Bench Memos

Jeb’s Bizarre Attack on Citizens United

Like many conservatives, I was surprised to hear Jeb Bush say that he would seek to overturn Citizens United.  As usual, the Wall Street Journal’s response was on point:

It’s a loopy system, as Mr. Bush says, and he’s right to want to have control over all the money donated to elect him. But there’s no need to rewrite the First Amendment to make this possible. Congress could fix the mess by repealing the 2002 McCain-Feingold law, lifting all donation limits and letting candidates collect the cash they need from any American donors in any amounts.

Then Mr. Bush and the other non-wealthy candidates wouldn’t need Super Pacs and could control all of their own political advertising. This would help political accountability, and it would also make it easier for non-wealthy candidates to compete against billionaire self-funders like Mr. Trump.

Until that day, Super Pacs are a net plus for democracy by increasing political competition and educating the public about the candidates. Mr. Bush shouldn’t feel guilty that his Super Pac exists, only that it doesn’t seem to be helping his candidacy. As for Mr. Trump, his gripes about Super Pacs are nothing more than an attempt to hamstring his competitors.

No one would blame Bush for criticizing the existing hodgepodge of laws and regulations that make up our campaign finance system.  As the Journal’s editorial noted, the legacy of McCain-Feingold has distorted our political process and made it very hard to fully exercise our First Amendment rights. But Jeb’s call for outright abolition of Citizens United is baffling, especially coming from someone who is otherwise so interested in defining himself as a policy-oriented candidate who cares about limited government and constitutionalism.

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