David Frum in The Atlantic has a good piece on yesterday’s decision in FEC v. Cruz. The piece concludes by arguing that the focus of campaign-finance reform these days ought to be how to put candidates and their campaigns, rather than super PACs, in charge of their campaigns. Frum here echoes a view many campaign-finance experts, myself included, have been arguing for many years. Frum does not make this point, but it was the McCain-Feingold law, well before Citizens United, that initially triggered the dramatic rise in outside spending by cutting off the flow of what was called “soft money” to the political parties. Instead of that money disappearing, it flowed from the parties to these outside groups. Citizens United then compounded this development.
From Frum’s piece:
In the 2020s, the big news in campaign finance is not what’s happening inside campaigns but what’s taking place outside and around campaigns. As so often in U.S. campaign-finance history, the unintended effects of reform are crushing the intended ones.
In a world of enormously potent and enormously unregulated super PACs, perhaps the FEC’s old focus on policing campaigns has become obsolete, even counterproductive. The question for today may be: How do we put candidates back in charge of their campaigns and restore their responsibility rather than allow them to take refuge in the deniability of secretive, overly mighty super PACs?
With an election campaign, at least you know who is answering to whom. That may not be much. But it’s better than the world we’ve been building since McCain-Feingold became law.