Glenn Reynolds suggests that a “mischievous soul should add a rider to financial reform legislation requiring candidates for office to sign a statement swearing that no illegal contributions were accepted, on pain of criminal sanction if that turns out to be wrong.”
That would be cute — but please, Glen, don’t give anyone any ideas!
First, I should note that in most cases campaign treasurers are even held personally liable for campaign finance violations (that is, for FEC fines). That isn’t the candidate, but it is some accountability. Actually, I would argue, it’s too much accountability or more precisely it’s accountability for laws which are impenetrable and incomprehensible.
Second, candidate liability would be a bad idea. It’s often times at least as difficult if not more so to figure out what is or is not an illegal contribution as it is to figure out the proper way to account for expected revenue.
In the case of the Senior Senator from New Jersey, it’s obvious. However, any law wouldn’t be able to segregate the Bob Torricellis from the rest of the candidates who get caught in complex rules.
The biggest problem with campaign finance reform, in my opinion, is that it destroys citizen involvement in politics (and consequently becomes an incumbent protection). Only the best financed campaigns (read: establishment party-backed) can possibly comply. (See, for example, FEC Commissioner Brad Smith’s talk “Regulation and the Decline of Grass Roots Politics,” Catholic University LR — if a candidate borrows money to fund a campaign, but that candidate’s spouse co-signs the loan, it can constitute an illegal contribution if the loan was for more than $2000).
The suggestion might have been in jest, and it would be funny .. but a disaster.