Posts tagged campaign finance reform
Posts tagged campaign finance reform
The folks at @AmericanXroads troll @BarackObama with “Organizing for Acce$$.”
That’s Capital University law professor, Center for Competitive Politics chairman, and former FEC Commissioner Brad Smith, responding to tech industry calls for government mandated Kickstarter-style crowd-sourced funding of elections.
As a guy who used to work for lobbyists for the tech industry, let me add that the tech industry folks pushing this would love this kind of carve-out, precisely because they’re the very technologists who would design, run, and profit from such systems. It’s no surprise that, since there’s not much demand for such a thing, much less venture capital funding for it, they’re trying to use government to mandate it into law.
For discussing bargaining tactics, Cory Schneider has just been fined one billion dollars…oh right, the players are allowed to speak.— Chris Botta (@ChrisBottaNHL) September 27, 2012
I’ve written pretty exhaustively recently about the problems I see with so-called campaign finance reform, focusing particularly on the chilling effects on political participation of compulsory disclosure, and on illiteracy about the basic tenets of the Citizens United v. FEC decision that lead to bad journalism. President Obama, who purports to be a constitutional scholar, has gotten the facts wrong on Citizens United before (deliberately, if you ask me):
So it’s not surprising to me that he got the basic facts wrong again yesterday during a live “Ask Me Anything” forum on popular message board site Reddit (my emphasis shown with italics):
suzmerk: What are you going to do to end the corrupting influence of money in politics during your second term?
PresidentObama: Money has always been a factor in politics, but we are seeing something new in the no-holds barred flow of seven and eight figure checks, most undisclosed, into super-PACs; they fundamentally threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. We need to start with passing the Disclose Act that is already written and been sponsored in Congress — to at least force disclosure of who is giving to who [sic]. We should also pass legislation prohibiting the bundling of campaign contributions from lobbyists. Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of [sic] the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.
There he goes again, promising to repeal the First Amendment in his second term. But I digress.
There are two very curious and obvious mistakes in the president’s response to this loaded question:
As Brad Smith, former FEC commissioner and chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics puts it, “When Ross Perot spent his own money to run, he didn’t drown others out – he empowered them. When large donors supported independent expenditures promoting the [primary] campaigns of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich [in 2011 and 2012], they made the supporters of those candidates heard too.”
But President Obama insists you remain in the dark about “dark money” so you’ll enlist in his army and help destroy the political opposition. Please consider reblogging, retweeting, sharing on Facebook, or linking back to this post if you’re tired of President Enemies List’s incessant grandstanding.
See also this handy chart from the Source 2012 Tumblr, a joint project of the left-leaning Center for Responsive Politics and the left-leaning Center for Public Integrity, that details what was (and was not) at issue in recent, high-profile campaign finance court cases.
Former California gubernatorial candidate and Obama campaign bundler Steve Westly. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
A new RNC ad attacks the president by attacking one of his 2008 campaign bundlers, Steve Westly. The ad alleges that, because Westly raised $500,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign, he bought the president’s support of companies in which the so-called stimulus invested with loan guarantees and direct subsidies, companies in which Westly had also invested, to the tune of $500 million — a 1,000:1 return on investment.
Granted that the ad is only 45 seconds long, and it’s impossible to mount a lengthy corruption case in such a short time frame, the RNC offers no direct evidence of a political payoff, and it strains credulity to say both that (a) Barack Obama, whose campaign raised and spent over $750,000,000 in 2008, could be bought for $500,000 (~0.067% of the total war chest), and (b) that a progressive president with Keynesian economists on staff and an ideological political base concerned with environmental policy wouldn’t have invested so-called stimulus dollars in these companies anyway.
Regarding the second point, it is virtually axiomatic that money follows ideas in politics — never the other way around. That is, corruption isn’t the general rule — it’s the exception, and our media have made such a big deal out of individual cases that we’re hypersensitive to it today. This is not a post-Cold War eastern European country, or Latin American banana republic. If politicians could be bought and sold as easily as campaign finance reform zealots would have us all believe, the NRA would buy off gun control Democrats, and Planned Parenthood would buy off evangelical Christian Republicans.
The ad evidences one of the central criticisms of compulsory disclosure of sources of campaign finance: that private citizens who disagree with the government, a campaign, or an issue group will be harassed directly for their participation in the process, either for the sake of harassment itself, or for the sake of fighting a proxy battle against a political opponent. The $500,000 Westly bundled for the president, too, likely helped pay for some sort of organizing or ad speech that a poor Obama supporter could not afford alone. To the extent that compulsory disclosure repels wealthy people from participating in politics, it can be described as an anti-poor mechanism as well.
The RNC attacked a private citizen to get at the president.
The amount of publicly available information about people and companies is so broad today that we’re able to construct “connections maps” like the one below:
Assuming the data are reliable, there are connections between these people and entities — but even this isn’t hard evidence of corruption.
As a libertarian economist and public choice theorist, I’m often one of the first to speak up about the myriad problems with the role that special interests play in our politics. And I certainly support a number of lobbying ethics reforms, including compulsory disclosure of lobbying expenditures. But to use campaign finance disclosure information to shame someone out of participating in the electoral process at all is an exercise of soft prior restraint of otherwise protected expression.
Let nobody tell you those of us fighting this fight aren’t doing so out of principled objection. It doesn’t matter what Republican Senator So-and-So said 5, 10, 15, or 20 years ago. If you supported the DISCLOSE Act, chances are you routinely disagree with Republican Senators as a matter of principle anyway — so please spare us the concern trolling over the souls of Senate Republicans. The GOP has been wrong in the past on a number of issues, and this is one of them.