John McCain has taken issue with it. Russ Feingold lent his name to it. Nary a day goes by without someone taking issue with it. What on earth is the “it” alluded to? Campaign contributions, of course! Whether an individual is agitating for stronger reform or cursing the day any sort of political and financial reform was put into law, the topic of campaign finance reform is never too removed from the day-to-day political debates.
Currently, there are city, state and federal regulations which determine exactly how much money an individual, a small group and a large group/political party can donate to a political candidate. In California, a single contributor can give no more than $3,900 to their favored candidate for the state legislature and no more than $6,500 to any other candidate, who is running for a position in state government other than that of a legislator.
In San Diego earlier this week, local campaign contribution regulations were put to the test when a district court judge sided with a collection of individuals (including elements of the local Republican Party) who challenged San Diego’s restrictions on campaign contributions and on candidates paying their own way through the preliminary campaign process. The symbolism of this ruling is clear: once a city such as San Diego has successfully challenged campaign contribution restrictions, it is to be expected that individuals in many other large cities will soon launch complaints of their own. (And certain cities are following suit, including Los Angeles.) District Court Judge Irma Gonzalez cited the First Amendment as the driving reason behind her rejection of a San Diego law limiting how much citizens can donate to their favored campaigns; as CourtHouse News pointed out, the law in question included a “$500 cap on donations to independent expenditure committees and a ban on contributions from political parties.”
The entire idea behind campaign contribution reform is that the people should benefit from the cleanest elections possible. Whether or not the San Diego laws are permanently knocked down, corruption (or perceived unfair advantages by incumbents and entrenched parties) will not suddenly be rooted out of politics. However, if a new challenger is able to receive more than $500 per contributor, with enough support, he/she may indeed be able to one day represent a significant challenge to the better connected and historically well-heeled incumbent.
It is ironic indeed, that campaign finance reform, once believed to be the solution to a perceived “evil,” has probably silenced many qualified but not well connected individuals. It is ironic indeed that such a movement to “level the playing field” has only favored those who were already in power and already tapped into deep wells of financial aid. The San Diego ruling is one step in the right direction. Perhaps leaders will one day become farsighted and brave enough to take a leap in the right direction.