The Huntington Beach City Council’s new conservative majority has moved quickly to implement their shared program of back-to-basics good government policies emphasizing greater liberty and focus on public safety.
Among those was moving to expand free political speech by pegging the individual campaign contribution limits to those used by the state – increasing it to $4,900 from the absurdly low $620.
Good public policy is grounded in reality, not wishful thinking. And the reality is that “getting money out of politics” is a pipe dream. The reality is political candidates can’t win election if they can’t communicate with voters. Communicating with voters costs money, and in a good-sized city like Huntington Beach, it is extremely difficult for candidates – especially first-time, grassroots candidates – to raise a sufficient warchest if the maximum contribution is $620 dollars.
Huntington Beach has 132,814 voters. Communicating with them is expensive. Just one city-wide mailer targeting only high-propensity voters costs in the neighborhood of $35,000 to $40,000. That means finding 55 to 65 people who will each give $620 to your campaign.
Campaign fundraising is hard work. Lower contribution limits force candidates to spend more time dialing for dollars at the expense of meeting voters.
“You’re not going to get rid of money out of politics, but what you are going to do is empower candidates where the money goes directly to them, and the citizens know who that money goes to, and then they can make their educated choice,” said Mayor Tony Strickland, who introduced the measure.
Strickland is absolutely right.
The long modern experiment in using campaign contribution limits to “get money out of politics” began in 1974 in the sake of Watergate, and reached its high-water mark with the blatantly unconstitutional McCain Feingold Act. And it has been a complete failure, both because it is inherently incompatible with our 1st Amendment rights and ignores the underlying reason money enters politics in the first place: the sheer breadth of government control and influence over our economic lives.
A full repeal of campaign contribution limits would be most consistent with 1st Amendment protections for free political speech. But the action of the new Huntington Beach City Council majority is a huge step in the right direction.