CRIMSON DAYS: Cotton's college column argued for campaign-finance transparency.

The Huffington Post’s Michael McAuliff tries to zing Tom Cotton with another old column from his days as a Harvard student, this one arguing for transparency in campaign funding. Nowadays, of course, the Cotton campaign is heavily reliant on “dark money.” Meh, this is kind of a reach, frankly. Here’s McAuliff: 

According to Democratic estimates, more than $5 million in outside money has already poured into the race against Pryor. The Washington Post reported that some $1.4 million from the Koch brothers-backed Americans For Prosperity has gone toward ad buys in Arkansas this cycle. The Sunlight Foundation, which tracks both sides, doesn’t have the AFP cash, but does have some $2.5 million in spending about evenly split between the two candidates. Much of the cash for Cotton comes through the Club for Growth, which backed his House bid in 2012.

Judging from Cotton’s old op-ed, one might imagine that he’d like to know — and would like for the public to know — who has donated all that money, and what they might want.

But like the money, the Cotton campaign was similarly dark when asked by The Huffington Post Monday if the congressman still had the same views.

If he did, he might consider backing the Senate’s DISCLOSE Act, which doesn’t undo the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling, but does require disclosure of donations above $10,000, setting up a system rather like the one Cotton advocated as a student.

Republicans in the Senate filibustered that bill, so Cotton likely would have been with them.

The hypocrisy charge here, such as it is, is not very strong. Here’s the Harvard Crimson column, written when Cotton was a junior. Young Cotton wanted to end campaign-finance regulation and limits on campaign contributions altogether, and hoped to couple that with undefined additional transparency requirements (Cotton’s pitch was that campaign-finance laws limiting contributions only served to re-direct funding to “dark money”). Seventeeen years later, Candidate Cotton (like others) benefits from loads of money from various groups that don’t disclose information about their donors, plus probably he opposes the DISCLOSE act, though we don’t know for sure. Well, okay. As I said: meh.    


In any case, it goes without saying that Cotton’s teenage scribblings are not a very good way to determine what sort of senator Cotton would be. His record wilI suffice. I do think old writings of a public figure are kind of interesting, but my main takeaway is that I personally find the oddball, mannered intellectual Cotton that occasionally pops up in these college writings more engaging than the robo-candidate of today. What happened to the guy churning out sentences like this: “The Democrats’ guile depicts not lawlessness but unseemliness”? Unseemly! I’m not the target audience, obviously, but it would have been more fun if Cotton went for a William F. Buckley-in-fatigues vibe rather than the creepy talking-point machine spying on poor people at grocery stores. Oh well. 

As to the campaign-finance issue, college-age Cotton was right on the merits that the American electoral system needs more transparency regarding donations to campaigns. Advocates of campaign-finance reform would likely disagree with the column regarding unlimited direct contributions, but I think there’s an argument to be made that strict disclosure laws are more achievable and enforceable (both legally and logistically) than attempts to cap donations. The DISCLOSE Act would be a good start (Pryor supported it, Cotton hasn’t commented).