Martin Manley has a beautifully elegant solution to the problem of corruption-by-campaign-contribution: allow contributions, but require that they pass through a blind trust. With suitable aggregation and lags, that would make it possible for anyone to give money to any candidate (thus avoiding any impingement on rights of speech or association) but impossible for anyone to prove to the candidate that he had done so (thus avoiding the pay-to-play problem).
Of course, there are problems and complexities here:
1. Contributions could still be laundered through lawyers and lobbyists.
2. “Independent” expenditures would flourish, unless they were somehow put under the same restriction.
3. The fundraising dinner would be abolished, thus removing much of the social reward for making a contribution to the common cause along with the opportunity for bribery. Carried to its logical extreme, the proposal would make it impossible for political clubs to charge dues.
But those problems, as significant as they are, don’t seem to me large compared to the problem to be solved.
Footnote: Manley (who joins the blogroll) has an alternative idea, equally good:
Give every registered voter a campaign coupon for fifty bucks and allow politicians, parties, and PACs to accept money from no other source.
I think I’d go for both. It’s possible that the voucher plan wouldn’t draw the public hostility directed at ordinary “public financing” proposals.