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In Voting with Dollars, we urged progressives to move beyond the tired mantras of the campaign reform movement—including the holy-of-holies that demands mandatory publicity for all contributions. Though its appeal to transparency is attractive, mandatory publicity promises much more than it delivers.
To be sure, it enables the general public to learn who contributed how much to whom by consulting the information provided by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). But very few ordinary people take advantage of this opportunity. Mandatory publicity provides transparency in name only (TINO, rhymes with RINO)—informational equality is provided de jure, but not de facto, and that's a big difference.
At the same time, TINO does nothing to change each candidate's information about her own contributor base. Though constituents may remain ignorant, Candidate Sarah Smith is perfectly aware that John Doe has just given her X thousand dollars, and she remains free to reciprocate by advocating positions that are in Doe's interests. Though TINO promises to put candidates and constituents on the same informational playing field, it actually creates radical asymmetries that politicians regularly exploit on behalf of special interests. Despite the cries of self-righteousness from generations of reformers, their heavy investment in TINO has made them apologists for a system in which special interests win a sustained, and appreciative, response from the political class through the expenditure of vast sums of money.
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