, 2021

Recommended

The Most Expensive Natural Disasters in U.S. History
Economic Forecasts

The Most Expensive Natural Disasters in U.S. History

Wind, water, fire and drought have all wreaked havoc on the United States. What’s been the worst?
July 1, 2021
3 Reasons Not to Fear the Biden Tax Hikes
Politics

3 Reasons Not to Fear the Biden Tax Hikes

A lot of people are getting all worked up over President Biden's plan to raise taxes. Here are some reasons to chill.
May 3, 2021
7 Ways Biden Plans to Tax the Rich (And Maybe Some Not-So-Rich People)
Politics

7 Ways Biden Plans to Tax the Rich (And Maybe Some Not-So-Rich People)

How would wealthier Americans pay more in taxes under President Biden's American Families Plan? Let us count the ways.
April 30, 2021
Our "K-Shaped," Uneven Economic Recovery
Economic Forecasts

Our "K-Shaped," Uneven Economic Recovery

Confidence is key to the recovery, but the sentiment depends on consumers’ financial circumstances.
April 29, 2021