Outside infuences on elections can be reduced

There has been quite a bit of talk about our political races being influenced by outsiders this cycle, and according to a recent story by the Center for Responsive Politics there is good reason to be concerned. Using data released by the Federal Election Commission on September 13, CRP reports that out-of-state contributions account for 76.9% of Harry Reid's war chest and 74.2% of Sharron Angle's.

Why are these contributions allowed? Can they be stopped? The short answer is yes, such direct contributions can be restricted without running afoul of free speech rulings

I propose that candidates for any office may only accept contributions from residents of the State that will be served by the office in question, no matter what level of government is being run for. This does not violate free speech rights of those people who reside outside the state because they can still contribute to PACs and act on their own if they so desire. This is essentially the same principle espoused by the Supreme Court in the recent Citizens United ruling.

There are economic implications for any State that adopts this as well. Corporations have two legal residences: one in the State of incorporation, and the other at either the "brain" or "brawn" location of business. It is feasible that corporations would make location decisions based upon where they want to be able to make direct contributions to candidates. This would give early adopters an economic edge.

I would like to take this further and suggest that only contributions from eligible voters in a State may be accepted, but that does have free speech problems that may be insurmountable. But if such a suggestion could pass constitutional muster, then this would effectively take away all direct corporate and institutional involvement in campaigns.

It is too late to do anything in this cycle, but it is not too early to start talking about it.

Notes:
A slightly different version of this has also been published as a Letter to the Editor by the Las Vegas Sun on October 7, 2010.
More information on candidate in-state vs. out-of-state contributions can be found on this CRP story.

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