Wiley Rein Election Law News: New Study Ranks States’ Campaign Contribution Laws
By Caleb P. Burns and Eric Wang
Based on how campaign finance laws are often portrayed in the news media, the conventional wisdom holds that the campaign finance system is in need of perpetual “reform.” Such reforms typically entail a one-way ratchet in favor of more restrictions on campaign contributions and speech. However, a new study by the Institute for Free Speech (IFS), ranking the 50 states’ campaign contribution laws, challenges that conventional wisdom. In addition to underscoring the challenges that our clients often face when making contributions in connection with state elections, the IFS study suggests that, to the extent “reform” is needed at the state level, it should be in the direction of liberalization.
As the IFS “Free Speech Index” highlights, the United States’ system of federalism is both a boon to policy innovation and a compliance headache for clients that conduct activities in a multitude of states. As IFS notes, its study “challenge[s] the assumption that campaign contributions are regulated in a similar manner by all states. Quite the contrary.” Overall, the study notes that campaign contributions are “more highly regulated than at any time prior to the 1970s, and in some important ways more highly regulated than ever.” …
The policy implications of the IFS study are significant. As IFS explains, “[t]he right to contribute to candidates, parties, and political groups allows citizens to simply and effectively join with others to amplify their voices and advocate for change. The right to speak out about politics is a core First Amendment right, and limits on one’s political donations infringe on that right.”