I have written this piece for Slate. It begins:
By the time President Donald Trump runs for reelection in 2020, he might be able to accept unlimited campaign contributions to support his bid, thanks to his nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. Documents released ahead of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings this week that date from his time in George W. Bush’s White House reveal that the judge just might be ready to strike down what’s left of federal law limiting contributions to candidates, as a First Amendment violation. There are two cases heading to the Supreme Court that would allow him to do just that…..
If, as expected, Judge Brett Kavanaugh joins the court, he could well push it to move more quickly, in a way that could eventually cause the downfall of the federal law that limits an individual to contributing no more than $2,700 per election to a candidate for federal office. Kavanaugh worked in the Bush White House when it was looking at the McCain-Feingold law, which Bush eventually signed even while expressing constitutional reservations about parts of it in a signing statement.
Recently released documents from the time that Kavanaugh was advising Bush on McCain-Feingold show a person seriously skeptical of campaign finance laws’ constitutionality. Kavanaugh expressed deep misgivings about laws that let outside groups spend unlimited sums in elections while limiting how much candidates and parties can raise to respond to such ads. He told another adviser that he saw “serious First Amendment problems” with capping what people can contribute to candidates, adding that “it is possible my 1A views are even purer than yours.” He also noted that while “very few people” thought contribution limits to candidates are unconstitutional, “I for one tend to think those limits have constitutional problems.”
As Common Cause’s Steve Spaulding notes, “Kavanaugh himself acknowledges in the docs that he’s far outside the mainstream here.” The documents reveal a person who is deeply skeptical of even the most basic campaign finance limits, the ones that say a wealthy person cannot simply write a $100 million check to a candidate to run for office. (Lest you think that amount is fanciful, it is less than the amount that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers network have spent in recent elections, and Trump impeachment advocate Tom Steyer has spent nearly that much in the past.) The inequality of influence and corruption and its appearance that could stem from such a system is profound.