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Freedom and Campaign-Finance Reform

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Amidst not very much fanfare, President Bush has signed the new campaign-finance reform bill into law. This one closes the so-called soft-money loophole that permits large donations to be injected into federal campaigns through contributions to political parties.

There are two big problems, however, with this most recent attempt to end corruption in the political process: First, it won’t work and, more important, it’s another severe infringement on the freedom of the American people.

Lost in all the discussion and debate is a fundamental moral question: Why shouldn’t a person be free to do whatever he wants with his own money — spend it, save it, invest it, hoard it, donate it, or even destroy it? Isn’t it his money? And if it is his money, why shouldn’t he be free to donate any amount he wants to anyone, including political candidates?

Restrictions on how much money a person can donate to political candidates are not only a restriction on free speech but also a severe infringement on property rights, which are the foundation of a free society. When government in any society has the power to control how much money people can accumulate or what they then do with their own money, people in that society cannot truly be considered free.

The real root of political corruption is the socialistic welfare state and regulated society that Americans brought into existence in the 20th century. As a result of that massive transformation of American society, the primary purpose of the federal government became to distribute goodies to some and baddies to others, which in turn provided a huge financial incentive to get candidates elected to Congress.

For example, the government’s welfare function entails the forcible taking of money from some people in order to distribute the loot to others. That important government function converted our society into one of endless conflict — one in which many people do their best to use government (i.e., the IRS and the various welfare departments) as a legal (but not moral) way to get into the pocketbooks of everyone else, even while doing their best to protect their own pocketbooks from getting plundered.

The government’s regulatory function enables public officials to place burdensome and costly regulations on some while leaving others relatively burden-free. That has turned the federal government into a massively powerful instrument that coercively interferes with millions of mutually beneficial transactions between peaceful, law-abiding people.

Such a political system has provided a perpetual incentive for powerful special-interest groups to be on the receiving end of the federal government’s goodies and avoid being on the receiving end of the baddies. The goodies, of course, consist of tax and regulatory relief as well as welfare subsidies, grants, and protections from competition. The baddies include increased taxes and regulations and the denials of welfare assistance.

Since such a system is corrupt in and of itself, it inevitably attracts people into public office who believe in such corruption and who thrive on it. It is not a coincidence that 99 percent of the members of Congress take great pride in the fact that they are using the force of government to take money from those to whom it belongs in order to give it to those to whom it does not belong. It is also not a coincidence that they brag about the millions of coercive government regulations that interfere with mutually beneficial exchanges among people in society.

Is the answer to get “better people” in public office, as many suggest? No. As Lord Acton pointed out long ago, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Ultimately, the political power that comes with the paternalistic welfare state corrupts anyone who participates in it.

The ultimate solution to political corruption instead lies in the repeal of all welfare and regulatory functions of the federal government (including the IRS and the income tax) and a restoration of the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government that underlie the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Such a political and economic revolution would mean that the American people would once again be free to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth and decide for themselves what to do with it. It would also mean that the federal government would no longer have the power to take care of people with welfare or interfere with mutually beneficial transactions with regulations.

Ironically, pulling the weed out by its root would also eliminate the primary reason that many people donate to political candidates in the first place.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.