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I've read this 'primer' on at least one Libertarian's view on campaign finance.

One line under the heading "are there any campaign contributions or expenditures that should be illegal?" suggests full disclosure "But when a candidate fully discloses a donation and puts the money in a segregated fund that can be used only for constitutionally favored political expression, that is not corruption."

But doesn't a donor have some expectation of privacy as to how much and to whom they give their money?

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    Libertarians believe in non-coercion and voluntary interactions. So a libertarian would argue that full disclosure NOT be compulsory, and likewise that full privacy NOT be compulsory. It would be antithetical to libertarianism to reveal donations against the donor's will, or to invoke a gag order and prevent donors from identifying themselves if they so choose. – Chloe Jan 9 '18 at 4:23
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While I don't have the "standard" answer that fits all libertarians, I must note that "full disclosure or full privacy" are not the ONLY two choices.

First off, let's examine WHY one would want full transparency or full privacy:

So ideally, a libertarian solution would address the corruption issue in some way, while protecting the privacy of a donator from the public.


Now, some possible choices:

  1. Only allow fully anonymous giving, anonymous to everyone except Law Enforcement.

    All donations go into a lockbox.

    The candidate only knows the TOTAL in the lockbox. They don't know who gave, they don't know how much each donation was.

    Pros: This alleviates the corruption and quid-pro-quo concerns, because the politician has no way of knowing who to "thank" for their donations. At the same time it solves the privacy issue.

    Cons: Corruption is not 100% eliminated, just made harder. Someone spending $1,000,000 would have an easy way of communicating to the politician in private that it was their "anonymous" donation, and it's large enough that you can deduce it just from tracking the totals day to day.

  2. A full transparency on the receiving side, and full reveal of relevant facts about the donor, while maintaining the donor's identity private.

    In other words, what is known publicly is: "Individual in carbon energy sector donated $5,000". Who the individual is, is NOT disclosed, and will not be unless there's a subpoena/warrant in a corruption investigation.

    Pros: this largely addresses the need for transparency visavi corruption concerns.

    Cons: This will NOT protect the privacy of UHNW individuals, since someone giving $1,000,000 and in aerospace industry would very very anonymously be Elon Musk (or may be 5 other people).

    Cons: it's hard to design a good set of attributes that need to be disclosed. Industry is a start but clearly not sufficient.

  3. A separate answer by @Tyler offers purely-libertarian free market approach.

  4. Of course, we are forgetting the main libertarian point: shrink the power of the government and its spending.

    If the government has significantly less money to throw around (and less decisions it is allowed to make that affect non-government entities), the reason for corruption AND high campaign spending goes away. So there's less pressing need to solve the campaign finance problem in the first place.

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    +1 especially for 3. When you limit the size of government, the benefits from bribing politicians become smaller and not worth the investment. The problem takes care of itself. – user1873 Nov 2 '14 at 2:08
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    I don't understand point #3. A government without money can still engage in tons of corruption, through regulation and exemptions from regulation, etc. Subsidies are only a portion, maybe even just a tiny portion, of corruption. The government doesn't need much money, for example, to decide whether ISPs should be classified as common carriers. – Avi Nov 2 '14 at 2:45
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    @LateralFractal - "do you prefer to solve your headache by someone hitting you on the head or on the knee? Answer: NEITHER! Tylenol". – user4012 Nov 2 '14 at 4:40
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    @LateralFractal - Now I know you're not being genuine. I could buy that you wouldn't know if that's the case or not 6 months ago. But the fact that Mozilla's new CEO was pushed out of the job over Proposition 8 was front page news for anyone even remotely connected with technology, and you clearly are. – user4012 Nov 2 '14 at 4:42
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As a libertarian, I would argue that no one has the right to coerce either the donor or the politician to disclose their donations. They are not coercing anyone, so, by the NAP, they are fully within their right to go about their business unbothered.

To a principled libertarian, the above is all that matters. A libertarian focuses on rights, which are discerned through reason alone. The effects, as I will discuss below using a praxeological method of reasoning common among libertarians, are of no importance. To give an example: On a more popular topic, gay marriage, it matters none if the effect is, as some Christian conservatives may argue, to destroy society; it is still a right to do it, because it doesn't involve coercing others. The same is true of all actions that do not involve coercing others; it is anyone's right to be allowed to do them. That seems perverted, but if you read "Liberalism" by Mises you will see that liberty is the glue that holds society together and that the idea that any restriction of it can be helpful to society is a contradiction.

Now you say "but what about people buying off politicians"? And to that I respond: there's no incentive to buy off officials in a libertarian state. By definition, all the state does is prevent others from coercing. It is limited to only that and anything else is prohibited. So what can a bribe achieve?

Further, it seems to be within reason that, if it is important to voters, open campaign financing would arise simply from the competition of politicians. A politician can voluntarily agree to disclose a certain amount of donation information. This can be enforceable as a contract between them and each donor, for example. Then, if they lie and anyone finds out, any donor that chooses to could sue them. And this has the added benefit of allowing a sort of market to decide how much data should be revealed. If most people want more info, they won't vote for someone who doesn't disclose enough. (Sending a signal that more data should be public, for the sake of the voters.) If donors want less info exposed, they will donate to those who disclose less. (Sending a signal that less should be public, for the sake of the donors.)

  • @DVK, interested to hear what you think about this. – Tyler Nov 2 '14 at 4:50
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    Question: Libertarianism necessarily has a non-consequentialist meta-ethical ideology? I know that traditionally in the US, libertarianism has generally believed rights to be established through reason (just see Jefferson's references to Locke), but would believing those rights to be good ideas because they result in good outcomes not be compatible with libertarianism? – Avi Nov 2 '14 at 5:17
  • Good question. By NAP, only coercive actions are prohibited. If we assume further that coercion always results in negative outcomes (a likely libertarian belief and a core thesis of Liberalism), then we get that the set of prohibited actions consists only of actions with negative outcomes. By the above, since the set of prohibited actions consists only of those with negative outcomes, we see that all actions with positive outcomes are rights. – Tyler Nov 2 '14 at 5:24
  • Avi, just realized I didn't really answer your question. The answer is "yes", but the positive outcome still doesn't really change anything. Because to have a positive outcome, by definition, it must already be non-coercive (and thus a right). – Tyler Nov 2 '14 at 5:31
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    @Avi - it's almost like Brothers Karamazov, paraphrased. It isn't considered to be "good" if the cost of the method is coercing someone, no matter the final outcome/goal. – user4012 Nov 2 '14 at 5:32
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An approach favored by this small-l libertarian would be to require politicians or supporters of initiatives to report how much money was given to them in aggregate, allowing politicians to detail the origins of as much or as little as they see fit, with the caveats that:

  1. Politicians must make a good faith effort to be accurate in the information that they do report, and
  2. If a candidate who refuses to divulge funding information cannot articulate a clear reason for such refusal, an opposing candidate may invite the public to draw negative inferences based upon that.

If some political group openly advocates attacks against anyone who supports a particular candidate or initiative, and the supporters cite such advocacy as the basis for refusal to divulge identifying information about their supporters, voters could then judge whether the thread constituted sufficient basis to justify secrecy. Blatant threats would thus be counterproductive, since they would if anything solidify in the public's mind the basis for keeping information confidential.

  • I think wanting people to act against their best interest is very unlibertarian. – user4951 Apr 8 '17 at 19:11
  • @JimThio: Who were you suggesting would be acting against their best interest? – supercat Apr 10 '17 at 20:22
  • Forcing to disclosure. Often it's more profitable to lie. – user4951 Apr 11 '17 at 3:46
  • Politicians would disclose funding information if and only if it is toward their best intention to do so. – user4951 Apr 11 '17 at 6:48
  • @JimThio: Note my #2 point above. If it were considered honorable to say "For all we know, Mr. X is receiving billions from Y Corporation, since he refuses to tell us anything to the contrary", unless or until Mr. X did disclose information to the contrary, that would provide some incentive for Mr. X to disprove that hypothesis. – supercat Apr 11 '17 at 14:22

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