“It’s a respect to the First Amendment,” he said. “The bottom line is that in Virginia, tough disclosure with open limits has worked here. In our view, what really defines democracy is allowing everyone equal access.”
Other states are trying to find a happy medium, such as Maryland, which is expected to consider legislation next year that would raise the state’s current contribution limits of $4,000 for any candidate and $10,000 total during an election cycle to as much as $7,000 and $25,000, respectively.
Maryland state Sen. Bill Ferguson, Baltimore Democrat, said that while relatively low limits are designed to stamp out corruption and prevent the wealthy from buying influence, he said many donors find legal and illegal ways around them.
In recent years, rich donors have moved increasingly toward the legal practice of giving freely to PACs and independent expenditure groups and, in some cases, toward the illegal practice of getting straw donors to donate on their behalf.
Mr. Ferguson, a member of the commission that recommended increasing the limits this month, said he supports increases that adjust for inflation, but said the main issue at play is transparency and making sure that campaign funds can be easily tracked.
“You don’t want a small number of people bankrolling candidates and influencing them, but you also don’t want to have a nontransparent system,” he said. “If those are sidelines in the debate, we have to find a place in the middle.