The big news circulating on the blogosphere today involves Rory Reid’s apparent evasion of campaign finance laws during his recent gubernatioral bid. For those who have not seen it, Jon Ralston first broke the story here.
Reid and his staffers set up an Economic Leadership PAC and encouraged donors to contribute to the PAC, saying it would be “an effort to assist his campaign.” The campaign then set up 91 shell PACs and shuffled money from the Economic Leadership PAC, in $10,000 increments, through the collage of shell PACs and then into Reid’s campaign account. This effectively allowed Reid to skirt campaign finance laws that limit contributions from a single source to $10,000.
It’s clear that Reid’s scheme at least violates the spirit, if not the letter of the law. Reid claims the scheme was vetted with Secretary of State Ross Miller beforehand although Miller, according to Ralston, “could not confirm that the Reid campaign cleared the machinations with his office.”
However, while it is incumbent upon public officeholders and candidates (both roles filled by Reid) to uphold the law, I would be remiss not to point out the questionable constitutionality surrounding campaign finance laws that limit an individual’s freedom to contribute. Contributing to the campaign of a political candidate is a fundamental and essential component of individuals’ right to free speech, where those individuals are subject to democratic government. (I won’t get into a discussion here of Locke’s definition of natural rights and whether a democracy or a republic is the best means of safeguarding those rights. For those who are interested, see Hoppe’s Democracy: The God that Failed.) As such, the majority of campaign finance laws are, in fact, a curtailment of individuals’ First Amendment right to free speech.
It’s possible that Reid’s campaign broke the law, but it’s also questionable whether the law itself is in conflict with constitutional provisions and/or the natural rights of individuals more generally. To put it succinctly: Reid may have broken the law, but the law may have broken the law first. If nothing else, this may give Reid standing to challenge the constitutionality of the tangled mess of campaign finance laws.