28 June 2008

Millionaire's Loophole

The US Supreme Court, on Wednesday, issued two important opinions. In one, it affirmed the right of an individual to "keep and bear arms" independent of membership in any militia. I'll leave this subject aside from now, because it's already received a lot of attention.

So much attention, in fact, that it has overshadowed another opinion that in other circumstances might have been the day's headliner. The Supreme Court voided a piece of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform act, one of the signature acts of one of the men now running for President.

This case is known as Jack Davis v. Federal Election Commission.

Davis, the appellant, is a millionaire and a member of the Democratic Party who resides in upstate New York. He is now in his third campaign to represent the 26th congressional district in the House. He lost each of the first two campaigns to Thomas Reynolds.

Federal law limits the amount of money that a candidate for the House of Representatives can accept from individuals. Under normal circumstances, the same restrictions apply to all the competitors for a seat. But under the loophole, sect. 319(a), the rules change somewhat when one of the candidiates is wealthy and self-financing. The test for this is pretty complicated, and I'll skip it at the moment. But if a self-financing millionaire is in the race, the law (in an effort presumably to level the playing field a bit for non-millionaire candidates) eases the restrictions on the millionaire's opponent.

This is what made Mr. Davis unhappy. In his last two campaigns, he was running against an incumbent. He probably figured that he had to spend his own money in millionaire style just to even that playing field, and that making Rep. Reynold's life easier as a result of Mr. Davis' willingness to spend his own money was to tilt the field again, not to level it.

I use the metaphor of "level playing fields" because it is often employed, but the truth is it's endlessly manipulable. Anything that "levels the field" from one point of view will tilt it unfairly from another, and vice versa.

Anyway, one odd nomenclatural fact about the provision SCOTUS has now voided is surely that it is referred to as the "Millionaire's loophole." It might better have been called the Anti-millionaire's loophole, since it is designed to hamper the Davis' of the world.

At any rate, it has passed into history now.

1 comment:

Henry said...

The right-wing justices' majority opinion in this case found that the loophole "imposes an unprecedented penalty" on the millionare's exercise of his freedom of speech because it "produces fundraising advantages for opponents in the competitive context of electoral politics." The more liberal justices' dissenting opinion found that the law "does no more than assist the opponent ... in his attempts to make his voice heard; this amplification in no way mutes the voice of the millionaire, who remains able to speak as loud and as long as he likes in support of his campaign. Enhancing the millionaire's opponent, far from contravening the First Amendment, actually advances its core principles."

Both opinions are clearly right.

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.