Particularly, it is logically incoherent for conservatives who support the Citizens United v. FEC campaign finance regime to call for the return of Weinstein’s money, or indeed for the return of donations from just about anyone subsequently revealed to be unsavory. Unless there is some connection between the donor’s behavior and that of the politician, or reason to think the politician knew at the time he accepted the donation that the donor was unusually degenerate, then the politician is not morally compromised by the cash.
If politicians are to be held accountable for the behavior of all their donors, where is the line to be drawn between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” contributions? Is the cash okay if it comes from a donor who regularly finds ways to stiff contractors and get away with it, but not alright if it comes from a guy caught failing to report all his income to the IRS?
Is a serial adulterer still an admissible contributor, but not a serial-but-legal phone “sexter”? And how is the politician supposed to know, anyway? Should he have a private eye on staff to ensure the moral fitness of everyone who financially supports his campaign?
If the office seeker had no knowledge of the sin, why is he answerable for it ex post facto if he accepted and then spent the donation?
These questions are especially valid for Citizens United supporters. Citizens United v. FEC was the Supreme Court case, detested by leftists, which loosened or eliminated many regulations that formerly limited political spending (especially for corporations or associations).
At the heart of the Left’s web of arguments in favor of the regulations, and thus against the decision invalidating them, was that the raising and spending of political money is inherently corrupting. The Left in effect posited that any politician who benefits from corporate spending, either directly or indirectly, will thus be beholden to that corporate interests.
Most conservatives said this was absurd. Conservatives said that unless some obvious quid pro quo or change of a policy stance results from the donation, the assumption must be that the donors are merely supporting politicians of like-minded principles, rather than buying fealty with cash on the nail.
Conservatives argued that the preventatives for campaign corruption are not more restrictions on speech, but more chances for speech to be heard. The more ways that more people and more groups can find to donate to the speech-multiplying opportunities for a candidate or cause, the more the multiplicity of interests will cancel out the potentially corrupting influence of a single donor. Result: The politician, unable to possibly please every donor, will vote as most politicians end up doing anyway, with an alchemic mix of political principle, desire for approval from constituents, and party loyalty, among other factors.
Therefore, argued conservatives, no donation is itself tainted unless the recipient does or knows something untoward about it.
Activists who made this case of logic and principle with regard to Citizens United undermine their own stated reasoning if they simultaneously claim that particular donations, from people subsequently shown to be scofflaws, should be returned.
Either campaign cash itself is inherently corrupting or it’s not. If not, then the demand that all such cash be returned is either mere moral preening or political posturing, if not outright hypocrisy or demagoguery.
There do remain other arguments, whether ultimately defensible or not, against the free-spending Citizens United regime – such as that “money is not speech” or that “corporations are not people.” But only the leftists who asserted that “money is inherently corrupting” can make any logical case at all to the effect that money from a source subsequently found to be tainted is therefore itself corrupting and should be returned.
Even then, the argument is a stretch. Our republican system of government assumes in a politician a reasonable possibility of virtue, at least some spark of desire to be a true public servant or even statesman. An office seeker, unless he proves otherwise, is not an aspiring actress on a casting couch, largely at the mercy of a would-be abuser. And just because some abuse happens elsewhere doesn’t mean the virtue of everyone who had dealings with the abuser is therefore compromised.
Besides which, a statesman is capable of putting bad money to good use. Republics assume that free will and free speech will provide “the defect of better motives,” so that good use can indeed result.
Quin Hillyer (@QuinHillyer) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a former associate editorial page editor for the Washington Examiner.
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