The Corner

Millionaire Candidates

Josh Patashnik pokes some holes in the conservative arguments against it. The amendment raises contribution limits to candidates who are up against self-funded opponents. Conservatives are saying, in their legal challenge, that the amendment penalizes the “speech” of rich self-funded candidates. The argument is peculiar for the reasons Patashnik says. It is also a bit odd for conservatives to be going after one of the liberalizing features of the law. The problem isn’t, after all, the amendment, but the fact that contribution limits are set so low for most candidates. Everyone should have the higher limits that the law reserves for the opponents of self-funders.

But I don’t think Patashnik’s concluding argument–that the amendment helps keep egalitarianism in check–has any merit at all. And there’s another problem with the amendment that he doesn’t address. The rationale for the campaign-finance laws, or at least the rationale that the Court has held to be constitutionally permissible, is the prevention of corruption or its appearance. But wouldn’t an incumbent who needed big contributions to hold off a self-funded challenger be more in hock, and appear to be more in hock, to the people who made those contributions? How could the amendment possibly serve the purpose that the law’s backers have repeatedly said it has?

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.