Since Citizens United, members of Congress have been increasingly engaged in a never-ending campaign to snare their share of cash flooding the political marketplace. But last week Chief Justice John Roberts deserted his conservative brethren, writing an opinion that offers Congress a roadmap for cleaning up campaign finance. If Congress embraces Roberts’s support for a ban on judges personally soliciting campaign contributions, and applies it to its own members, it can bring “dialing for dollars” to a decisive end.
On the surface, the case of Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar only involves judicial elections. To preserve the impartiality of its judges, Florida had barred candidates from personally soliciting funds—requiring them to delegate this task exclusively to their campaign committees. In upholding that ban, Roberts emphasized that judicial candidates had complete freedom to speak on any issue; they simply were barred from saying: “Please give me the money.”
The chief justice emphasized the unavoidable power-play involved: “The identity of the solicitor matters, as anyone who has encountered a Girl Scout selling cookies outside a grocery store can attest.” Personal involvement, he writes, “creates the public appearance that the candidate will remember who says yes, and who says no.”