Most people I talk to are of the opinion that money plays to big a role in the American political system. This is true from people all over the political spectrum. It is also a common observation that campaign contributions in today’s political climate essentially act as a sort of legalized bribery. Even those who justify the current system seem to acknowledge this, if not celebrate in some cases. The primary objection to any sort of campaign finance reform is that campaign contributions are an exercise of free expression. This leads us to the question: Why are campaign contributions considered an exercise of free speech but outright bribes to government official not viewed in the same way?
I would argue that a case can be made in favor of placing limits to how much one can contribute to an official political campaign, without violating any basic libertarian assumptions and it goes as follows. Elections for government office are government functions and government activities, and as such candidates for government office, while acting in their official capacity as candidates can be viewed as part of the state. I view this as related to Murray Rothbard’s argument that ostensibly private companies whose primary source of funding is government contracts can and should be viewed as part of of the state.
While I doubt many would argue against the notion that incumbent candidates are part of the state, I would go as far as to say that non-incumbents and even third party candidates who have no chance of getting elected serve an important role for the state. They contribute to the perception (whether accurate or not) of the people having a choice and of there being some level of consent of the governed.
As such the state can limit what types of transaction they are able to make while acting in within their capacity as candidates, just like the state can limit the type of transactions one can make while acting as a judge or a cop or companies involved in government contracting. This of course says nothing of what third parties (as in people who are not affiliated with the candidates) can say or do to promote a political candidate, and it does leave open the question of how a candidate can interact with the third parties in question. That said, I think a basis can be found for a libertarian case for limits on contributions to official campaigns or even for publicly financed campaigns. This of course takes for granted that laws forbidding cops and judges from taking bribes are legitimate.