Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 4, 2006
By: Christina Larson

NEWT II .... So Newt Gingrich has also been making the talk-show rounds on Abramoff. Yes, his own past ethical problems make him a dubious messenger. And yes, youre entitled to question the motives of anyone whose name is sometimes mentioned in the same breath as 2008 for seizing this moment to present himself as the voice for reform in Washington. (Heck, I wish more potential 2008 Democrats were seizing the spotlight.)

But Gingrich does have an enviable knack for getting attention and tossing off ideas -- sometimes terrible ideas, sometimes better ones. In response to the Abramoff scandal he proposed:

1. Ban fundraising entirely in Washington. "The election process has turned into an incumbency protection process in which lobbyists attend PAC fundraisers to raise money for incumbents so they can drown potential opponents, creating war chests to convince [opposing] candidates not to run and freeing up incumbents to spend more time in Washington PAC fundraisers." Alas, his diagnosis of the problem sounds better than his solution. Leaving aside the enormous hurdles to passing such a law, wouldn't a DC ban just make Arlington the next boomtown for black-tie dinners?

2. Require lobbyists, members of Congress, and their staffs, to keep an online public record of their meetings. I don't know the practical hurdles, but I have long heard similar entreaties for an online database of lobbyists' activities from the left-leaning watchdog group Public Citizen.

It's easy to make proposals when you've got little to lose -- and potentially a lot to gain. But I don't begrudge Gingrich, problematic though he may be, for seizing the megaphone to propose more than a nip here and a tuck there in current lobbying practices. (Look for the nip and tuck approach from Frist and Hastert in the coming weeks.)

Plus it's hard not to enjoy the fact that, unlike 11 years ago when he campaigned against entrenched Democrats, Gingrich is now charging against the culture of incumbent Republicans though he wont quite put it so bluntly. After all, he might need the establishments favor in two years.

UPDATE: I'm quoting from Gingrich's Wednesday speech at Hotel Washington.

UPDATE II: Here's Frist's reaction to the big story: "I look forward to working to secure the continued integrity of the Senate." Christina Larson 11:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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Has Newt asked rush limpbag about this? The limpbag thinks all contributions or congressman purchased by the highest bidder should be ok. Did the newt not check-in and get his correct talking points? He isn't thinking independently now, is he?

Posted by: MRB on January 4, 2006 at 11:51 PM | PERMALINK

Puuuubbbllliiiccc Fiiinannnncciing

Come on people. It's not difficult.

Posted by: Karmakin on January 4, 2006 at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK

I think the Bush people have scandalous material on Democrats and are, Hoover like, using it to keep them in check. It's the only thing that makes sense. An entire party suddenly grown mute and scared to say "Boo!"? No. I don't know what it all might be. Crimes. Photos of lovers. Evidence of homosexuality. Whatever. And the Bushies are blackmailing them.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on January 4, 2006 at 11:59 PM | PERMALINK

Just wanted to say. Even I can't think for a defense for Abramoff clients.


Posted by: McAristotle on January 5, 2006 at 12:04 AM | PERMALINK

Makes one miss the good old days when those terrible entrenched Democratic Congress folks were caught kiting itty bitty checks from their own bank, and having an occasional drink too many.


Posted by: bobbyp on January 5, 2006 at 12:09 AM | PERMALINK

" And the Bushies are blackmailing them"

And if the blackmail isn't strong enough, then anthrax will scare em.

And if the anthrax doesn't scare em, a plane crash will do.

Whew! how lucky we are that it can't happen here.

Posted by: Joey G. on January 5, 2006 at 12:14 AM | PERMALINK

From a 1997 CATO article by Peggy Ellis, "Ten Lies about Campaign Finance Reform", here is "big lie #9":

9. Obscene amounts of money are spent in political campaigns.
Congressional candidates spent approximately $740 million dollars during the last congressional race. This is only slightly higher than the approximately $720 million spent in the 1994 congressional race. $700 million is a lot of money --- but not when compared to what we spend as a society in other areas. These congressional totals average less than $4 per eligible voter. If you look at every race in the country, from dogcatcher to president, the amount spent is less than $10 per eligible voter. As a society, we spend more on potato chips, Barbie dolls, yogurt and a host of other commodities than we do on politics. While many of us may like Barbie dolls and potato chips more than we like politics, only politics has control over every aspect of our lives.

I seem to remember some politician making a similar argument in Syriana, but I've heard it plenty of times in real life. Only small amounts of money are involved, the argument goes, so corruption isn't really a problem. It isn't costing us much.

Of course, we do spend a lot of money on potato chips when you think about it. We spend more on potato chips than we do on the NASA budget. And just think about it. You could buy a lot of favors with $700 million. Just look at how small these bribe amounts are. It's downright shameful.

The "potato chip" argument is a silly one if you're maintaining like these guys do that the corruption isn't a problem. But it's a compelling argument for public financing of elections. People don't like the idea of having their hard-earned tax dollars being given to this crooked class of people. We shouldn't be "forced" to give our money to crooked politicians. It sounds like socialism. Politicians don't deserve our tax money. Etc., etc. But if we refuse to even spend the money we spend on potato chips to fund our campaigns, they end up being funded by bribes, and our government is literally stolen from us for pennies on the dollar.

Posted by: MillionthMonkey on January 5, 2006 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

USC has so much talent but a moron coach. One yard to go and he keeps the heisman trophy winner on the bench. Then with one time out with 19 seconds left and extra point coming up he takes a time out. Is he a total fucking moron? USC had talent other teams could only dream of and this idiot defeats his own team by being a total dumbass. A questionable touchdown in the second quarter and Carroll the moron fails to take a time out and bring about review. What an unquestionable total dumbass. With any intellectual potential at all USC would have won. Who would have thought that their coach was so out to lunch as to hand victory to Texas. Had them by 2 touchdowns and due to mass ignorance as far as coaching and he finds a way to lose. USC tragically needs a coach. Great talented team members-moron coach. Intense workers cannot overcome stupid management.

Posted by: MRB on January 5, 2006 at 12:34 AM | PERMALINK

Christina: "(Look for the nip and tuck approach from Frist and Hastert in the coming weeks.)"

Well, yeah, the money thing is very addictive to pols - kinda like cocaine. I imagine Frist and Hastert would kill someone (or maybe a lot of people) before they would cut off their supply of K Street money.

Posted by: Taobhan on January 5, 2006 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

Is money speech? Try this thought experiment.:

Stand in a busy area of town one bright day. Intend to, and then ask, people going by "What time is it?" Guaranteed, you will get some kind of response, even if only a fleeting glance, from 99 of 100 people.

Now. Same conditions. Intend to, and then wait for, a dollar bill in your possession to get the time from a person passing by. Say nothing yourself, let the money do the talking. You will get a response from zero out of 100 people.

So, if you take this experiment, we can safely conclude that money is not in fact speech, but something other than, perhaps in addition too, speech.

Another example: You say to a legislator "please pass legislation that will benefit me." That is speech. You give a legislator $100,000 and say "please pass legislation that will benefit me." That is bribery. For if money were speech, there could be no such thing as bribery. $100,000 would merely be a compelling argument for your cause.

Stop the insanity! Money is not Speech. Two different things entirely.

And where are the Dems on this? On almost anything...

Posted by: jim p on January 5, 2006 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe Newt is positioning himself as a possible candidate in a third party in 2008. Have stranger things happened?

Posted by: parrot on January 5, 2006 at 1:05 AM | PERMALINK

Stop the insanity! Money is not Speech. Two different things entirely.

Yes, but speech and vocal cords are different things, too, and yet the latter are needed for the former. There's a big difference between handing out flyers on a streetcorner and buying time on network television. The former might allow you to make your point to a couple of hundred people, the latter to tens of millions. Certainly cutting down one someone's ability to buy network TV time (which is what contribution limits do to all but the ultra-rich) restrains speech. And indeed, ironically (albeit predictably), contribution limits confer significant advantages on the rich, for only they do not depend on contributions.

Posted by: Fangorn on January 5, 2006 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

The solution is easy. No laws against who can give money to campaigns, candidates, or any other political entity, but strict laws with heavy penalties on absolute transparency.

Every dollar should have a name on it. And not some cheesy front organization ("Committee For Responsible Energy Use" or something like that) with anonymous donors hiding behind its skirts.

You should be able to go to a website or something and see exactly who gave cash to who. This one is the closest thing we've got so far, and it's very useful.

Public financing sounds good in theory, until you start thinking about the process of deciding who gets money and who doesn't, and how easily that could fall to corruption, too.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 5, 2006 at 1:19 AM | PERMALINK

jim p.,

I suspect you would get the 0/100 response to the silent time inquiry if holding a piece of art. Does it then follow that art is not speech either?

Posted by: chthus on January 5, 2006 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK

You're never going to beat the "money is speech and must remain unfettered" argument with this Supreme Court, so it's no use railing against the concept and extent of our institutionalized bribery. We should adopt the system I've advocated for years - citizens, organizations, lobbyists and even foreign nationals are free to contribute as much as they want to any politician but they must do it with $100 bills and deliver it on the floor of the House or Senate in bright yellow bags with 8" black dollar signs on them.

Voila! Free "speech", pure accountability and dramatic visibility. By my calculations, a typical California Senate campaign will require the delivery of $300,000 every week of the year in this fashion. Even the fair and balanced channel would cover this spectacle for a day or two and some voters might actually wake up to the amazing corruption of our democracy.

Posted by: Ralber on January 5, 2006 at 2:22 AM | PERMALINK

Public financing sounds good in theory, until you start thinking about the process of deciding who gets money and who doesn't, and how easily that could fall to corruption, too.

Yes, but it exchanges our current problems for a set of smaller, better problems. Corruption in the disbursement of funds themselves are a small problem (think "potato chips") compared to the wholesale betrayal of the public trust you get from a system that effectively forces politicians to seek bribes in order to stay in office.

Posted by: MillionthMonkey on January 5, 2006 at 2:33 AM | PERMALINK

From Eisenhower on, I have never seen a Republican administration that did not abuse the Constitution and involve itself deeply in corruption and theft of public funds and bribery. It seems to be part and parcel of the mealy mouthed preaching of the "family values" preaching of these sad groups.

Posted by: murmeister on January 5, 2006 at 2:45 AM | PERMALINK

Why not force politicians to raise money by selling advertising on their person (like NASCAR)? Put your logo on a politician's suit for X amount of dollars and we'd all know when we tune in C-SPAN who they're working for :-)

Posted by: jaybee on January 5, 2006 at 6:20 AM | PERMALINK

An element of speech is that it's heard. If people respond, then obviously they've "heard" something, therefore something has been said. So art can be speech.

perfect, except $100 bill, it should be pennies.

Posted by: jim p on January 5, 2006 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

It'd probably be a better idea for Newt to propose to force Congresspeople to raise money in their home states or districts.

Posted by: the dude on January 5, 2006 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Heard a caller on WJ this morning (think from NH or Vermont) say that lobbyists there were required to wear large, (hunting) orange buttons to identify them...sounds a bit like the "scarlet letter" (not a bad parallel) but a most interesting idea for our Washington band of money changers I think! Can't you just see it...what a photo op...

Posted by: Dancer on January 5, 2006 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

LOVE IT...finally read back through comments and think putting badges on the congresspeople is an even better idea...OR do them both!

Posted by: Dancer on January 5, 2006 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

For a simpler solution: No candidate for any office may accept any contribution from anyone who is not eligible to vote for that candidate. Period. This eliminates PACs, corporations, foreign entities, etc. I dont live in Seattle so by what right should I be able to effect the election there? I can't vote in Virgina, so I can't donate to a Senate candidate there. Simple.

Next: cut the nonsense of hiding a donors identity behind a not for profit. You want not for profit status, you must identify your funding sources.

In both cases it would be far simpler to convince voters to support these 2 reforms than to get them to pony up tax money through public financing.

Posted by: clyde on January 5, 2006 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Grump. People cite Free Speech of the donor in defence of limitations on campaign finance. Unfortunately, they are looking at the wrong part of the clause. The relevant part is "or freedom of the press". That 'press' doesn't refer to newspapers. That is broadsheets, like the Federalist Papers. Scurrilous pamphlets defaming the opponent. Advocacy for the defeat of the current administration. That sort of thing. It isn't the donor's free speech rights being impinged on - it is the campaign's, or the advocacy group's, freedom of the press.

"Congress shall make no law respecting freedom of speech, or of the press". This doesn't ban merely direct intrusions on speech or the press, but anything which could act to restrict speech, or the press - including money. If the emanations and penumbras of the Constitution make abortion a right, and cause the Commerce Clause to be read as allowing restrictions on farmers draining swamps on their property, then free press covers money for TV ads.

Freedom of speech and press without money is totally meaningless. You can put on an art exhibit, but can't raise money for it? Make a movie, but not recruit producers? Run political ads, but not raise money for them? Makes no sense.

Posted by: rvman on January 5, 2006 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Problem with public financing is: "Who gets the money?" For example, in Texas, we are going to have at least 4, and maybe 6, candidates for Governor. (Governor Goodhair - R, Grandma Keaton McClellan Rylander Strayhorn - I(R), Kinky Friedman- really I, the Democrat to be named later, the Libertarian to be named later, and the Green to be named later. Who gets the dough? Only the major candidates? - that is serious viewpoint discrimination. Based on polls? Kerry was running about 1% in January of '04. So was Clinton in '92. Party nominees? Fine, Strayhorn would take over the Reform party or found her own. Do the Libertarians get the same as the Democrats, or Kinky the same as Perry? Or do they divide it some other way, and how? (See poll results above)

Letting people 'vote' with their money is the only fair way of handling it. If someone rich gives a bunch, so what - the important vote is in November, right? (Don't forget, the Dems are the party of the very rich, minorities, and workers, while Reps are the management and entrepreneur party. There are a lot more people in management able to make a $2000 donation, or even any at all, than in labor. If the Dems were truly restricted to their rich funders, and truly limited to a couple of grand each, they would be in serious trouble.

Posted by: rvman on January 5, 2006 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK
Problem with public financing is: "Who gets the money?"

Its not that big of a problem; in fact, its possible to make it far more fair than letting people spend their own money (where wealth differences impede fairness), while retaining the features -- personal choice of the people -- that are desirable in that system.

Simply allow voters to assign where the money goes by filling out assignment forms instead of checks, and sending them to campaigns to redeem with the election financing agency.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 5, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Corruption in the disbursement of funds themselves are a small problem (think "potato chips") compared to the wholesale betrayal of the public trust you get from a system that effectively forces politicians to seek bribes in order to stay in office.

Utter nonsense. The VAST majority of funds aren't "bribes" (money intended to buy or influence a certain type of vote). Rather, the vast majority of funds flow from people to lawmakers who already share their opinions on policy. Do you think that the Sierra Club's support is what creates Ted Kennedy's green votes? Why isn't NARAL trying to "bribe" Senator Santorum with contributions (wouldn't they like to get his vote?). The effects of contribution limits are mainly to increase the power of incumbency, lobbyists and the (still unregulated) news media. Contrary to the popular myth, most lawmakers hold a rather rigid set of ideological preferences (like all of us) and their votes are largely not up for grabs. On small issues they are up for grabs, of course, especially in the area of constituent favors, but that problem would be better served by disclosure laws that allow voters to decide for themselves whether or not to throw the bums out. The Freakonomics author (Levy?) did some interesting research on the whole phenomenon. His findings show that large monied interests are increasingly concluding they don't get their money's worth, as evidenced by the fact that they typically contribute well under legal limits.

Posted by: Fangorn on January 5, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

The solution is to allow candidates to opt for full public financing, as the states of Arizona and Maine do now, similar to the system recently approved in Connecticut. (We're trying to get this passed in California.)

Candidates qualify by getting a set number of public signatures and $5 donations from people in their districts. They get base funding, which is increased, up to a max cap, if anyone spends money against them. It allows candidates to spend time meeting constituents while campaigning and to listen to constituents while in office. This violates no free speech laws because candidates have to choose the system. If they don't like it, they can choose the current system.

Nationally, see Public Campaign.

Posted by: thump on January 5, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

How about requiring all campaign funds to be pooled? All funds would go to the party, not to the candidate.

Since individual contributors wouldn't be able to "buy" a congressman, corporate contributions would dry up. Bribery and excessive corporate influence over Congress would be diminished.

While it may seem that this would create an opportunity for an unscrupulous Congressman from gaining control of the cash and using it to reward or punish other Congressmen, isn't that already the case (e.g., the K-Street project)?

Posted by: FrankS on January 5, 2006 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK



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