Lamont, Lieberman, and the Distorting Effects of Campaign Finance Law on Political Competition

August 9, 2006   •  By Brad Smith   •    •  ,
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Whether his win in this particular race was for better or for worse, Ned Lamont’s victory over incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut primary points up some deleterious effects that campaign finance laws have on political competition.  More than 60% of Lamont’s campaign funds consisted of his own money.  Lamont became the favored candidate of those opposed to Senator Lieberman, despite his lack of any prior political experience, because he could self-finance the race.  This “loophole” of self-financing was banned by Congress in 1974, but the Supreme Court struck down that part of the law as unconstituional, holding that Congress cannot restrict our rights to spend our own money on our own campaigns.  Nevertheless, Lamont could not contribute the money to a better qualified candidate who shared his views.  As Ed Crane of the Cato Institute puts it, “Without Ned, Ned loses. In fact, no political observer thought any candidate dependent on a $2000 contribution limit had any kind of chance of ousting Lieberman. Ned was a very poor candidate. … But by spending his own money he enfranchised the Democrats of Connecticut who otherwise, given the contribution limits, were disenfranchised. The Democrats in Connecticut hate the war in Iraq, Lieberman has rather energetically endorsed it. Yet the federal election laws would have assured Lieberman reelection were it not for the “loophole.”

Campaign finance regulation is justified on the grounds that it prevents corruption, but also that it promotes political equality and choice.  In reality, there is little evidence that this is true.  Rather, it more often serves to stifle competition and prevent new voices from being heard.  You may or may not have agreed with Ned Lamont, but if you think it is a good thing that voter’s have choices, and that differing views can compete effectively in the political marketplace, then you ought to give thanks for the loopholes!

Brad Smith

Brad Smith