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Tilting at Windmills

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January 8, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

PUBLIC CAMPAIGN FINANCING....Over the past couple of decades, the Republican Party has focused a lot of its attention not merely on getting conservative legislation passed, but on creating a long-term conservative majority by making structural changes to the political system that permanently erode the Democratic Party's ability to win elections. Examples include an increased interest in gerrymandering, union busting, voter ID laws, and the K Street Project, a party-wide program aimed at persuading lobbying firms to hire only Republicans.

Democrats have mostly played catch-up when it comes to structural changes, but in the current issue of the Monthly Zachary Roth argues that it's time for this to change. The biggest structural advantage Republicans have over Democrats is their ability to raise huge amounts of corporate cash for election campaigns, and this is where Democrats ought to attack:

It's no accident that the rise of conservative power in Washington that began in 1980 and accelerated after 1994 coincided with an exponential increase in the cost of political campaigns. Any system that uses corporate dollars to fund candidates' bids for office will, almost by definition, advantage the party that hews closest to corporate interests. Over the last 12 years, Republicans have figured out how to exploit that dynamic to build a political machine with which they have dominated their opponents. Now that Democrats are back in power, they have a choice: They can try to adapt to that system by going all out to get their share of the spoils. Or they can destroy it altogether by cutting off the money on which it depends.

I'll confess to some weariness about campaign finance reform -- partly because past efforts have achieved so little, and partly because success seems so far away. I was strongly in favor of California's Proposition 89 last year, a public finance initiative that was modeled on Arizona's Clean Money law, but it managed to garner only 25% of the vote. A measure to release all Class 1 sex offenders immediately and buy them each their own suburban tract homes probably would have gotten more votes.

But cynicism is for suckers, and Zack is right: lobbying reform is a fine idea, but how much real-world impact will it have if the corporate cash funnel that currently feeds American politics remains in place? Democrats may feel like they've made considerable strides in tapping that corporate cash machine in recent years, but they still haven't caught up to Republicans and probably never will. What's more, there's also this:

In recent years, the party has at times failed to stay united on major economic votes like the bankruptcy bill of 2005, in part because some members have caved to their corporate backers. If Democrats hope to fix the Medicare drug plan or repeal some of the Bush tax cuts, they'll need to reduce these defections. Ending the link between corporate money and elections will make it easier for Democrats to side with their constituents, not their contributors. And creating a record of legislative accomplishment is perhaps the most effective way for Democrats to boost their political prospects.

Read the whole thing. Zack traces out a plausible strategy that sets the stage for public finance reform following the 2008 election, and also outlines the lay of the land right now: who's for it, who's against it, and what the obstacles are. It's worth reading.

POSTSCRIPT: See also Ed Kilgore on the same subject: "The key thing for progressives is not to give up, for even a moment, on public campaign financing as a goal. It may take a while to get there, but leadership requires, well, leadership, and succumbing to the current crazy and corruption-feeding system is not acceptable. This is something on which progressives who disagree on many other topics ought to be able to unite."

Kevin Drum 12:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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Comments

My simple solution is to ban political ads from TV and radio.

If print was good enough for the Founding Fathers (tm), it should be good enough for us.

Posted by: craigie on January 8, 2007 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

I'll note that John Edwards was the only major Presidential candidate in '04 willing to voice unreserved support for public financing...

Posted by: Petey on January 8, 2007 at 1:37 AM | PERMALINK

Even simpler, just ban the GOP. They've got nothing worthwhile to say anyway.

Posted by: craigie on January 8, 2007 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

I believe it is not Constitutional to prohibit a candidate from spending his own money on a campaign. The current state of campaign finance "reform" has given a tremendous advantage to rich candidates -- people who can fund their own campaign. Public campaign financing would give the rich a greater advantage.

It is strange that liberals would prefer to be governed by the billionaires.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 8, 2007 at 1:39 AM | PERMALINK

Ex-liberal: That's true. But public finance laws like the one in Arizona manage to solve that problem pretty well. Millionaires can spend all the money they want, but their opponents get matching funds. That being the case, millionaires have a lot of incentive not to spend their own dough, since it gives them no advantage.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 8, 2007 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK

Or, just get rid of elections. Instead, make public service like jury duty. You get assigned to be your district's Rep, or your state's Senator, or whatever.

Posted by: craigie on January 8, 2007 at 1:47 AM | PERMALINK

So, "disagreeing" = "caving in to your corporate backers"?

You propagandists are so tiresome.

Posted by: am on January 8, 2007 at 1:56 AM | PERMALINK

I must cave to my corporate backers on this one, and by that I mean disagree with 'am.'

Actually, propaganda is most often invigorating.

Posted by: apologist on January 8, 2007 at 2:08 AM | PERMALINK

"Or, just get rid of elections. Instead, make public service like jury duty. You get assigned to be your district's Rep, or your state's Senator, or whatever."
>Posted by: craigie on January 8, 2007 at 1:47 AM

I believe Athens used this system way back in the day, for all but the top political offices and military commanders. Basically, there was a class of people who were eligible and the offices were filled at random. Maybe not such a great idea for a huge country (as opposed to a city), not to mention that the chance science policy would be set by a creationist is just too large.

As for public financing, I know a person who used to work for a member of the German parliament. I don't think they spend very much time at all raising money. They actually, you know, focus on the issues and such. That might be nice for a change.

Posted by: bs23 on January 8, 2007 at 3:06 AM | PERMALINK

Even simpler, just ban the GOP. They've got nothing worthwhile to say anyway.

And about time, too.

Then just put Democrats in power for life, with severe penalties for opposition in any form, and you won't have these stupid "election" problems.

It's worked great in so many other countries.

Posted by: dnc on January 8, 2007 at 3:28 AM | PERMALINK

I'm all for public financing, IF the new system is a thoroughgoing reform. Most campaign finance reform efforts have been very partial, just tinkering at the edges. Increased regulation, increased hoops to jump in the way of reporting both of money and activity, actually just work as incumbent protection: you need the big money and the accountants and lawyers just to fill out the reports.

Maybe complete public financing can be enacted that doesn't create more barriers to popular participation than it solves -- but I need some convincing.

Posted by: janinsanfran on January 8, 2007 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK

One of the last acts of a recent outgoing PM up here, Chretien, was campaign finance reform. Both union and corporate donations were severely curtailed, and some public funding provided in proportion to vote shares to compensate (I should say Chretien's long rule itself was fairly corrupt, it was sort of a deathbed conversion).

In any event. The interesting thing turns out to be not the effect on the Conservative party, but on the Liberal Party (our Democrats). Their traditional role in Canada is basically as brokers between the corporate class and the populist left, with the conservatives as their competition for government and the NDP a rump on the left and rare minority government partner.

A friend attended the recent Liberal convention and he reports that the atendees look an awful lot like the mainstream NDPers (social democrats) now. There's been a noticeable shift in power on the floor. He claims, and other observers agree, you could actually watch the old patronage networks falling apart as each round of voting proceeded. The expected corporate-compatible candidate (iggy) did not win; our likely next PM is a geeky professor, a canadian nationalist from quebec, who has suddenly made global warming a leading issue.

So a better motive for campaign finance reform might be for each party to be able to clean up its own house, rather than its effect on the other side.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on January 8, 2007 at 5:52 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, none of the proposed solutions pass constitutional muster thanks in no small part to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1978 ruling in Buckley v. Vallejo, which equated the right to spend money with the right of free speech.

I happen to think that the ruling could be challenged in part because it runs counter to both the spirit and the intent of the Constitution's equal protection clause. Nobody should be afforded the right and opportunity to overwhelm or drown out the free speech of others, simply because of one possesses a financial capacity to inordinately dominate or even monopolize the media, the 21st century's equivalent of the town square.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 8, 2007 at 6:42 AM | PERMALINK

Wow. The new representatives and senators have barely taken their oath of office. Their sweaty palm prints are still on their "book which best reflects my spiritual choices". And already liberals are scheming, looking for ways to roll back the reforms of the past decade.

Posted by: Al on January 8, 2007 at 7:08 AM | PERMALINK

Of course, Kevin, the $3 billion in free propaganda provided by Sun Myung Moon to the GOP didn’t hurt, either. Until the Democrats can either defund the GOP slime machine or build one of their own that can compete, they will be at a structural disadvantage in national elections.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 8, 2007 at 7:10 AM | PERMALINK

A lot of the cost of campaigns comes from the need to buy TV. Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine and requiring some amount of free political advertising under licensing would help reduce the cost of campaigns, while also reducing TV's political heft.

Yeah, Al, the Gingrich-Delay-Abramoff era was a paradise of Good Government.

Posted by: John Emerson on January 8, 2007 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

Consider this: endless discussion about how politicians are all up for sale = increased public cynicism about politicians = no public interest in subsidizing their campaigns. Maybe (in an alternate universe, that is) if we heard more about the "worthy" politicians - the social workers, teachers and nurses who hold public office - people would be more interested in helping their fellow citizens get elected. As it stands now, no way will we reach critical mass in favor of spending taxpayer money to support political ads, phone calls, etc. that most people characterize as simply 'mudslinging.'

There is a lot of willful ignorance on the liberal side (my side) about campaign finance reform. McCain Feingold made it more difficult to aggregate small contributions - which makes it more difficult for candidates without a country-club network to raise money, and more difficult for contributors of modest means to band together to make their voices heard. It made fundraising more labor and cost intensive, resulting in party candidate recruitment drifting further in favor of self-funded candidates. And no one can point to any intended positive outcome from all that hullaballoo.

Still, we seem hell-bent in supporting another round of 'reform' without considering the consequences.

When I hear "public funding of campaigns," I think about the jumble of ballot access regs and voter access issues across the country. Then I think about this: which candidates would get access to public funding for their campaign? Who would set the rules? Who would set the amounts? What about candidates who don't qualify - is there an arbitration mechanism? And do we have any reason to think we'd be happier with the way this is handled than we are now with the FEC or IRS oversight of nonprofit political activity or with the roll out of electronic voting? And does the term 'fox in charge of hen house' occur only to me?

Posted by: nm in dc on January 8, 2007 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

"A lot of the cost of campaigns comes from the need to buy TV. Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine and requiring some amount of free political advertising under licensing would help reduce the cost of campaigns, while also reducing TV's political heft."

A-yuh. I can remember a time when the airwaves were a public trust, and not a license to print money for God's chosen. A half-hour a day from September through November, rotated among candidates, should nicely serve the public trust--they can use the old 7-8 EST slot, the one given to the local stations to foster local programming, now used for various judges and various game shows.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on January 8, 2007 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

I agree we should stop the flow of unregulated, untracked corporate money into political campaigns. We also need to develop a method for unbreaking an egg. I'll get right to work on the latter, it being the more feasible task.

Posted by: steve duncan on January 8, 2007 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

Craigie and John Emerson caught the missing piece: reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine (which will destroy Faux News), and either banning televised campaign advertisements or making them into free public service announcements.

Ban the GOP? C'mon, Craigie - where we would we go for entertainment?

Posted by: Yellow Dog on January 8, 2007 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

Irony alert: "am" wrote You propagandists are so tiresome.

Indeed.

And speaking of which, while it is not strange at all that "ex-liberal" continues to post dishonest false premises like "It is strange that liberals would prefer to be governed by the billionaires," it's exceedingly strange that Drum would overlook it and respond as if "ex-liberal" has anything of value to contribute to the discussion other than propaganda. What gives?

Posted by: Gregory on January 8, 2007 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

We are about to see the first attempts at oversight in 6 years. Look at the wreckage: Middle East, world climate, Katrina's legacy, the economy, the budget, the law, pollution, health care, corporate behavior, ... Every stone you turn over, you're going to find corruption, shielded by elected officials who have been bought and sold.

There has never been a better time to look at campaign finance reform. Wherever something has gone dramatically wrong--and where hasn't it?--just follow the money and you'll find an "elected official" who betrayed the people for a price, by acting or by blocking action. And behind that corrupt elected officlal you'll find the people who paid for the privilege.

If the public can see the interactions--including who is profiting, and how--the public might maintain a level of interest and anger that would sustain some housecleaning. The Republicans' success in keeping Democrats away from the trough should make it easier for Democrats to see what's wrong with selling out the people.

Posted by: crackadiddle on January 8, 2007 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

Sign me up for reinstating the Fairness Doctrine (which would do more to torpedo wingnut talk radio than Faux News, IMO).

I'd say that the rise of the right-wing Mighty Wurlitzer was an unintended consequence of the laspe of the Fairness Doctrine, but given the conservatives' decades-long working the refs complaining about the so-called "liberal media," I doubt it was unintended at all.

Posted by: Gregory on January 8, 2007 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

Donald from Hawaii wrote: Unfortunately, none of the proposed solutions pass constitutional muster thanks in no small part to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1978 ruling in Buckley v. Vallejo, which equated the right to spend money with the right of free speech.

Word. This awful ruling is the basis of the dishonest claims by some (hi again, "ex-liberal"!) that campaign finance reform is an attempt to stifle "free speech."

I happen to think that the ruling could be challenged

Well, it's about time, that's for sure.

Posted by: Gregory on January 8, 2007 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

Stopping corporate cash flows to political campaigns will be difficult.

But unveiling such flows may work even better. Congressional DFL'ers should work on legislation to make corporate campaign contributions completely transparent, or even highlighted. If corporations are making honest, no-strings-attached donations, why should they worry?

The GOP was just kicked out because people understood they were corrupted by money and power. Voters are currently very sensitive to (perceived) congressional influences.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on January 8, 2007 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

"Public Financing" is a non-offensive, generic phrase that sounds like a good idea.

But just wait until the voters realize nutjobs like Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton get millions in taxpayer dollars to run their campaigns under "Public Financing. Tax-payer dollars!

Posted by: Frequency Kenneth on January 8, 2007 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

"Frequency Kenneth" wrote: But just wait until the voters realize nutjobs like Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton get millions in taxpayer dollars to run their campaigns under "Public Financing. Tax-payer dollars!

Why stop there? How about Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Katharine Harris?

Posted by: Gregory on January 8, 2007 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

"Any system that uses corporate dollars to fund candidates' bids for office will, almost by definition, advantage the party that hews closest to corporate interests."

That's it in a shellnut. The only solution is public financing.

Period.

Posted by: Gerald Scorse on January 8, 2007 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

First, we need to ban the media from demanding and accepting payment for political speech. (We need to recognize this for the bribery that it is.) If they want to run political ads for free, fine -- as long as they obviously and explicitly identify their financial and political support for the message in those ads. (For those who think this gives the media too much power, think again. They already have all the power -- its called "editorial content.") The only significant consequence of banning payment for ads and making the media owner's support for any ads that are run explicit would be to eliminate most political advertising, and to diminish the impact of those few that did run (by making the self-interest behind the ads explicit). Banning the media from accepting payment for political speech would free both public and private funds for more direct and democratic uses -- like candidate travel, town meetings, candidate debates, etc.

The truth is, in an electronic media/paid advertising dominated democracy, there is no such thing as "free" speech for anyone other than the owners of the media. Public financing will not change this because no matter how we choose to pay (with public money or private) the only speech that is allowed and will be allowed is speech that those who own the media choose to allow (speech that serves, or at least doesn't conflict with, their interests and those of their advertisers). Without money, its true, you can't get your messaged aired. But, even enough money is no guarantee that you will get your message aired -- especially if it is an economically progressive message. At best, money, public or private, only provides a hope that MAYBE you can bribe them to air your message. If they object to your message, on any grounds they choose to trump up, they can, do, and will, refuse to air it, despite your ability to pay.

For this reason, public financing of political advertising, without any restriction on the payment that can be demanded by the real gatekeepers of political speech, is a joke.

I don't want my tax dollars wasted fattening the bottom line of the media and the political consulting industry that has brought our democratic conversation so low. And I don't believe many other Americans want that either.

In fact, I believe that is the real, and difficult to surmount, obstacle to public financing of campaigns.

Posted by: esmense on January 8, 2007 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

We don't need this to be popular. It's not like it's truly UNPOPULAR. Average citizens expend no effort protecting corporations, they just see railing against them as pointless without leadership. If the Democratic party takes the lead on this, the people will likely follow. Anyway, we just need to blackmail enough of our members to pass something as soon as we have the Presidency. Don't bother with appeals to conscience, use raw force. It's the only way to win against these people.

Posted by: soullite on January 8, 2007 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

Since the demographic trends of the United States ensure that the Democratic party will be the one, dominate party in the future, all finance campaign reform ensures is that the most liberal, most activist part of the Democratic party will be able to choose who is elected during the Democratic Primary.

Posted by: superdestroyer on January 8, 2007 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

As Petey mentioned upthread, Edwards has been explicit in his support for public financing of elections since '04. That is one great reason to support him. We must never get 'tired' of the issue, never never never. The current system is laughably corrupt, and well beneath the dignity of a big powerful country.

Posted by: jonnybutter on January 8, 2007 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

"If the Democratic party takes the lead on this, the people will likely follow."

Not if the Democratic party refuses to recognize the REASONS behind the public's lukewarm response to public financing of campaigns.

Putting more money into a degraded and corrupt system of public discourse won't make that system, or the discourse, any less degraded or corrupt. It will just further fatten the purses, and serve the interests, of those who currently benefit.

You can't just change how the media gets paid. You have to change the rules and create new channels of political communication beyond the media.

Posted by: esmense on January 8, 2007 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Politicians could run their campaigns solely on individual donations without the need for public financing.

Politicians don't need millions of dollars to get elected. Politicians got elected before big money mattered and before television ads became so expensive.

Television ads are the biggest campaign expense. Cable companies can use one of the hundreds of channels sitting there not being used, to provide a political ad channel that runs campaign ads on a loop 24/7. No politician could then complain that their message wasn't getting out.

Also, if you can a afford a website, then you can put all your political positions and views out there, for anyone to read 24/7. It doesn't get much cheeper than that to get out your "message".

I would also mandate politicians to hold at least 4 town hall meetings a year to explain their votes and answer questions from their constituants. No more ducking the voters. If you can't meet with employees, the voters, then you should apply for other work.

If the only choice is between the current system or public financing, I'd support public financing, since the system now is so corrupt, it's basically legal bribery.

Posted by: AkaDad on January 8, 2007 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

it's exceedingly strange that Drum would overlook it and respond as if "ex-liberal" has anything of value to contribute to the discussion other than propaganda. What gives?

Basically, when someone is showing themselves to be ignorant of basic facts, there is no need to insult them. Treating them with courtesy, as if they were a serious participant in the discussion, is far more devastating, and can sometimes end up actually transforming their attitude.

Posted by: brooksfoe on January 8, 2007 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

I'm hip with pub camp finance IF it includes third-party candidates having at least a partial cut.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 8, 2007 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK
This awful ruling is the basis of the dishonest claims by some (hi again, "ex-liberal"!) that campaign finance reform is an attempt to stifle "free speech."

There is nothing awful about Buckley v. Valeo. Freedom of speech is precisely the right to expend one's own resources promoting one's views and seeking to get others to accept and act on them; and the most important kind of speech sought to be protected by the 1st Amendment is advocacy of lawful political activity.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2007 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

If the only choice is between the current system or public financing, I'd support public financing, since the system now is so corrupt, it's basically legal bribery.
Posted by: AkaDad

===================================================

Basically? Why the qualifier?

Posted by: Jimmy Breslin on January 8, 2007 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Basically? Why the qualifier?

I'ts funny that you mention it, because I almost left it out. I just like using the word basically, basically.

Posted by: AkaDad on January 8, 2007 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Kevin. Zack's article is worth a thorough reading.

Ethics-lobbying reform, public financing of elections, and reinstating the Fairness Doctrine... Bring 'em on!

Read Obama's op/ed on ethics reform. The Feingold-Obama bill will be introduced next week according to The Hill.

Also an excellent piece by David Sirota on public financing in Washington state and beyond. (h/t to Digby's Hullabaloo)

Posted by: Apollo 13 on January 8, 2007 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Basically, when someone is showing themselves to be ignorant of basic facts, there is no need to insult them. Treating them with courtesy, as if they were a serious participant in the discussion, is far more devastating, and can sometimes end up actually transforming their attitude.

Well, goodness knows "ex-liberal" shows him/her/itself to be ignorant of basic facts often enough, but that's usually in service of lying by omission. I can accept that maybe -- maybe -- Kevin was tring to expose "ex-liberal"'s ignorance while snubbing his/her/its dishonesty, but if you believe, at this late date, that anything is likely to transform "ex-liberal"'s attitude -- or, indeed, if something already has, as if he/she/it ever was a liberal -- I have a bridge to sell you. It's a mug's game, and as I've said before, I see no reason to give "ex-liberal" a pass on his/her/its serial dishonesty.

There is nothing awful about Buckley v. Valeo.

I hate to disagree with you, cmdicely, but since I don't accpet that money == speech, I'm forced to.

Freedom of speech is precisely the right to expend one's own resources promoting one's views and seeking to get others to accept and act on them; and the most important kind of speech sought to be protected by the 1st Amendment is advocacy of lawful political activity.

Funny, then, how "advocacy of lawful political activity" is entirely absent from the plain text of the First Amendment. It is, however, language common to the rants of our mutual friend Will Allen. I was expecting that he would show up to rant about his, ah, unique (but ruggedly individualist!) worldview (which is notable for nothing if not for its failure to get others to accept and act on them) on this topic; I didn't expect you to channel it, I must say.

But to retort, even if money==speech, the public interest in limiting corruption, or the perception of corruption, is IMO more than sufficient to restrict, say, large corporate contributions, whitewashed donations through phony fronts, "slush funds," etc.

Posted by: Gregory on January 8, 2007 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

The key thing for progressives is not to give money to corporate lobbyists like Ed Kilgore.

Posted by: Brojo on January 8, 2007 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK
I hate to disagree with you, cmdicely, but since I don't accpet that money == speech, I'm forced to.

Well, that's something a false dichotomy, since "money == speech" is not a fair characterization of Buckley v. Valeo. (If it were, limits on donations of money to political causes, including campaigns, would be unconstitutional as equivalent to limits on advocacy of those causes — that is not the case; instead, what Buckley v. Valeo held was the rather obvious conclusion that limiting expending personal resources on advocacy with specified content is exactly a content-based limitation on advocacy contrary to the First Amendment.)

Funny, then, how "advocacy of lawful political activity" is entirely absent from the plain text of the First Amendment.

"Precisely" was too limited of language, I should have said "most importantly", since clearly the First Amendment protects more than just that; but in any case its not particularly surprising that either a subset or an equivalent rephrasing of the content of a Constitutional protection would not be found verbatim in its description, so your response is ludicrous; it would make sense if you were to go on to support an argument that the First Amendment did not include such advocacy within its purview, which you do not, instead preferring to attempt a fallacious guilty by association attack, to wit:

It is, however, language common to the rants of our mutual friend Will Allen.

Which, in addition to not being any kind of rebuttal to the substance of the argument that it is offered against, appears to be false, in that it doesn't appear that Will Allen has ever used that particular language on this site.

I was expecting that he would show up to rant about his, ah, unique (but ruggedly individualist!) worldview (which is notable for nothing if not for its failure to get others to accept and act on them) on this topic; I didn't expect you to channel it, I must say.

My view that "campaign finance reform" efforts often rely on unconstitutional means and attempts to institute policies that would be if adopted, and are when adopted, ineffective at treating the problem they notionally address has nothing to do with Will Allen's worldview.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2007 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

i don't particularly like Buckley v. Valeo, but I think voluntary public financing sidesteps the money=speech fallacy. No one is restricting the right of candidates to spend their money. this is just adding more speech for people who can't afford it.

Posted by: benjoya on January 8, 2007 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

What we ought to do is simply legally prohibit companies and corporations from making political contributions. If the humans who own them want to contribute they can do so themselves.

Really I think they ought to be prohibited from charity as well (specifically because "charities" are a way to get around political fundraising restrictions), again if thier owners want to support charity they can do so without the corrupting middleman of the corporation.

If rich people want to band together to influence policy they can form political organizations to do so without hijacking part of the return on my savings.

Corporations aren't people, they are machines.

Posted by: jefff on January 8, 2007 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

jefff: What we ought to do is simply legally prohibit companies and corporations from making political contributions. If the humans who own them want to contribute they can do so themselves.

We've had just what you suggest for many years. PACs are a standard way around that. That contributors to a PAC just happen to work for the same company is not illegal, since the contributions are "voluntary".

Posted by: alex on January 8, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

in any case its not particularly surprising that either a subset or an equivalent rephrasing of the content of a Constitutional protection would not be found verbatim in its description, so your response is ludicrous

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Posted by: Gregory on January 8, 2007 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: I've yet to see a "campaign finance reform" that would actually appear to do much reduce the influence of corporate money, or just plain wealth disparities, on campaigns, though most would serve to obscure the influence, and make it less obvious.

How do the Arizona and Maine laws merely obscure the influence?

Posted by: alex on January 8, 2007 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

By the by, irony alert: this post complains that my post was "not being any kind of rebuttal to the substance of the argument", and then utterly fails to address the substance of my argument: even if money==speech, the public interest in limiting corruption, or the perception of corruption, is IMO more than sufficient to restrict, say, large corporate contributions, whitewashed donations through phony fronts, "slush funds," etc.

Posted by: Gregory on January 8, 2007 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

The answer is what it has always been. No restrictions on contributions, and absolute and easily-accessed transparency on donors, preferably online.

Every dollar should have an obvious trail to the donor. None of these fake organizations that pop up to disguise the actual interests behind them.

Government financing of elections just moves the potential for corruption from one place to another.

Posted by: harry on January 8, 2007 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

My understanding of the Arizona system frequently cited as a model for other states or the feds is that it combines opt-in public financing and "fair-fight" compensation in the event that other candidates either don't opt in or have independent expenditures made directly endorsing them.

A wealthy party interested in influencing elections under such a regime clearly can't directly give to a candidate, or independently fund advertising, etc., endorsing that candidate and expect to have it be effective. OTOH, they can give to (or create as an astroturf organization) an issue advocacy group advocating the same issues that the candidate is advocating, seeking to improve the resonance of the candidates message. Or they can give money to existing ideologically-biased media outlets that can be trusted to do selective, independent "opposition research" and scandal-mongering directed at candidates opposed to the preferred one or ones. You can establish a history of providing jobs (either directly or by funding political think tanks) for friendly politicians should they leave office (voluntarily or involuntarily, temporarily or permanently), and for providing them, in such positions, the opportunity to keep in the public eye and prepare for a return if their absence is unintended or just intended to be temporary.


There are lots of ways those with money can provide inducements to politicians to serve their interests. Campaign finance reform closes off only the most obvious routes of influence.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2007 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

I suppose, in your mind, that had some bearing on the discussion.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2007 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK
By the by, irony alert: this post complains that my post was "not being any kind of rebuttal to the substance of the argument", and then utterly fails to address the substance of my argument: even if money==speech, the public interest in limiting corruption, or the perception of corruption, is IMO more than sufficient to restrict, say, large corporate contributions, whitewashed donations through phony fronts, "slush funds," etc.

Except, of course, that it didn't fail to address that at all, but instead, in its last sentence, questioned the unsupported premise on which that rests, that such restrictions actually have any substantial utility against corruption.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2007 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

I suppose, in your mind, that had some bearing on the discussion.

You said: in any case its not particularly surprising that either a subset or an equivalent rephrasing of the content of a Constitutional protection would not be found verbatim in its description, so your response is ludicrous

But the Second Amendment does specify the protection in its plain text, so the response is far from ludicrous.

And further, the fact remains that the First Amendment does not mention political speech at all, nor any kind of speech. The Second Amendment specifies what kind of rights it protects; the First does not, in its plain text, single out any kind of speech as "more equal than others". So again, the response -- that is, my response, at least -- is far from ludicrous.

Posted by: Gregory on January 8, 2007 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Except, of course, that it didn't fail to address that at all, but instead, in its last sentence, questioned the unsupported premise on which that rests, that such restrictions actually have any substantial utility against corruption.

Then with your "view that "campaign finance reform" efforts often rely on unconstitutional means and attempts to institute policies that would be if adopted, and are when adopted, ineffective at treating the problem they notionally address," we apparently have dueling unsupported premises.

But regardless of whether a particular law is effective at rooting out corruption, the fact is that the compelling public interest to do so can indeed trump the "money==speech" argument (which, while I normally defer to cmdicely's opinion of legal matters, I maintain is a fair reading of Buckley v Valeo).

Posted by: Gregory on January 8, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

There are lots of ways those with money can provide inducements to politicians to serve their interests. Campaign finance reform closes off only the most obvious routes of influence.

Since campaign finance reform closes off the most obvious routes of influence, then why not do it? Yes, corruption may move elsewhere, in another form, but since we have a corrupt system right here, right now, then throwing up one's hands and saying corruption in general is inevitable is a poor reason not to implement reforms.

Posted by: Gregory on January 8, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

But regardless of whether a particular law is effective at rooting out corruption, the fact is that the compelling public interest to do so can indeed trump the "money==speech" argument

No, without both actually reducing corruption and having its effects limited to where it is necessary to reduce corruption, a policy could not be narrowly tailored to acheive the "compelling public interest" you describe, and therefore, even granting that the interest is sufficiently compelling, the fundamental right of freedom of speech would not be "trumped".

Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats should have as easy a time collecting corporate cash as the Republicans. The Democrats actually have a better track record on restraining government growth and fiscal responsibility.

The problem the Democrats have is that they are fundamentally stupid and honest; while Republicans counter with intelligence and dis-honesty.

I say the Democrats are stupid because they cannot see the big government/flat taxing conservatives in their own midst. I mean the guys who propose things like national health insurance with government rationing on a flat taxed revenue. Idiots who propose this are just as idiotic as Republican conservatives who push for flat taxes and unlimited growth in government.

The difference is Democratic conservaties take their fascism seriously while Republicans know they are just faking their fascism to get a few more bucks from government growth.

Corporations know that their economic health depends on progressive tax rates and smaller government. It is exactly the message they would pay for if we did not have idiots in the Democratic party confusing the message.


Posted by: Matt on January 8, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK
Since campaign finance reform closes off the most obvious routes of influence, then why not do it?

Because it makes honest, open, non-corrupt advocacy more regulation-burdened for everyone in order to merely reduce the obviousness of the corrupting influence of the concentration of wealth, without substantially reducing either the reality of the corrupting influence of money or the underlying problem of the increasing concentration of wealth.

In doing so, it seems to me to primarily serve to preserve the fundamental corruption and insulate it.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2007 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK
But the Second Amendment does specify the protection in its plain text,

There are many subsets and equivalent rephrasings of the protections of the Second Amendment taht are not specified in its plain text.

And further, the fact remains that the First Amendment does not mention political speech at all, nor any kind of speech.

True.

The Second Amendment specifies what kind of rights it protects;

So does the first.

the First does not, in its plain text, single out any kind of speech as "more equal than others".

Nor does the Second Amendment, in its plain text, single out any kind of "arms" as "more equal than others". So what? (Yes, it, along with the Copyright Clause, has the unusual, in the Constitution, feature of attaching a specific motivation to a power or restriction, but I don't see how that is relevant here except as a distraction.)

So again, the response -- that is, my response, at least -- is far from ludicrous.

I fail to see how the example is germane at all to your response, much less reduces the degree to which it is ludicrous.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Campaign finance reform / public funding advocates have been running on fumes for too long now.

First of all, some of us seem to periodically forget that "corporations" does not only mean big, evil energy companies but also labor unions and non-profit issue advocacy groups whose memberships are low and middle income people.

We also seem to forget that we already have full dislosure, at least on the federal level, for direct contributions, in-kind contributions, and independent expenditures.

And you know what? Nobody cares. Who gave money to whom is just not that important an issue to people. And do you know why? Because campaign finance reform advocates (among others) have been telling the public for years that ALL politicians are corrupt. The fact that such-and-such politician accepted a campaign contribution from Corporation X means nothing to people, because they already assume this to be the general rule. Transparency is a good thing, but it doesn't result in the kind of change advocates claim it does.

Its about time advocates start using some specific examples to back up the rhetoric.

I'd like a few examples of how the public exposure of a contribution from Corporate Fat Cat X made an appreciable difference in a campaign.

Also, I'd like a few examples of members of congress whose voting pattern on an issue was altered based on campaign contributions from interested parties. Not bribe taking, which is already illegal - I'm talking campaign contributions that are permissible under the current system.

In other words, show me cause and effect.

Betcha can't do it...

And really, with regard to public financing, how do you people answer the question of who gets to decide who gets money, how much, when, and so on in a way that doesn't privilege certain people over others?

Honestly, sometimes I think the reform community won't be satisfied until we've turned the Senate into the House of Lords.

Posted by: nm in dc on January 8, 2007 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

nm in dc: Its about time advocates start using some specific examples to back up the rhetoric.

After a long and ardous search (1st hit of a Google on "correlation campaign contributions votes") I got this:

http://www.opensecrets.org/alerts/v6/alertv6_44.asp

Next strawman please.

Posted by: alex on January 8, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Gosh, I'd never heard of Open Secrets before! I was so surprised to follow the link and find that... campaign contributions are real, and are taking place even as we speak! My hands are shaking so badly I can barely type.

Doesn't Feingold take PAC money - from PACs that are attached to corporations? I guess he's corrupt too - or so it would appear.

Still waiting.

Posted by: nm in dc on January 8, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

without both actually reducing corruption and having its effects limited to where it is necessary to reduce corruption, a policy could not be narrowly tailored to acheive the "compelling public interest" you describe, and therefore, even granting that the interest is sufficiently compelling, the fundamental right of freedom of speech would not be "trumped".

Well, of course, campaign finance repofrm is by definition "limited to where it is necessary to reduce corruption," as you admitted when you said "campaign finance reform closes off the most obvious routes of influence." As to "actually reducing corruption," again, I think it's disingenuous to link the effects of campaign finance refore to reducing overall corruption -- it would likely not affect government contractor kickbacks at all, for example -- as opposed to reducing the corruption currently perceived -- i.e. Congresscritters acting in the interests of their big (read: corporate) donors, as opposed to their human constituents. Now, perhaps a challenge could emerge that a given campaign finance law was not, in fact, effective, and therefore did not serve a compelling public interest, but your position, as I perceive it, that campaign finance laws don't make corruption go away and are therefore ineffective smacks to me as the most egregious example of an unsupported premise yet.

Because it makes honest, open, non-corrupt advocacy more regulation-burdened for everyone in order to merely reduce the obviousness of the corrupting influence of the concentration of wealth

How does, say, laws against contributions by corporations "[make] honest, open, non-corrupt advocacy more regulation-burdened for everyone"? How do limits on large cash contributions do so? Your agrument is, let's say, counter-intuitive.

without substantially reducing either the reality of the corrupting influence of money or the underlying problem of the increasing concentration of wealth

Well, duh. Wealth has been a corrupting influence -- and recognized as such -- since time immemorial. No amount of legislation has ever made that problem go away -- but even though laws against, say, bribery don't make the problem go away, that's no reason to repeal them, eh?

In doing so, it seems to me to primarily serve to preserve the fundamental corruption and insulate it.

Again, you're making a leap between "fundamental corruption," which campaign finance doesn't pretend to address, and specific corruption -- that is, the perception (wholly accurate, in my view) that Congresscritters are beholden to large campaign contributors -- which campaign finance reform can and does address.

Regarding the First / Second Amendment debate, the fact remains that the First doesn't address, specifically, political speech at all, in any way, nor does it specify protecting political speech at all. There's no indication in the text for claiming that the First Amendment even protects political speech "most importantly" (and as I noted, even speech in general plays second fiddle to religion, which is mentioned first).

Nor does the Second Amendment, in its plain text, single out any kind of "arms" as "more equal than others".

Yes, it does -- it notes that arms borne by a militia are necessary to the security of a free state. (Given the relative histories and performance of militia versus a professional army, I'd tend to disagree, of course, although I acknowledge that in colonial times a militia was vital as point defense. But I digress.)

Posted by: Gregory on January 8, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

nm in dc: some of us seem to periodically forget that "corporations" does not only mean big, evil energy companies but also labor unions and non-profit issue advocacy groups

Historically, campaign finance reform has focused on both labor unions and for-profit corporations (in case the shorthand "corporations" was too obscure for you). In fact, PACs were invented by unions.

Since I've already done some difficult research for you, why don't you return the favor. What is the ratio of bribes (oops, campaign contributions) contributed by PACs associated with for-profit corporations to not-for-profit corporations?

We also seem to forget that we already have full dislosure

Whoopey! It's ok as long as you know who you're getting screwed by.

While we're at it, why not just require full disclosure for the more traditional forms of bribery. Congressman X acknowledges the contribution of $1M by for-profit corporation Y to his personal finances. Hey, it would be ok then, right?

And you know what? Nobody cares. Who gave money to whom is just not that important an issue to people.

Uh-huh. Some people are apathetic, because they think it's beyond hope. Others are idiots. The rest of us care.

And really, with regard to public financing, how do you people answer the question of who gets to decide who gets money, how much, when, and so on in a way that doesn't privilege certain people over others?

Oh no! Details are involved! My head will explode unless the entire solution can fit on a bumper sticker. Help! (see AZ and ME for starters).

Posted by: alex on January 8, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

nm in dc: Gosh, I'd never heard of Open Secrets before!

I'm glad I enlightened you.

I was so surprised to follow the link and find that... campaign contributions are real, and are taking place even as we speak!

And that they correlate with votes (the thing you smugly dared anyone to show, and that took me 10 seconds to show).

Doesn't Feingold take PAC money - from PACs that are attached to corporations? I guess he's corrupt too - or so it would appear.

Yup, he's as corrupt as you need to be to be a US Senator. But maybe he's tired of being a whore, which is why he promotes other forms of campaign finance.

Still waiting.

For what? I demolished your argument in my 1st reply.

Posted by: alex on January 8, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK
Well, of course, campaign finance repofrm is by definition "limited to where it is necessary to reduce corruption," as you admitted when you said "campaign finance reform closes off the most obvious routes of influence."

Er, no. Campaign finance reform may be intended to address corruption, or describe policies sold as doing so, but that by no means means that anything labelled as "campaign finance reform" is therefore necessarily, "by definition", narrowly tailored to restrict only where, in fact, necessary to address corruption.

Nor did I admit anything like that by saying that campaign finance reform closes off the most obvious routes of influence. Saying that X does some subset of Y is not saying that everything X does is within Y.

As to "actually reducing corruption," again, I think it's disingenuous to link the effects of campaign finance refore to reducing overall corruption -- it would likely not affect government contractor kickbacks at all, for example

I don't think its disingenouous at all, but instead essential. But your example is odd, it seems to conflate reducing overall corruption with reducing every form of corruption, which is a very different thing. But if it doesn't reduce overall corruption, then it does, on balance, no good at all (at least, against corruption.)

Now, perhaps a challenge could emerge that a given campaign finance law was not, in fact, effective, and therefore did not serve a compelling public interest, but your position, as I perceive it, that campaign finance laws don't make corruption go away and are therefore ineffective smacks to me as the most egregious example of an unsupported premise yet.

Since that's not my position, at all, I don't really care how that position strikes you.


How does, say, laws against contributions by corporations "[make] honest, open, non-corrupt advocacy more regulation-burdened for everyone"?

They don't. Nor do I oppose (generally, already in force) laws against direct corporate contributions, even though they don't particularly do all that much. In fact, in talking about the kind of limits affected by Buckley v. Valeo, I'm not talking limits on contributions to campaigns at all, but limits on independent spending.

How do limits on large cash contributions do so?

Depends on the definition of "large", but again, I'm not talking about limits on contributions to campaigns, but to the types of "campaign finance reform" where Buckley v. Valeo is implicated.


Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2007 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Zack is right about corporate whoring...it's the single greatest thing preventing us from dealing effectively with the big issues of the day, which we really aren't dealing with at all. I haven't read his plan yet, but it sounds good so far.

Posted by: Jimm on January 8, 2007 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Buckley v. Valeo fails to differentiate between "free" speech and "bought-and-paid-for" speech. There is a difference. If political speech were truly free, then my campaign contributions would buy me the same amount of influence as say, Richard Mellon-Scaifes', buys for him. However, anyone knows that the $100 I give to the Democratic Party doesn't buy me anywhere near the same amount of influence as the $100,000 that Mellon-Scaife gives to the Republican Party buys him. So, "free" is a misnomer, isn't it?? We should be talking about "equivalent speech" and then we could get meaningful campaign finance reform.

There is this quaint old concept of "one man, one vote". We clearly have allowed that concept to be corrupted.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 8, 2007 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK
If political speech were truly free, then my campaign contributions would buy me the same amount of influence as say, Richard Mellon-Scaifes', buys for him.

No, that doesn't follow at all. "Free" does not mean anything which would make that make sense. Further, Buckley v. Valeo (and, more fundamentally, the first amendment itself) deals with freedom (equivalent to liberty) of speech, not "free" (in the sense of gratis) speech.


We should be talking about "equivalent speech" and then we could get meaningful campaign finance reform.

Sure, if first you replaced the First Amendment language prohibiting abridging the "freedom of speech" with a provision prohibiting abridging the "equivalence of speech".

Until then, no.

There is this quaint old concept of "one man, one vote".

Ah, so now you want to write into law "money == votes"?

Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely, the basic premise of democratic government is that no individual has more power than any other (let's not quibble about whether or not the US is a "true democracy" since it is irrelavant to my point).

By equivacating the act of advocacy (free speech) and the capacity (the amount of money one can spend on advocacy) you're undermining this principle.

An upper limit on campaign spending placed at several orders of magnitude higher than the typical American would only restrict the super wealthy. And then only by limiting them to the amount that any of their opponents could spend.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 8, 2007 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

No, it is you my friend, that is equating money with speech. They are not the same. If it were, then giving away money would be the same as giving away speech. Is it? My point is that if campaign contributions were "speech", then regardless of how much you gave, it wouldn't affect the amount of influence you had on the political process. That clearly isn't true. That is also why the Supreme Court has held time and time again that placing ceilings on how much a person (or a corporation) can give is constitutional. The concept of "one man, one vote" underpins the entire democratic process, the Electoral College notwithstanding. Read The Federalist Papers.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 8, 2007 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK
cmdicely, the basic premise of democratic government is that no individual has more power than any other (let's not quibble about whether or not the US is a "true democracy" since it is irrelavant to my point).

Since you are clearly making an argument about what policy should be in the United States, whether the United States is even intended to be anything remotely resembling a "democracy' of the type you describe would not seem to be "irrelevant", but rather essential.

I would argue that the US is not now, and was never intended to be, a "democratic government" in the sense that your description would be accurate, and that its a good thing that it is not.

By equivacating the act of advocacy (free speech) and the capacity (the amount of money one can spend on advocacy) you're undermining this principle.

Assuming you mean "equating", here, that's not at all what I'm doing. I'm saying, indeed, that the act is distinct from the capacity, and that the Constitution guarantees freedom of the act, not artificial equivalence of the capacity.

An upper limit on campaign spending placed at several orders of magnitude higher than the typical American would only restrict the super wealthy.

Perhaps; I'm not sure if you are referring to contributions to a campaign or spending by a campaign here, in the latter case I'd disagree. But, in any case, the Constitution does not say "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, except if it is limited to the superwealthy."


Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2007 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK
No, it is you my friend, that is equating money with speech.

No, I'm not.

They are not the same.

Agreed.

If it were, then giving away money would be the same as giving away speech. Is it?

No, and the Supreme Court's campaign-finance related decisions don't treat them that way, either, which is why "money==speech" in reference to them is a strawman.

My point is that if campaign contributions were "speech", then regardless of how much you gave, it wouldn't affect the amount of influence you had on the political process.

Which simply doesn't follow. Different "speech",—of the usual, people moving their mouth and words coming out kind—has different effects in terms of political influence. So, even if money were speech—an argument that is, again, simply a misrepresentation of the Buckley v. Valeo holding, not something anyone is actually arguing for—your point would not be expected to be true.

That is also why the Supreme Court has held time and time again that placing ceilings on how much a person (or a corporation) can give is constitutional. The concept of "one man, one vote" underpins the entire democratic process, the Electoral College notwithstanding.

The Electoral College only violates the principal because the apportionment of both houses of Congress (the Senate, of course, far moreso than the House of Representatives) also violates it. I have trouble seeing a principle as "underpinning the entire democratic process" (at least as far as the term "democratic" has anything to do with the US Constitution) when no institution established by the US Constitution obeys it.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2007 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

A Reminder.

The whole Buckley v. Valeo thing is moot. Clean Election Money laws that get a thumbs up from SCOTUS have been written.

Posted by: alex on January 8, 2007 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

Just checking in... nope, still no specific examples of a member changing his/her vote pattern on an issue because of permissible contributions. But copious use of the words 'bribery' and 'corruption.' (I should specify that I'm talking about the federal level exclusively - I don't give a rat's ass about state politics).

I'm genuinely disappointed that there seem to be no answers to some basic questions -

- who would make decisions about the allocation of public funding for campaigns, and how would fairness be ensured (particularly to non-establishment candidates). or rather, how would we ensure this would be handled any better than ballot access, voter reg and districting are now?

- if campaign spending is limited, what would be the criteria for deciding what constitutes a campaign expenditure? What about independent expenditures - would they count under the same limit? Would that count only for supportive independent expenditures, or negative ones too? In other words, if a Dem presidential campaign spends up to the limit attacking, say, John McCain, does that mean no other group gets to critize McCain publicly until after the election? What if your group is only criticizing issue positions associated with McCain - say, troop escalation in Iraq? Does this mean someone at the FEC gets to decide whether or not you are permitted to criticize troop escalation based on their impression of whether you are also interested in the presidential campaign? And why would anyone - except John McCain - want this?

In addition, we already know that regs that make fundraising more labor and cost intensive have helped move parties' further towards favoring self-funded (superwealthy) candidates.

I suspect that if expenditures were limited, there'd be a different unintended consequence - parties/candidates would be under even more pressure to conserve funds to be spent in the most effective ways possible. One way to do this is to recruit candidates who already have high name recognition - less spending up front.

I can imagine this leading to an increase in celebrity candidates, or, unregulated "pre-campaigns" where individuals spend personal money to build a public profile unconnected to a particular election. Or, it could afford an advantage to incumbents, who can get free media through their "bully pulpit" and have subsidized mailings to constituents vs. challengers who have to beg for any scrap of attention and obviously don't have franking privileges. Either way, once again the little guy (or gal) is getting screwed.

And what really burns me up about this is the corporate media walks away the big prize. Editorial boards could still write about candidates, hand out endorsements, and promulgate their opinions to millions of readers, all on the corporate dime.

A lot of people talk very flippantly about giving the government a great deal of "oversight" / control over what can be said, by whom, when and in what manner in the political arena. I can't believe this doesn't raise more alarm bells in the very community that has watched in horror as civil liberties have been hacked away over the past six years.

Posted by: nm in dc on January 8, 2007 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK
who would make decisions about the allocation of public funding for campaigns, and how would fairness be ensured (particularly to non-establishment candidates).

If you click through the first link in the Kevin's post, and scroll down to the bottom where it says "How public financing works", you will see an answer to this.

Its really silly to whine so much about there not be an answer to a question that's addressed by the linked article from the original post.

if campaign spending is limited, what would be the criteria for deciding what constitutes a campaign expenditure? What about independent expenditures - would they count under the same limit?

How independent expenditures are addressed is discussed in that same link. How about, you read that, and ask what questions you have after doing so?

And what really burns me up about this is the corporate media walks away the big prize. Editorial boards could still write about candidates, hand out endorsements, and promulgate their opinions to millions of readers, all on the corporate dime.

Well, certainly one could argue that any fair system would treat money spent by newspapers in disseminating editorial endorsements as an "independent expenditure" in favor of the candidate no less than any expenditure some third party made to buy ads in the same newspapers would.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2007 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

First off, I'm not whining, I'm asking a question. I have followed this issue extremely closely for seven years now and have had to deal first hand with these so-called reforms.

I read the article, and the paragraph explaining how public financing would work. Nice idea - but it tells me nothing about the nuts and bolts. Here, I'll quote, since you seem so incredulous that i can read the material and still not agree:


"There are numerous approaches... the most viable would be an optional system in which, to qualify for public funds, a candidate would be required to show a basic level of grassroots support and organization by collecting a certain number of small (probably around $5) contributions."

Question: how many candidates would be allowed to qualify? Because I'm presuming the threshold would be low enough to allow people without a strong organization behind them to qualify. So what happens when 20 candidates show up? or 50? or 100? I'm sure more than a few enterprising souls would realize that if they registered as a candidate, met the threshold and got the intial grant, they could pay their friends/family handsome salaries for "political management" out of the grant and then drop out of sight - a sort of snatch-and-grab style of campaigning. I seem to remember Alan Keyes doing something along these lines...

"If his opponent chose not to participate in the system, the participating candidate would receive “fair-fight funds,” allowing him to stay competitive."

So, if one superwealthy candidate spends an exorbitant amount, every other candidate gets a matching amount? Sounds like quite a windfall for a snatch-and-grab candidate.

"Equally, if any outside group—from the Republican National Committee to the Chamber of Commerce— spent money in support of the non-participating candidate, the participating candidate would receive a check for the value of that spending."

Wow. I just got a vision of Gary Bauer funding an entirely new organization based on the windfall he'd get in this scenario. That, or buying a fleet of Mercedes "GOTV SUVs," each with custom-made booster seats.

And how would we be defining "support"? Using the current standards for what makes an expenditure independent vs. coordinated? I wonder what would happen if a group - say, the Chamber, or maybe just a Scaife type - spent a gazillion dollars in support of a non-participating candidate, and the public fund ran out of money. Might be an interesting way to support your drone candidate *and* cut off an upstart challenger at the knees.

cmdicely, you are assuming I ask these questions because I'm unfamiliar with the issues, when in fact, I'm familiar with the arguments but question how the proposals would play out in terms of actual implementation - real nuts and bolts implementation - on the federal level.

Posted by: nm in dc on January 8, 2007 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, don't you think the rise of the net for fundraising will make it easier to achieve reform? After all, if candidates know they can raise thousands and millions on the net from many citizens, won't that lower their dependance on the corps?

Posted by: elr on January 8, 2007 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK
First off, I'm not whining, I'm asking a question.

The first time, you were asking questions. You later were whining about not getting answers to them.

I have followed this issue extremely closely for seven years now and have had to deal first hand with these so-called reforms.

So?

I read the article, and the paragraph explaining how public financing would work.

Then why did the questions you asked not reflect that? Is feigned ignorance of the immediate context supposed to be better than real ignorance produced by laziness?

Here, I'll quote, since you seem so incredulous that i can read the material and still not agree

I'm not at all incredulous that you can read the material and not agree; if you've read my posts in this thread you'll note that I don't agree either.

Question: how many candidates would be allowed to qualify? Because I'm presuming the threshold would be low enough to allow people without a strong organization behind them to qualify.

Actually, I rather doubt that the threshold would be low enough to do that. But that's a good question.

I'm sure more than a few enterprising souls would realize that if they registered as a candidate, met the threshold and got the intial grant, they could pay their friends/family handsome salaries for "political management" out of the grant and then drop out of sight - a sort of snatch-and-grab style of campaigning.

Exactly one problem with the system (and the alternative, intrusive federal monitoring to make sure all campaign expenditures are bona fide campaigning is perhaps equally undesirable.)

So, if one superwealthy candidate spends an exorbitant amount, every other candidate gets a matching amount?

Actually, if you read the paragraph, its written as if it were set in stone that any candidate would have exactly one opponent. Its really not clear how it responds to multiple candidate scenarios.

cmdicely, you are assuming I ask these questions because I'm unfamiliar with the issues

No, I'm not assuming anything. I was observing that the questions that you asked did not reflect a familiarity with the issues specifically raised here, and I expressed annoyance at your petulant whining about not having questions answered to which there were answers (perhaps not as specific as you would like, but your questions did not acknowledge them at all) in the material linked from the original article.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2007 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK


To refer back to Kevin's comment about Prop 89 not breaking 25% - what I'm trying to say is that I've read the original material, the links provided by Kevin and others, and the 80 comments, AND I'm a flaming liberal / progressive, and I'm no closer to the reform position than when I started.

Perhaps I'm being overly hard-headed, but I'm part of the base, and if reformers can't convince people like me that these ideas are necessary and workable I don't see them making any great leaps forward.

Posted by: nm in dc on January 8, 2007 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely...

You said: "I've yet to see a "campaign finance reform" that would actually appear to do much reduce the influence of corporate money, or just plain wealth disparities, on campaigns, though most would serve to obscure the influence, and make it less obvious."

You were asked, "How do the Arizona and Maine laws merely obscure the influence?"

You replied: "A wealthy party interested in influencing elections under such a regime clearly can't directly give to a candidate, or independently fund advertising, etc., endorsing that candidate and expect to have it be effective. OTOH, they can give to (or create as an astroturf organization) an issue advocacy group advocating the same issues that the candidate is advocating, seeking to improve the resonance of the candidates message. Or they can give money to existing ideologically-biased media outlets that can be trusted to do selective, independent "opposition research" and scandal-mongering directed at candidates opposed to the preferred one or ones. You can establish a history of providing jobs (either directly or by funding political think tanks) for friendly politicians should they leave office (voluntarily or involuntarily, temporarily or permanently), and for providing them, in such positions, the opportunity to keep in the public eye and prepare for a return if their absence is unintended or just intended to be temporary."

My question to you is: do you have any cites to demonstrate any of the above *actually* happening, with any demonstrable effectiveness, in Arizona or Maine? I'm not asking about your theories about what *may* happen in a clean money system that might, theoretically, allow private contributions to significantly influence electoral races or public policy choices by elected officials. I'm asking you what *has* happened in a currently-existing clean money system that has, demonstrably, allowed private contributions to significantly influence electoral races or public policy choices by elected officials. Surely you must have *some* examples of the above such nefarious, end-around influences being exercised with effectiveness in Arizona or Maine under a clean money system (a system which, as you've already admitted, is effective in eliminating the influence of traditional private contributions ["Campaign finance reform closes off only the most obvious routes of influence."]).

I'm looking forward to hearing some actual, non-theoretical evidence from you,

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on January 8, 2007 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK

Public financing sounds like a great improvement over what we have -- in fact, government by hereditary morons would be less expensive (& perhaps not too different in results).

Posted by: Prior Aelred on January 9, 2007 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Corporations are chartered by States and have rules that they must serve shareholder interests (and shareholders don't always agree with the politica interests of corporate boards.) Corporations have no right to donate to political causes and should be prohibited from doing so.

Posted by: Neil B. on January 10, 2007 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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