Blind Trusts for Campaign Donations

Robert Reich has been talking up this idea recently, conceived by Bruce Ackerman (Yale law school), Ian Ayres, and some of their cohorts. They’ve been talking about it themselves for quite a while, notably in their 2004 book, Voting with Dollars and in assorted articles.

Simple idea: donations to political campaigns go to blind trusts set up for each candidate. Neither the candidate nor anyone else knows who gave what. It’s the opposite of transparency. Ackerman likens it to secret ballots, calls it “the donation booth.”

Merits: Obvious. It would impose serious friction on quid pro quo donations, especially bundled donations. And donors would receive the same kind of anonymity they get in the voting booth, with all the attendant public benefits.

What’s wrong with it: Reading comments across the web, the only objection I can see is that it wouldn’t work perfectly, or instantly solve the problems of money and influence. Well, yeah…

People could still tell candidates, over opulent lunches, that they’re making/have made donations. They could even wave the cashed check in front of them. (Though Ackerman has proposed letting anyone cash a check with these trusts, meaning a canceled check wouldn’t be real proof.) Bundlers, of course, wouldn’t have all the cancelled checks to wave around.

Short story, it would make those fundraising conversations a lot more uncomfortable.

Blind trusts wouldn’t do anything about “issue advertising”–PACs, 527s, and the like. But it would still throw some serious sand in the gears of the dialing-for-dollars political machine.

Is it time for some of our state “laboratories” to try this out?