Trump indictment reminds campaign finance regulations should not exist


On April 4, 2023, the Manhattan District Attorney announced that he had indicted former President Donald Trump with 34 counts of falsification of business records. These are misdemeanors in New York State, but are elevated to felonies if the defendant falsifies business records to cover up another crime.

DA’s Alvin Bragg did not name exactly what crime the false business record entry was intended to cover up. However, the Trump Organization will likely claim to Trump attorney Michael Cohen that the refund of hush money paid to Stormy Daniels constitutes an illegal corporate contribution to Trump’s 2016 campaign. .

In the United States, companies cannot donate directly to political campaigns. Bragg likely argued that the refund was a campaign donation, as it was to prevent news coverage that would damage the Trump campaign. is.

All of this is difficult to solve, but in Libertarian Land the problem is simple. There are no restrictions on campaign finance.

Proponents of campaign finance regulations argue that contributions influence a candidate’s chances of getting elected. That their contribution will influence the policies that the candidate supports. This effect is undesirable. And the regulations do a good job of limiting this impact. Each of these claims has its problems.

In a democracy, candidates cannot endorse policies that differ significantly from the majority of voters. Also, it’s unclear whether contributions influence job titles or whether specific titles attract contributions. Many positions that attract contributions have substantive support, such as environmentalism.

Moreover, regulation has not succeeded in “getting money out of politics.” Even if the law prohibited businesses and people from spending money to explicitly endorse a candidate, they could spend money to endorse policies that align with a particular candidate. If a law prohibits spending in support of a particular policy, it would be a blatant violation of free speech.

These regulations also reward rogue candidates who have legal know-how to evade enforcement or exploit legal loopholes.

Private solutions, such as independent oversight bodies and voter advocacy groups, mitigate the unwanted effects of candidate contributions.

Finally, campaign finance regulations, such as the law against business fraud at issue in the Trump case, allow government prosecutors to select targets based on political pressure (many as suggested). Accurately or not, the emergence of political influence enabled by campaign finance regulations reduces confidence in the criminal justice system.

The prosecution of Donald Trump wouldn’t be a felony without campaign finance regulation. Regardless of the merits of Manhattan DA’s litigation, the indictment is an opportunity to consider the existence of such regulatory misdirection.

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This article was originally cato of liberty Blog, reprinted with kind permission from the Cato Institute.

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