Handicapping millionaire campaigns

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Apr 22, 2008


Lisa Napoli: It’s called the “millionaires amendment.” And it allows congressional candidates who are running against rich people to raise more money than campaign finance laws typically allow. Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether this is constitutional. From Washington, Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer says a decision’s expected just in time for this year’s congressional races.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: This is what it’s like to run against a millionaire.

Voices in campaign ad: I’m changing my vote… For a new direction… Jack Davis. For the people… I’m Jack Davis, and I approved this message.

Democrat Jack Davis also paid for that message. He spent nearly $4 million on two unsuccessful congressional campaigns in upstate New York. He said campaign finance rules gave his opponent an unfair advantage. So, he challenged the so-called “millionaires amendment.” The amendment lets donors triple their contributions to anyone facing a self-financing opponent. Davis ran against incumbent Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds.

Campaign ad: Jack Davis is a eccentric, out-of-touch millionaire.

But that millionaire’s supporters say he was up against a powerful incumbent with a big war chest. Ben Ginsberg is a lawyer with Patton Boggs who filed a brief in the Davis case. He says the millionaires amendment was really just a sop for members of Congress.

Ben Ginsberg: It was a great big wet kiss to incumbents, because incumbents are fearful of challengers with a lot of money.

But the amendment’s supporters say there’s more to this. Congress wanted to guarantee a level playing field. Loyola Law School Professor Rick Hasen:

Rick Hasen: The Senate itself is a millionaires club — many millionaires — and so, this provision could easily work against some incumbents.

Other supporters of the millionaires amendment say, if millionaires were so burdened, they’d stop running for office. Lawyer Paul Ryan with the Campaign Legal Center says that’s hardly the case.

Paul Ryan: So, if Mr Davis’s argument were indeed the case, then you would see a decline in millionaires running, millionaires saying, “Oh, I would run, but this stupid law is chilling me and I don’t want to bother.” We’ve seen more and more millionaires running every year.

A lower court has already upheld the millionaires amendment. It said the law did a good job of keeping the playing field even for everyone.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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