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Tilting at Windmills

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June 29, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

CLEAN MONEY....I missed the news when it was announced on Monday, but it looks as if a ballot initiative has qualified in California that I might actually have to vote for: the Clean Money and Fair Elections Act of 2006. It's modeled on Arizona's campaign finance law, and the goal is to remove nearly all private funding of political campaigns. To qualify for public funding under the act, you have to raise $5 contributions from a set number of people (for example, 750 contributions for an Assembly race, 25,000 contributions if you're running for governor), and agree not to raise any additional money from private sources. All candidates get the same amount of money, and if one candidate decides to forego the state limits and raise private money, the others qualify for additional matching funds.

So far, neither Phil Angelides nor Arnold Schwarzenegger have taken a position on the measure, which was put on the ballot by the California Nurses Association. Marc Cooper is, um, skeptical that either one will support it:

So will Phil, whose campaign is already faltering and scurrying behind the Governators, come out and boldly endorse the clean-money initiative? Will the Democratic Party machine that cranked out squads of phone bankers and door knockers for Angelides in the primary now put its muscle behind an initiative that will finally crimp the role of Big Money in state politics? Will Democrats be willing to support a measure that blocks the flow of both corporate and union funding into the electoral system? Or, better put, will Pope Benedict demand that his young nephews have bar mitzvahs? All of the above outcomes are equally likely.

....So while naive liberals might now be expecting Phil and the party to throw their weight behind real campaign-finance reform, its more likely theyre about to learn that there really is no difference between the two parties on this issue. The fight around the November clean-money initiative promises to be a monumental battle between the entirety of the political establishment on the one hand, and the CNA and some consumer advocates on the other.

My head says Marc is probably right, but my heart hopes he's wrong. Having a big state like California adopt a measure like this would give campaign finance reform a huge boost. We'll see.

In the meantime, a brief summary of the initiative is here. A slightly more detailed summary is here. A more complete primer with all the details is here.

Kevin Drum 12:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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Comments

Kevin, I know -- and agree with -- your general stance on initiatives. But I hope you'll vote yes on the clean energy initiative. Building national momentum toward clean energy may be the most urgent task of our times, and the feds are utterly intransigent, so the only way to do it is state by state.

Posted by: David Roberts on June 29, 2006 at 12:22 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately courts are rather hard on public campaign financing. Personal freedom restrictions. Funny how it's not good to print uncomfortable info about the government but all right to buy elections. Weird how that works.

Posted by: Where's osama on June 29, 2006 at 12:26 AM | PERMALINK

sorry to sidetrack, but I just came across this:

http://www.brookings.org/views/papers/easterbrook/20060517.pdf

Posted by: republicrat on June 29, 2006 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK

Osama: The CNA worked pretty hard to try to make sure the language of the initiative would pass judicial muster. There's no way of knowing for sure until it passes and gets challenged, but I think there's a pretty good chance that most, if not all, of it would hold up.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on June 29, 2006 at 12:31 AM | PERMALINK

I love the idea of public financing of elections, but I am not optomistic about this measure. Firstly, it is funded by a new tax on corporations, which will cause a firestorm of opposition from the business community. Why not pay for it out of the general fund? And since it is a new tax, does it require a 2/3 vote?

Secondly, it looks like there are 12 other initiatives on the ballot, including 3 new taxes and 5 new bonds. Crowded ballots usually mean more NO votes.

Posted by: meander on June 29, 2006 at 12:39 AM | PERMALINK

Your three sources were the California Nurses Association. For what it's worth, my wife is a nurse who is not a member of the CNA. Do you happen to know of an analysis of the plan, or a debate?

Had such a law been in effect nationally in 1968, Eugene McCarthy could not have challenged LBJ and HHH.

Posted by: republicrat on June 29, 2006 at 12:48 AM | PERMALINK

"The fight around the November clean-money initiative promises to be a monumental battle between the entirety of the political establishment on the one hand, and the CNA and some consumer advocates on the other..."

And also the Green Party of CA... which, I know, is limited in scope, but we've been fighting for this one for so long, and I promise you, we're gonna do everything we can to duke it out for this thing's passage.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

The clean money measure, which qualified for the ballot Monday, calls for voluntary public funding of all statewide and legislative races, paid for by a $200 million-a-year boost in the state corporate tax rate.

Posted by: republicrat on June 29, 2006 at 12:56 AM | PERMALINK

I would hope so Kevin. Personally I would like to see public financing overtake the elective process nationwide. It wouldn't be perfect but might take some money out of the equation.

I remember a discussion several years ago by a British citizen regarding the possibility of the USA having nationwide health care coverage. This individual said that with the current campaign financing system in the US it would seem highly unlikely such a thing would ever happen. Money buys influence here not voters.

Posted by: Where's osama on June 29, 2006 at 1:01 AM | PERMALINK

"All candidates get the same amount of money, and if one candidate decides to forego the state limits and raise private money, the others qualify for additional matching funds."

So if the Dem. or Rep. candidate decides to forgo public financing, all the fringe party candidates are going to get matching funds, with amounts running into millions of dollars? Right. I'm sure the good government people of California will be tripping over themselves to give taxpayer money to the Greens, Commies, Pinks, and Blue candidates for state offices. LOL

Posted by: Chicounsel on June 29, 2006 at 1:02 AM | PERMALINK

In other words, Californians finally have within their reach the power to stick a cork in the gushing pipeline of special-interest influence in state campaigns.

Can it shut down all those 501(c) groups? Would that be wise? Constitutional? Would it prevent the private financing of the publication of the Lincoln-Douglas debates?

Posted by: republicrat on June 29, 2006 at 1:06 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum's blog has advertising. would he have to refrain from telling any of us whom he favors for elective office, and why? If not him, why anybody else?

Posted by: republicrat on June 29, 2006 at 1:08 AM | PERMALINK

meander: "I am not optomistic about this measure. Firstly, it is funded by a new tax on corporations, which will cause a firestorm of opposition from the business community."

The business community would've been sure to oppose this measure, regardless of the funding source. If the measure passes, it promises to free political candidates of their dependence upon large donors. That dependence has been, by all measures and accounts, a boon to said large donors... including, of course, the business community. In short, this measure's passage will result in less power in Sacramento for the business community (among other large campaign donor groups), and they can therefor be counted on to fight it tooth and nail.

where's osama: "Unfortunately courts are rather hard on public campaign financing. Personal freedom restrictions."

Arizona enacted a measure just like this, and it has survived numerous court challenges... largely because participation is voluntary. Any candidate is free to opt out of public financing and run conventionally (with large donations and whatnot). So no one's consistutional rights are being quashed. It just that the public financing system happens to disincentivize this chioce (by matching all funds a conventionally-financed candidate raises and donating it to his/her "clean" opponent).

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 1:12 AM | PERMALINK

"So if the Dem. or Rep. candidate decides to forgo public financing, all the fringe party candidates are going to get matching funds, with amounts running into millions of dollars?"

Only if the "fringe party candidates" can demonstrate viability by collecting thousands of individual $5 donations from California voters.

If a candidate is as fringey as you fear, he/she will never be able to collect the requisite number of individual donations, and thus will receive absolutely no matching funds from the state.

If a candidate IS able to demonstrate his/her viability by collecting thousands and thousands of individual $5 donations from California voters, then his/her party affiliation should be immaterial. Viability is viability.

"I'm sure the good government people of California will be tripping over themselves to give taxpayer money to the Greens, Commies, Pinks, and Blue candidates for state offices. LOL"

The voters of Arizona passed an initiative just like this, and have been electing candidates via voluntary public financing for years now. A recent Arizona Republic poll shows it very popular with Arizona voters, and they even voted down a corporate-funded attempt to dismantle the system.

Clearly you need to learn more about the Clean Money Campaign.

You can do so at www.caclean.org

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you had your chance to stand up for Propositions on ideological principle when Prop 77 came around (which I worked hard at to help try to get passed). You failed:

Because the insanely partisan atmosphere of contemporary American politics means I can't support this proposal even though I think it would be good for the state.

So you don't get the benefit of the doubt from me anymore... sorry. But why do you now you want to support something that may or may not be a good idea ... just because the Nurses Union is in favor of it??

Posted by: Jasper on June 29, 2006 at 1:34 AM | PERMALINK

"Can (voluntary public financing) shut down all those 501(c) groups? Would that be wise? Constitutional? Would it prevent the private financing of the publication of the Lincoln-Douglas debates?"

Voluntary public financing doesn't "shut down" or otherwise regulate any political speech of any Californian other than the polticial candidate(s) who opts in to public financing of his/her campaign. Said candidate(s), as a condition of public financing, agrees not to accept large private donations. Everyone else in the state, including 501(c) groups and other independent organizations, may still participate in political speech at their discretion, as they see fit. However, it is my understanding that any "clean" candidate targeted for opposition by a 501(c) [or some sort of independent expenditure] will receive the financial equivalent of that expenditure donated to his/her campaign, from the state, in order to respond. This, obviously, disincentivizes 501(c) attacks on "clean" candidates... if your organization painstakingly raises $200K and spends it sliming a clean candidate, your organization has at the same time managed to instantly raise $200K quick dollars for that very same candidate. Given that, most 501(c)s will find that they'd prefer to obstain from raising such large amounts and dumping them into political advertising. And, of course, that's the whole idea.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 1:37 AM | PERMALINK

I'm for this, although I have to admit, on NPR the other night Markos almost got me to believe that the small donor thing could work. It seems like the scale isn't there yet - over at Speak Out we've had a just brutal time convincing small donors to open it up, although there are surely a lot of reasons for that. I'm still not convinced the Dean campaign was a wonderful anomaly along those lines.

Posted by: Dan Ancona on June 29, 2006 at 1:44 AM | PERMALINK

"Kevin Drum's blog has advertising. would he have to refrain from telling any of us whom he favors for elective office, and why? If not him, why anybody else?"

Nope. If voluntary public financing were enacted in California, Kevin Drum would still be perfectly free to trumpet his support for (or opposition to) any candidate he desires. No one will stop him.

Here's the catch, though: if Kevin Drum's support of a California electoral candidate disadvantages his/her opponent who has "opted in" to public financing, there's a chance that said opponent will be given the financial equivalent of Kevin Drum's support. This serves to disincentivize Kevin from staunchly promoting his preferred candidate with all the media outlets he has at his disposal... to do so only helps the opponent. Sure, Kevin will still be *allowed* to do it if he really wants to. It's just not wise, is all.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 1:52 AM | PERMALINK

Patrick:

According to the Californians for Clean Election website, a candidate for Assembly would have to gather 750 ($5) contributions, and a candidate for Governor will need to gather 25,000 $5 contributions. While it might be hard for a fringe party candidate for Governor to get 25,000 donations, I'm sure that many such candidates could get 750 in individual Assembly races.

If they do, a clean money candidate for Assembly is eligible to receive $250,000 in a primary and $400,000 in the general election. So that's a potential $650,000 per candidate in every legislative race in the state. Assume a contested primary between two candidates in the Dem and Rep party means $1 million for the four candidates and then another $800,000 for the victors in the general for a total cost excluding fringe parties of $1.8 million per legislative office.

I don't the number of seats in the California Legislature. But 100 seats means a potential cost of $180 million dollars, 150 seats $270 million. If you think that this is something that the taxpayers should pay for, then by all means vote for the initiative. My guess is that very few of your fellow citizens would agree.

When faced with numbers like this, the idea of public financing will be rejected out of hand.

Posted by: Chicounsel on June 29, 2006 at 2:06 AM | PERMALINK

I don't understand. What's wrong with just having a bunch of multi-millionaires running for office, in order to get elected and represent the middle class?

Ships? I see no ships.
($10 to the first American who gets that reference)

Posted by: craigie on June 29, 2006 at 2:14 AM | PERMALINK

The method for filtering out fringies and kooks is important, but it looks like this initiative has the levels set about right. The practical argument is that Arizona and Maine have this system in place. In Arizona, the state legislature is up to about 80 percent clean money candidates. The argument about how much it costs misses a crucial point: By having cleaner government, we will save more than the cost of elections just in things like auto insurance and other taxes, because the bad guys won't get to steal as much.

Posted by: Bob G on June 29, 2006 at 2:33 AM | PERMALINK

How will the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Vermont campaign contribution limits affect this initiative?

Posted by: Meatss on June 29, 2006 at 2:37 AM | PERMALINK

Chicounsel: If you think that this is something that the taxpayers should pay for, then by all means vote for the initiative. My guess is that very few of your fellow citizens would agree.

From the Californians for Clean Election summary:

How is the program funded?

Funding will not come from individual taxpayers or the states general fund. It will come through an increase in the corporate tax of 20 cents for every $100 of profit or 0.2%. This would restore the corporate tax rate to a figure lower than it was from 1980 to 1996.

You expect your fellow citizens will reject out of hand a 0.2% tax increase on corporations ?

Posted by: Dwight on June 29, 2006 at 3:17 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately courts are rather hard on public campaign financing. Personal freedom restrictions. Funny how it's not good to print uncomfortable info about the government but all right to buy elections. Weird how that works.

Posted by: Where's osama on June 29, 2006 at 3:57 AM | PERMALINK

Blah. Cooper's "they're all the same" talk is BS - democrats put clean money in their platform, and democrats passed AB 583 out of committee before the nurses qualified their measure.

Here's the start of CDP's "Political Reform" plank:

California Democrats believe that a healthy democracy is based on clean elections: public financing of political campaigns at all levels of government, campaign spending limits, restoration of the fairness doctrine and a strong role for political parties.

Personally, I think the nurses crafted a really interesting bill: "let's get the unions and the corporations out of politics." I think business should focus on making money the old fashioned way, and unions should focus on organizing workers the old fashioned way.

Also, there's a poll out on clean elections:

http://www.campaignmoney.org/polling

80% of Dems, 78% of DtS, 65% of Republicans are on board.

Posted by: matt w on June 29, 2006 at 6:02 AM | PERMALINK

w.o. -- clean money generally passes constitutional muster because it's opt-in.... for better or worse, a billionaire could still blow in and buy a race out-of-pocket (since matching funds only go up to something like 5x the normal public-funding amount).

If something is going to get stripped out by the courts, it'll be the $15,000 aggregate limit on expenditures per donor per year.

Posted by: matt w on June 29, 2006 at 6:07 AM | PERMALINK

You need not feel any shame at voting on this one kind of state initiative, Kevin: those that set campaign and election rules -- which, for obvious reasons, they cannot be trusted to do themselves.

But once those election rules have been set, we should stick very goddamn firmly to letting the legislators do the legislating which we hire them to do, instead of the public trying to second-guess them -- which has had consistently disastrous results. California is the world's poster child for the failure of direct democracy.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on June 29, 2006 at 6:23 AM | PERMALINK

better yet - instead of still more regulation, just allow everyone to give as they please, and require the candidates to post who gives what on the net. it would eliminate the need for pols to endlessly run around with their hat out getting 1k donations. and by posting donor info promptly, you'd allow voters to decide whether they are comfortable with the fact that G Soros or W Buffett gave a million bucks to this or that candidate.

Posted by: chris on June 29, 2006 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

Chicounsel,

Your assumption that every seat in the California legislature is contested each election is a good indicator that you don't live in California. This state is so gerrymandered that only a handful of seats are ever truly contested. As such, your assumptions about the cost of this measure are horsecrap.

In any event, thanks for your interest in California politics, Chicounsel, but maybe you can just concentrate on quashing electoral reforms in your own state and let us voters in California decide on this one.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

"better yet - instead of still more regulation, just allow everyone to give as they please, and require the candidates to post who gives what on the net. it would eliminate the need for pols to endlessly run around with their hat out getting 1k donations. and by posting donor info promptly, you'd allow voters to decide whether they are comfortable with the fact that G Soros or W Buffett gave a million bucks to this or that candidate."

Your suggestion is, basically, the status quo (there's already an FEC website where such postings are available). And, by its very nature, it limits officeholding only to those candidates who are very wealthy, or to those candidates who can attract the backing of the very wealthy. That's fine, in a plutocracy. In a democracy? Not so much.

In a voluntary public financing system, that option (the old-fashioned way of running, with tons of special interest and big business cash) is still available to those candidates who wish to excercise it. But other candidates--candidates who can attract the support of a large quantity of regular voters, as opposed to the support of a handful of billionaires or special interests--will now have this second option: public financing. This opens up the electoral sphere to candidates *besides* just the super-wealthy and the backed-by-the-super-wealthy.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

"Blah. Cooper's "they're all the same" talk is BS - democrats put clean money in their platform, and democrats passed AB 583 out of committee before the nurses qualified their measure."

Awesome. So we should see the California Democratic Party (and Phil Angelides) really put the full-court press on for this one, right? When will that begin, matt?

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Patrick - actually I'm suggesting that all contribution limits be abolished. right now I believe the law provides you can fund your own campaign to your heart's content but you can only get donations of up to a certain amount per donor. I think this ends up causing the harm you identify - it makes it easier for the rich to run but requires those who can't self fund to pass the hat continually.

Posted by: chris on June 29, 2006 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

The liberal obsession with ridding politics from the evil influence of money is doomed to failure, like most of their policy ideas and positions.

If you really wanted to get money out of politics, why not simply get rid of elections and have elected offices filled by lot? This would be a lot easier and far cheaper than the initiative under discussion. Anyone who meets the qualifications for being Governor or Assemblyman and wanted to serve would be eligible for selection. On election night, the candidates simply draw out of a hat or pick straws to determine the winner. Under such a system, the porn star that ran for Governor in the recall election would have an equal chance of being the winner as the candidates from the two major parties. No money would need to change hands, no campaign promises would need to be made, and more importantly, no weeks and weeks of endless campaign ads and press coverage.

In the words of the Nightfly, Donald Fagen, "What a beautiful world it would be. What a glorious time to be free."

Posted by: Chicounsel on June 29, 2006 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Chicounsel: The liberal obsession with ridding politics from the evil influence of money is doomed to failure, like most of their policy ideas and positions.

What policy ideas and positions might you be referring to? Because the entire United States is awash in a sea of liberal policies and positions.

Posted by: tripoley on June 29, 2006 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

The liberal obsession with ridding politics from the evil influence of money is doomed to failure, like most of their policy ideas and positions.

If you really wanted to get money out of politics, why not simply get rid of elections and have elected offices filled by lot?

Smarter trolls, please.

For the same reason that Major League Baseball pays the umpires, not the individual teams and that players are not allowed to take money from gamblers.

Chicounsel thinks that the only way to achieve the same result (honest umpires and players) would be to flip coins instead of playing baseball games. That's the stupidest thing I ever heard.

Posted by: David in NY on June 29, 2006 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

My second sentence above was, of course, chicounsel's ridiculous proposition:

If you really wanted to get money out of politics, why not simply get rid of elections and have elected offices filled by lot?

Not true, chicounsel, for the reason stated.

Posted by: David in NY on June 29, 2006 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

OK, for the slow among you -- listen up, chicounsel.

Elections, like baseball games, should be decided on merit, and the heavy thumb of money should not be on the scale. Neither should be decided on the basis of pure chance.

If chicounsel's proposal is the clearest thinking conservatives do on this score, they deserve to lose, and badly.

Posted by: David in NY on June 29, 2006 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

it makes it easier for the rich to run but requires those who can't self fund to pass the hat continually.

yes, it would be much better if a single billionaire could just bankroll all the public servants he could afford. tool.

Posted by: benjoya on June 29, 2006 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

If you really wanted to get money out of politics, why not simply get rid of elections and have elected offices filled by lot?

Worth a shot -- if the Athenians were willing to go this route, it's not automatically risible.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on June 29, 2006 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Best luck, Kevin. Talk to fellow voters about this; I think it's the kind of thing that crosses party lines, and might be able to pass despite lack of support from either party.

Of course, the best thing IMO would be the Dems being smart enough to back the measure. Being in thrall to big money is what made Grey Davis such an unpopular milqetoast on so many issues (such as allowing the Enron ripoff to go on and on).

Posted by: Nell on June 29, 2006 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Drastic campaign finance reform of this type is rather pointless; it simply encourages moneyed interests to engage in independent expenditures which are completely unregulated and Constitutionally unregulatable, and doesn't deal with the fundamental problem with elections which is that the electoral system is designed to minimize choice and maximize the number of voters without effective representation.

We don't need finance reform nearly as much as we need fundamental electoral reform, and as independent expenditures are much harder to track (and can't be subject to mandatory reporting), reforms which simply push more of the role of moneyed interests into that form serve mostly to undermine transparency.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 29, 2006 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Having said the above, policy considerations aside, the "Clean Money" initiative is probably good politics for Democrats, which, given the history of the California Democratic Party over the past several years, suggests they won't back it.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 29, 2006 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

David:

Who's being the slow one here? Given that you're from NY, you must know that the more money available to the Yankees than to other teams means that it can afford to hire better players and as a result win more games, despite the fact that MLB pays the umpires. And what is the basis for asserting that elections should be like baseball games?

If running for election is a game, then the winner should be the one who can gather the most resources in order to promote himself to the electorate. Why should the state give money to others who can't otherwise complete? After all, this is not the NFL with its overall salary cap. lol

But you seem to object to the game of campaigning being played at all. After all, it is you that is attempting to level the playing field among candidates by providing them with equal amounts of "clean money" to play with.

If that is your desire, then my solution of offering each candidate an equal shot of actually winning with no money being spent by anyone should be the answer to your prayers.

Posted by: Chicounsel on June 29, 2006 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK
But once those election rules have been set, we should stick very goddamn firmly to letting the legislators do the legislating which we hire them to do, instead of the public trying to second-guess them -- which has had consistently disastrous results. California is the world's poster child for the failure of direct democracy.

Its hardly as if even the worst California initiatives are worse than much of what comes out of "professional" legislators with "professional" staffs in Washington, D.C., and other state Capitols (or even Sacramento.)

This shouldn't be surprising, since in both cases the worst proposals are written largely by the same people -- interest group lobbyists. Initiatives may be "less filtered", but often enough that means that there hasn't been the log-rolling process that gets unrelated even worse ideas put in under the cover of more politically palatable (because they make better soundbites), slightly less bad ideas.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 29, 2006 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, great! Now we're supposed to give the election to the one with the biggest pile of money on election day!

I guess that's a conservative's idea of merit, after all. Doesn't matter if the candidate has appalling policies, if he inherited enough from daddy, that make him the best choice.

Good bye. I have better things to do than refute idiots.

Posted by: David in NY on June 29, 2006 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

I would also urge you to support my initiative to fund my heroin addiction. Clean, public money would keep people like me from mugging you on payday.

Posted by: Smack Addict on June 29, 2006 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

"yes, it would be much better if a single billionaire could just bankroll all the public servants he could afford. tool."

ah, open and civil debate - refreshing.

benjoya, under an open disclosure system, if G Soros gave a million bucks to a candidate, you and everyone else would know it. voters could then decide if on balance it bothered them enough to vote against the person. no matter how much someone can donate, he still has just one vote.

btw, I believe this was how it was pre Watergate - in fact I think RFK's 68 run was largely financed by a couple of big donors.

Posted by: chris on June 29, 2006 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

oops, I meant 527 groups, not 501(c) groups. sorry.

Posted by: republicrat on June 29, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Patrick Meighen: Here's the catch, though: if Kevin Drum's support of a California electoral candidate disadvantages his/her opponent who has "opted in" to public financing, there's a chance that said opponent will be given the financial equivalent of Kevin Drum's support. This serves to disincentivize Kevin from staunchly promoting his preferred candidate with all the media outlets he has at his disposal... to do so only helps the opponent. Sure, Kevin will still be *allowed* to do it if he really wants to. It's just not wise, is all.

this would provide Kevin's advertisers with a motive to shut him up, clearly a "chilling effect" on political speech.

Not only that, but with as many advertising-financed public commentators as there are, and as many candidates as there are, the state-funded compensation would very quickly exceed $200 million total.

Posted by: republicrat on June 29, 2006 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Patrick Meighan:

EXCELLENT posts. You have obviously studied election issues closely and you know your stuff.

I live in Arizona. Our public financing law has worked out reasonably well and we've had it for a number of years. So California has a state right next door; it's obviously no accident that the initiative is based on our law.

Chicounsel: Arizona hasn't had a flood of "fringe" candidates succeeding to get on the ballot and therefore eat up a bunch of money. And we've got our fringe-type people, believe me! If a 750 limit proves insufficient to stop droves of fringe candidates, then raise the limit. Right now your objection is based upon pure speculation, whereas someone who supports this initiative has actual proven examples to rely on.

Also, picture the process of getting the donations and signatures. Supermarkets and other public venues are where people hang out who are seeking signatures for initiatives and to get poeple's names on ballots. OK. You've just left the supermarket with a bunch of groceries including some frozen stuff and you want to get home. Someone stops you and asks you to sign and donate your $5 for some guy you've never heard of. How receptive are you going to be to this?

My bias is to go with what has already proven to work rather than come up with speculation and sometimes slippery slope arguments against. Those are rarely persuasive.

Posted by: Wolfdaughter on June 29, 2006 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Patrick Meighen: -candidates who can attract the support of a large quantity of regular voters, as opposed to the support of a handful of billionaires or special interests

Actually, the signature totals are so low that a very narrow interest group could get taxpayer-financed funding. Not incidentally, current campaign finance laws restrict campaigning to the wealthy, or to those candidates who wish to spend full time collecting money. A better improvement would be to repeal all of the campaign finance restrictions that we have now. there are a lot of people with inherited wealth who have a very liberal or populist orientation. Just about any interest could find a wealthy backer for its candidates. Even the overt and avowed socialist Upton Sinclair had rich backers, as did both Richard Nixon and Helen Gahagan Douglas.

Posted by: republicrat on June 29, 2006 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: "Drastic campaign finance reform of this type is rather pointless; it simply encourages moneyed interests to engage in independent expenditures which are completely unregulated and Constitutionally unregulatable..."

On the contrary, cmdicely, while voluntary public financing doesn't regulate indpendent expenditures, what it DOES do (by my understanding) is *match* the amount of IE spending done on behalf of a candidate and donate it to that candidate's clean-money opponent. Thus, IE spending is disincentivized (why raise all that money and spend it just to put the equivalent in your opponent's pocket?). It's completely constitutional.

"(Clean Money) doesn't deal with the fundamental problem with elections which is that the electoral system is designed to minimize choice and maximize the number of voters without effective representation."

This reform need not preclude others. A California activist like myself can work for voluntary public financing of elections and STILL fervently support IRV and proportional representation at the same time.

In fact, I urge y'all to join me in doing same, by joining the Center for Voting and Democracy. Here's its website:

www.fairvote.org

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

David:

Yes, I know how hard it to refute idiots who withdraw from the debate after being presented with a counter-argument or being asked questions that they cannot come up with a response to, so I feel your pain.

But one last point on your post:

"Oh, great! Now we're supposed to give the election to the one with the biggest pile of money on election day!

I guess that's a conservative's idea of merit, after all. Doesn't matter if the candidate has appalling policies, if he inherited enough from daddy, that make him the best choice."

All I can say is that appalling policies are in the eye of the beholder. That is why I can say with certainty that if Gates or Buffett gave their entire fortunes to Dennis Kucinich or Al Sharpton's presidential campaigns in 2004, they still would not have been elected President because their policies are "appalling" to the majority of the electorate. Do you disagree? Do you honestly believe that if they had the most money that they would have won in 04?


Posted by: Chicounsel on June 29, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Collecting 750 qualifying contributions in an Assembly district is a tall order. For an independent or small party, it's hard enough to get that many signatures, and we're talking about $5 checks. I think it's a reasonably high bar.

WRT the the California Democrats, AB 583 (a slightly superior version of clean money, in my opinion) died last week in a state senate committee when the Dems couldn't come up with three votes to pass it out of committee.

Posted by: Jonathan Lundell on June 29, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

"Actually, the signature totals are so low that a very narrow interest group could get taxpayer-financed funding."

Dude, have you bothered to read this proposal? There *are* no "signature totals." You gotta get $5 donations!

Getting a stranger to sign a petition for some candidate they've never heard of is hard enough. Getting a stranger to donate $5 to a candidate they've never heard of is a fucking bitch! Any orgainzation that can pull off that feat, quite frankly, is not gonna be "narrow".

Again, ask the voters of Arizona about this system. They've passed it AND they've voted down an attempt to eliminate it. A recent Arizona Republic poll shows it to be a very popular system there, and much preferred to their previous, traditionally-funded electoral system.

"A better improvement would be to repeal all of the campaign finance restrictions that we have now. there are a lot of people with inherited wealth who have a very liberal or populist orientation."

This is a democracy, not a plutocracy! Why in the world should someone have to be a rich person--or kiss major rich-person ass--in order to run for electoral office? I don't want billionaires deciding who gets to run. I want us regular voters to decide who gets to run. After all, our elected leaders are supposed to represent us ALL, not just their very wealthy donors, right?

The purpose of this electoral reform is not to find a way to elect candidates of "very liberal or populist orientation." The purpose of this electoral reform is to encourage our elected leaders to be beholden to regular voters, rather than to the large donors to whom they owe their office. Whether the folks who win prove to be populist, or liberal, or conservative, or fascist, or whatever, is all beside the point.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

I have a question:

How much is the incumbancy of a politician worth, and is this amount given to the the challenger over and above the standard amount under the California proposal?

Posted by: Yancey Ward on June 29, 2006 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Me: "if Kevin Drum's support of a California electoral candidate disadvantages his/her opponent who has "opted in" to public financing, there's a chance that said opponent will be given the financial equivalent of Kevin Drum's support. This serves to disincentivize Kevin from staunchly promoting his preferred candidate with all the media outlets he has at his disposal... to do so only helps the opponent. Sure, Kevin will still be *allowed* to do it if he really wants to. It's just not wise, is all."

republicrat: "this would provide Kevin's advertisers with a motive to shut him up, clearly a "chilling effect" on political speech."

There's nothing unconstitutional about said "chilling effect". Kevin would still have every right to back whatever candidate he wants, and to back them in whatever way he sees fit, and Kevin's advertisers would, likewise, have every right to apply whatever pressures they choose to Kevin, just as they do now. Neither will have been, in any way, barred or obstructed by law.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Yancey: "How much is the incumbancy of a politician worth"

Dunno.

Yancey: "and is this amount given to the the challenger over and above the standard amount under the California proposal?"

I don't believe so. However, if you live in California, you know that term limits in this state have caused such a roiling in the California legislature that no one elected official stays an "incumbent" for very long. You also know that one of the largest obstacles to knocking off incumbents is the difficulty challengers have in finding large donors willing to risk the ire of the incumbent by financially backing his/her challenger. As such, challengers are almost always financially dominated by incumbents.

If you're implying that the current, overwhelming imbalance-of-financial-power (between incumbents and challengers) would somehow be worsened in a system that financially equalizes the incumbent and the challenger, well, that'd be a really hard one for me to swallow.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Patrick,

Even if I take as a given that the clean money system will benefit challengers more than the present system, I really don't understand the logic of not trying to balance the incumbency (I always screw that word up!) factor, especially if one is going to try to balance the independent expenditures. Indeed, I could ask why one candidate or another can't receive "matching" state contributions to balance out the endorsements one receives from, lets say, newspapers.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on June 29, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Unconstitutional.

That is all.

Posted by: Birkel on June 29, 2006 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Will it prevent the DeLay-esque money-laundering of donating to the national party, and transferring the funds back to local candidates?

Unconstitutional.
That is all.
Posted by: Birkel on June 29, 2006 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

If money is speech, then flag burning sure as hell is too.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on June 29, 2006 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Angelides ought to team up the nurses and teachers who defeated Schwarzenegger's ballot initiatives last year. Those ads were very effective, and hold the key to stopping Schwarzenegger again.

Posted by: JJF on June 29, 2006 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

"Unconstitutional.

That is all."

Perfectly constitutional, and proven so in multiple court challenges in the state of Arizona.

That is all.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

"Will it prevent the DeLay-esque money-laundering of donating to the national party, and transferring the funds back to local candidates?"

Yes. Clean candidates are not allowed to accept campaign cash from their national party any more than they're allowed to accept it from unions, corporations or PACs.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

patrick Meighan,

Great job defending this proposal. From what I know of AZ (and Maine also IIRC) these sorts of laws have worked quite well. Getting them passed in a populous state like CA would be another step towards the federal level.

Something that seems to have been ignored upthread is that in addition to, and perhaps more importantly than, affecting who gets elected, it affects what they do once they get elected. If a politician doesn't have to continually whore for money, maybe they can concentrate on whoring for votes. That's exactly how representative gov't is supposed to work. Doing silly things like writing and voting for laws that your constituents want is a good way to whore for votes.

To anyone complaining that this is no panacea: no shit. There are no silver bullets. But this would be a big improvement.

Posted by: alex on June 29, 2006 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK
On the contrary, cmdicely, while voluntary public financing doesn't regulate indpendent expenditures, what it DOES do (by my understanding) is *match* the amount of IE spending done on behalf of a candidate and donate it to that candidate's clean-money opponent. Thus, IE spending is disincentivized (why raise all that money and spend it just to put the equivalent in your opponent's pocket?). It's completely constitutional.

Since independent expenditures aren't required to be reported, and probably can constitutionally be required to be reported, can be used for ads that do not directly support or oppose a candidate though they may be very deliberately designed to advance one or hurt another, etc., any attempt to do this will be unworkable, at best, if not outright unconstitutional but, anyway, that's all beside the point because the actual initiative doesn't even try to do this; it makes matching funds available based on direct contributions to a non-"Clean Money" candidate, not for "independent expenditures".

This reform need not preclude others.

No, but since its a reform that doesn't actually have any substantial likelihood of improving anything, and doesn't even begin to address any of the real problems, it is—like the imposition of term limits, which was heralded as an important reform that would bear much fruit but, while its caused musical chairs, hasn't actually improved anything—a bad idea.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 29, 2006 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK
The purpose of this electoral reform is not to find a way to elect candidates of "very liberal or populist orientation."

First: this is not an electoral reform, but a campaign-finance reform.

Second: Perhaps not, but this measure has an overt policy-outcome goal. The sponsors of the measure overtly state that the goal is single-payer healthcare and other healthcare reforms, and that this reform is a means crafted to serve that end.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 29, 2006 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: "the actual initiative doesn't even try to (match independent expenditures); it makes matching funds available based on direct contributions to a non-"Clean Money" candidate, not for "independent expenditures".

You're wrong.

From the California Nurses Clean Money & Fair Elections Act Summary: "A participating candidate may receive additional funds of up to five times the original amount of Clean Money funding to match expenditures by wealthy and other well-funded non-participating opponents or independent expenditures made against them or on behalf of an opponent."

http://www.calnurses.org/cleanmoney/pdf/clean-money-summary.pdf

"Since independent expenditures aren't required to be reported, and probably can constitutionally be required to be reported, can be used for ads that do not directly support or oppose a candidate though they may be very deliberately designed to advance one or hurt another, etc., any attempt to do this will be unworkable, at best, if not outright unconstitutional..."

And yet Arizona and Maine are doing this very thing, and have survived numerous court challenges in the process.

"this measure has an overt policy-outcome goal. The sponsors of the measure overtly state that the goal is single-payer healthcare"

That may be the long-term goal of the CNA and it may have motivated their partial sponsorship of the signature gathering for this reform, but the reform, itself, does NOT, by its own nature, lend itself to any particular ideology or issue... except, that is, the ideologies and issues prioritized by regular voters (as opposed to, say, the ideologies and issues prioritized by the very large donors who currently dominate our political system).

"its a reform that doesn't actually have any substantial likelihood of improving anything, and doesn't even begin to address any of the real problems"

Sez you... based on what? False assertions ("the actual initiative doesn't even try to (match independent expenditures)"), and absolutely zero evidence.

I expect better from you, cmdicely.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on June 29, 2006 at 8:54 PM | PERMALINK

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