Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


McCutcheon v. FEC
October 7, 2013 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Supreme Court to consider lifting campaign contribution limits. Reversing McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission would allow unlimited individual campaign contributions.
posted by kliuless (101 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wonderful, I can now use my vast personal wealth to fund a cause very near and dear to my heart, renaming every town and city in this great country "Bonerland".
posted by The Whelk at 3:48 PM on October 7, 2013 [36 favorites]


Well, it was a good run, folks. See you on the other side.
posted by fifthrider at 3:48 PM on October 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Um...remember when I said in that survey that campaign finance reform was "very important to me?" This is not what I meant.
posted by nosila at 3:49 PM on October 7, 2013 [33 favorites]


Never Mind Super PACs: How Big Business Is Buying the Election

Thanks to Citizens United, US and foreign corporations can secretly spend millions on political campaigns under the cover of trade associations.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:50 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


given the tacit $ = free speech attitude of many Supreams this will be a slam dunk decision.

sigh
posted by edgeways at 3:51 PM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Kochlandia.
posted by Artw at 3:53 PM on October 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


Remind me to never say, "It can't possibly get any worse." Please.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 3:54 PM on October 7, 2013 [14 favorites]


An excited Supreme Court was heard saying "YOLO" and "hold my beer" before issuing the decision.
posted by zippy at 3:54 PM on October 7, 2013 [25 favorites]


CORPORATIONS ARE PEOPLE

MONEY IS SPEECH

SUSPICION BREEDS CONFIDENCE
posted by Rat Spatula at 4:00 PM on October 7, 2013 [28 favorites]


Freedom money, I believe they call it. And who can hate Freedom?
posted by wuwei at 4:01 PM on October 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Quietly, those in the marketing and advertising industries rejoice. 'Unlimited', they say. 'Even better than the movie.'
posted by hal_c_on at 4:04 PM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, it could go the other way and set a major precedent disallowing this kind of thing.

I wonder, though. If unlimited donations are allowed as free speech, it would become necessary to regulate things on the other end. Why are candidates allowed such wide latitude in the way they acquire and spend election funds? Shouldn't they, as public servants or aspirers thereto, be held to a strict standard that ensures they do not solicit or receive vastly greater sums from one citizen over another? To restrict candidates to receiving a maximum of (say) $1000 from any given citizen — wouldn't that be no barrier to free speech on the citizen's side (since they may spend on however many candidates they wish to endorse), nor an unwarranted one on the candidate's side, since they are effectively giving up some of their private rights in order to run for office? Just an idea that popped into my head. Trying to plug the wellspring at the source is usually ineffective at best and dangerous at worst. Better to go downstream a bit, right?
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:05 PM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't quite understand the issue. it looks like the plaintiffs are requesting that aggregate limits, rather than limits for any one PAC, be struck down.
posted by jpe at 4:06 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are we going to have nothing but the same sky-is-falling rhetoric here, or could we talk about the particulars of the case?

(Incidentally, corporations are people. It feels odd to have to say this, but somehow people seem to have convinced themselves that only robots run corporations. No, corporations are made of people, just like soylent green. Is that not pretty intuitive? I'm a liberal guy who likes the idea of campaign finance reform, but this seems pretty obvious to me.)
posted by koeselitz at 4:07 PM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


may spend on however many candidates they wish to endorse)


they actually can't, which is what this case appears to be about.
posted by jpe at 4:08 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Perhaps the Supreme Court will wisely consider the notion that there is a limited amount of public speech on the airwaves and that one or two people could buy it all.
posted by Brian B. at 4:10 PM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Incidentally, corporations are people. It feels odd to have to say this, but somehow people seem to have convinced themselves that only robots run corporations. No, corporations are made of people, just like soylent green. Is that not pretty intuitive? I'm a liberal guy who likes the idea of campaign finance reform, but this seems pretty obvious to me.

I respect you a bunch, but horseshit. I will buy that argument the day Exxon-Mobil serves jail time, faces the death penalty, or registers for military service.
posted by COBRA! at 4:11 PM on October 7, 2013 [89 favorites]


Just because corporations are made up of people does not mean that the legal entity that is the corporation should have the same rights as a person.

It's that fucking simple.
posted by knapah at 4:20 PM on October 7, 2013 [80 favorites]


Incidentally, corporations are people.

So we can look forward to only corporations that have existed for over 18 years getting to contribute to election campaigns?

The people that work for a corporation have all the free speech rights et al that everyone else does. It's entirely possible, nay, sensible, that corporations are legal entities that can do some things like people, such as enter binding contracts. There's also plenty of things that apply to corporate legal entities, such as limited liability, that have no analog to real people at all.

There's absolutely no need for those special corporate legal entities to actually be classed as people, or inherit most of the rights of actual people to do what they do, and plenty of excellent reasons why they shouldn't be, not least the current clusterf**k that is the result of Citizens United.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:25 PM on October 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


COBRA!: "I respect you a bunch, but horseshit. I will buy that argument the day Exxon-Mobil serves jail time, faces the death penalty, or registers for military service."

If every single person in Exxon-Mobile murders a person, then every single person in Exxon-Mobile should face time, face execution, or whatever. Same if it's one person, or two people, or a hundred. This is how crime works, and this is how rights work. You can't say "you have freedom of speech, but a hundred of you don't." That doesn't even make sense - and it certainly isn't some kind of progressive idea.

I think people confuse this with the idea of corporate personhood; I don't believe that corporations can singly stand trial and be granted as bodies some sort of individuality and personhood as a legal fiction. Fine. But that was never the issue in Citizens United; the issue there was that depriving a group of people of rights you guarantee to them singly doesn't make sense.

If campaign finance reform is going to be sensible and just, it has to happen at the candidate level, as BlackLeotardFront describes above. Otherwise, folks, we're talking about amending the Constitution - and that seems neither practical nor worthwhile.

knapah: "Just because corporations are made up of people does not mean that the legal entity that is the corporation should have the same rights as a person. It's that fucking simple."

Granting the rights individuals have to people in bodies of their own choosing is different from granting the legal fiction of personhood to a corporation in a courtroom. Please note that these laws were also preventing groups of working Americans who had organized themselves for their own advancement from banding together to campaign during an election. Unions were banned from spending during a campaign, and I have no doubt that as time went on the right would have found more ways to shut out the crowd-funded modern left on the same basis. I have a problem with that. I don't like campaigns that involve billions of clandestine dollars either; but this can't be the responsibility of the contributors and the voters and citizens. This has to be on the candidates, who we can regulate without causing all kinds of weird inconsistencies.
posted by koeselitz at 4:27 PM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ech, sorry for the bomb-throwing.
posted by Rat Spatula at 4:28 PM on October 7, 2013


That's a fantastic idea. There's not nearly enough money in politics yet.
posted by phoebus at 4:28 PM on October 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't think it was a bomb, Rat Spatula - it's a salient issue in this case, as it was in the much-misunderstood Citizens United case.
posted by koeselitz at 4:29 PM on October 7, 2013


If every single person in Exxon-Mobile murders a person, then every single person in Exxon-Mobile should face time, face execution, or whatever. Same if it's one person, or two people, or a hundred. This is how crime works

Corporate crime is often really a form of organized crime. Sometimes you have to target the entire gang for destruction, not just the foot soldier who pulled the trigger. We already understand that, we just use fines that don't get the job done when harsher punishment at the organizational level is required.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:36 PM on October 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


No, it absolutely was bomb-throwing, because I typed a bunch of snarky shit in all caps. But I'm having trouble following your reasoning when you say "depriving a group of people of rights you guarantee to them singly doesn't make sense."

Why don't corporations get to vote? Specifically, why doesn't it make sense to treat a group of people differently from an individual, or to make legal distinctions between different kinds of groups?
posted by Rat Spatula at 4:37 PM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are some issues here I think we can think about. I mean: everyone has the sense that money is corrupting politics. I think that's true, but it's hard to say why or how, and it's worth trying. Obviously candidates are going to spend some money on campaigns; is the issue that the might be funded clandestinely by groups we don't know about? Is the issue that they might spend it on illegal things, like wiretaps of opponents? Is the issue that people are easy to manipulate, so too much inequity might create an unlevel playing field?
posted by koeselitz at 4:38 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rat Spatula:"Why don't corporations get to vote?"

They do. A corporation of ten people gets ten votes. A corporation of ten million people gets ten million votes. Granted, if the corporation's leadership wants them all to vote together, then they have to convince them all to vote together; and they have to convince them fairly, since coercion is (obviously) illegal. But people are not denied the right to vote simply because they've come together as a corporation.
posted by koeselitz at 4:41 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


WaPo:

The case does not challenge the $2,600 cap on donations to a single candidate’s campaign but rather the overall limit — $123,000 — that one person can give over a two-year election cycle.

Removing that ceiling would allow a single donor to give the maximum amount to more candidates and, crucially, to political parties such as the Republican National Committee, which brought the lawsuit along with Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman and conservative activist.

The court decided decades ago that the government is constitutionally permitted to limit donations to candidates with the goal of fighting corruption. But the RNC argues that there’s no constitutional rationale for limiting how much one donor can give to many candidates. The thinking goes that because each candidate receives only $2,600, none of them ends up corrupted.


New Yorker:

The reason the contribution levels might be in jeopardy rests on the rationale the Justices now demand for all campaign-finance limits. According to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s opinion in Citizens United, the government’s interest in preventing the actuality and appearance of corruption is “limited to quid pro quo corruption.” Congress can regulate campaign contributions only to stop contributors from demanding, and receiving, quid pro quos. The Court forbids other justifications for contribution limits—like levelling the playing field. Quid pro quos are, of course, very difficult to prove. So unless the government can prove that the limits on aggregate contributions prevent quid-pro-quo corruption (and how, really, can the government do that?), these rules might fall, too.


Slate:

The concerns that would raise about corruption are nicely illustrated in an amicus brief from the Campaign Legal Center, a public interest group supporting campaign finance regulation. A member of Congress, for example, would be able ask for a single $3.6 million contribution (through a “joint fundraising committee”—essentially an arrangement to take a check to be disbursed to more than one campaign) to distribute to all federal congressional candidates and to national and local political parties. He or she could keep from that check only $5,200 ($2,600 for the primary and another $2,600 for the general election), but the parties and PACs could then use the passed-on funds to run ads attacking his or her opponent. As a big bundler, this member of Congress would have great influence over other members. And, of course, the $3.6 million donor would have the most influence of all.

What The Media Need To Know About The Next Citizen's United
posted by triggerfinger at 4:41 PM on October 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


But that was never the issue in Citizens United; the issue there was that depriving a group of people of rights you guarantee to them singly doesn't make sense.

I think it does. Are corporations fair and honest surrogates for the individuals who comprise them? Does the speech of a corporation represent the collective speech of every single person within that corporation, or can it be unfairly subject to the whims of a highly influential subset of members--say a board of directors, or a cadre of executives--who might take advantage of their position to use corporation's reach to their advantage?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:44 PM on October 7, 2013 [13 favorites]


Let's all chip in and buy a MeFi congresscritter WOO HOO.
posted by Dr. Zira at 4:45 PM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Incidentally, corporations are people. It feels odd to have to say this, but somehow people seem to have convinced themselves that only robots run corporations. No, corporations are made of people, just like soylent green. Is that not pretty intuitive? I'm a liberal guy who likes the idea of campaign finance reform, but this seems pretty obvious to me.)

You are supporting a legal fiction you don't understand for reasons that are not relevant to it. The justification for why corporations are people isn't because people are involved in the running of corporations, it's merely the chosen method to make it so that corporations have legal standing to enter into contracts etc.

By your own example it's not intuitive - you intuited it wrongly.
posted by anonymisc at 4:46 PM on October 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


Wonderful, I can now use my vast personal wealth to fund a cause very near and dear to my heart, renaming every town and city in this great country "Bonerland".

Bonerland is in our hearts, The Whelk. Or, you know... tucked into the elastic of our briefs if we have to walk through the hall at an inopportune time.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:49 PM on October 7, 2013


Let's all chip in and buy a MeFi congresscritter WOO HOO.

Unfortunately we'd still all be limited to $2600 per critter, so we'd have to buy a whole party.

Congress is like shopping at Costco: you can't buy just one, you have to get a bulk package all shrink-wrapped together.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:50 PM on October 7, 2013


Colbert v. Stevens
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:52 PM on October 7, 2013


there's an awful lot of talk about corporations given that the case has nothing to do with them. It's about individual contributions to PACs, not the ban on corporate contributions to PACs.
posted by jpe at 4:54 PM on October 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Never Mind Super PACs: How Big Business Is Buying the Election

Although it depends on whether or not you think Obama's winning both of the last two elections is a good thing or a bad thing, but... Obama won both of the last two elections despite significant PAC opposition.

How? He ran a better campaign, notably developing and executing a technology strategy that identified his voter base, and got them out to vote.

It's actually pretty goddamn hilarious to think that the Koch brothers spent so much money (so much money!) and failed. They failed. And that just goes to show you that oligarchs are not always very smart in whatever they do.

On the other hand, Obama did receive, and continues to receive, a lot of support from Goldman Sachs and the rest of Wall Street, and the existing laws haven't been able to prevent that.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:58 PM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: "everyone has the sense that money is corrupting politics. I think that's true, but it's hard to say why or how,"

Is it?

I think this is pretty simple: the need to raise money and the uncertainty of succeeding at that task creates an additional dependency where there should be only one: elected officials should depend on getting votes in an election. The moment you turn it into a race for money you are instituting corruption and you're preventing a level playing field from being established.

Public campaign financing combined with rules and regulations for equal air time are the only sane option.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:02 PM on October 7, 2013 [26 favorites]


the New Yorker, quoted by triggerfinger: "The reason the contribution levels might be in jeopardy rests on the rationale the Justices now demand for all campaign-finance limits. According to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s opinion in Citizens United, the government’s interest in preventing the actuality and appearance of corruption is “limited to quid pro quo corruption.” Congress can regulate campaign contributions only to stop contributors from demanding, and receiving, quid pro quos. The Court forbids other justifications for contribution limits—like levelling the playing field."

The forbiddenness of "leveling the playing field" has been a long time coming, though. Even back in Buckley v Valeo in 1976, the court found that taking away the speech of one person in order to level it with another person's is contrary to the first amendment, and only allowed it in cases where it was necessary to avoid the appearance of corruption. I'm inclined to agree with them. The idea of leveling the playing field is a tempting one, but it's incredibly problematic.
posted by koeselitz at 5:03 PM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


You can't say "you have freedom of speech, but a hundred of you don't."

Sure, because every company I've ever worked for has asked me to vote on every bit of political spending it's done.

..it's a horseshit argument, and I sort of feel like you should know that.
posted by lumpenprole at 5:04 PM on October 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


I dunno, we have it in Germany and it seems to be working fine. If a TV channel gives air time to one party they must also give it to all others. It's not that complicated and it stifles nobody. This is not about taking away speech... I'm not sure where you're getting that from. It's about making sure everybody involved gets to have speech.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:06 PM on October 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


everyone has the sense that money is corrupting politics. I think that's true, but it's hard to say why or how

One can look at the family funding the Tea Party to get to the why and how of poisoned politics. It seems pretty clear that the current situation is toxic as a direct result of moneyed interests fighting democratically-enacted laws.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:07 PM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


me: "everyone has the sense that money is corrupting politics. I think that's true, but it's hard to say why or how,"

Hairy Lobster: "Is it? I think this is pretty simple: the need to raise money and the uncertainty of succeeding at that task creates an additional dependency where there should be only one: elected officials should depend on getting votes in an election. The moment you turn it into a race for money you are instituting corruption and you're preventing a level playing field from being established."

Hm. Well, unfortunately, I think it's a little more complicated than that. For one thing: why is politics just a game of fundraising? Contrary to popular belief, study after study in the United States has shown that dollars don't win elections, as least not predictably or decisively. They are obviously a factor, but they clearly aren't the only one, and they probably aren't the most important one.

But that isn't a reason to abandon campaign finance reform. It's more a reality check, and it might give us some comfort as we try to sort this out. I think there's a sense in which people believe, cynically, that every voter is worth dollars. Thankfully, I don't think that's true. It seems more to be the case that politicians themselves become beholden to the rich on their way to office - if they weren't long before that.

"Public campaign financing combined with rules and regulations for equal air time are the only sane option."

On that we agree completely.
posted by koeselitz at 5:11 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, corporations are people. It feels odd to have to say this, but somehow people seem to have convinced themselves that only robots run corporations. No, corporations are made of people, just like soylent green.

This is a distraction.

* A corporation, legally, is not made up of the people employed by it, but is an extra entity. In that sense, it isn't made of people at all.
* A corporation, logically, is made of people, but it gives them no moral rights or powers other than that inherent in their personhood. In that sense, while it is made of people, it doesn't matter. Also, see below, about the power corporations wield.
* A corporation, practically, has been a way to amalgamate wealth, and thus power and influence over government, into the control of a small number of people, who, whether they wield it for the interests of the corporation's wellbeing, that of shareholders, that of their employees, or (frequently) their own naked self-interest, is still often at odds with the good of society. In that sense, the people higher up in the hierarchy of corporations are more important people, in terms of decision-making, than those lower down.

I myself have said that corporations are made of people, in the past. But they are made of people who are, mostly, required to act in the interests of their bosses or else not be employed anymore. For the right not to starve to death, you can make people behave despicably indeed, and because of that you have to give them partial (but only partial) absolution. But this responsibility doesn't evaporate, but instead gets transferred to their bosses, and to theirs, and so on up the ladder. In that way, the moral debts of corporations, while spread throughout the organization, does tend to congregate more towards the higher levels. Whether this happens legally or not, well, there are lots of ways in which legal doesn't necessarily mean moral.
posted by JHarris at 5:20 PM on October 7, 2013 [25 favorites]


Oh man, the consultants are going to be the richest men and women in America after next year.

Hopefully. No, seriously. I really hope that both sides (despite the traditional right-skew to big money fundraising) unleash billions of other people's money in this next election.

Only to have it come down to a 1.5% difference, despite the biblical floods of money.

And suddenly, everyone (who had that money and is actually pulling the strings) realizes what a wonderful thing it would be if the plebians just picked up the tab in the future with publicly financed elections.

Well, that's the dream I'm having after a whiskey mac.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:22 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Contrary to popular belief, study after study in the United States has shown that dollars don't win elections, as least not predictably or decisively.

I bet of if you compare the top two candidates money isn't decisive between them. But what if you compare the top two to everyone else?
posted by Drinky Die at 5:24 PM on October 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


koeselitz: "Contrary to popular belief, study after study in the United States has shown that dollars don't win elections, as least not predictably or decisively."

I'm not at all surprised if money is no indicator for high profile national/state elections as long as you only consider the D vs R race. This is because the voices of smaller groups have been drowned out at this point already precisely because the two giants have more money by several orders of magnitude.

I think this matters much more on the local/regional level. Didn't a lot of the teabagger freshmen in Congress mostly primary their more moderate opponents precisely because of massive funding from the Koch brothers and other aligned interests?

But even if money doesn't win the race it's still an absolute necessity in order to even be able to participate in the race. Without money you have no visibility and you might as well not even try. So the dependency is still there.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:28 PM on October 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


I feel like I should be starting a media company to suck up the oncoming tidal wave of political advertising money.

Coming to your local cable lineup: The Campaign Channel. Nothing but paid political advertisements, 24/7.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:28 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Contrary to popular belief, study after study in the United States has shown that dollars don't win elections, as least not predictably or decisively.

So dollars don't win elections in the same way that Wall Street doesn't make money, because past performance is not indicative of future results?

I heard this statement many times during and after the Citizens v. United litigation, and if it's true it seems to me like there must be something funny going on with that conclusion when such unmitigated torrents of money still get funneled into political activity, if indeed it's been proven conclusively that the money doesn't have a material effect on the course of politics.

Did any of these studies that evidently just get run over and over again with the same results each time ever examine whether or not expenditure of money has a material influence on achieving political objectives instead of just whether the outcome of particular elections are affected?
posted by XMLicious at 5:31 PM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Coming to your local cable lineup: The Campaign Channel. Nothing but paid political advertisements, 24/7.

Damnit that's my idea to get money OUT of politics! Campaign finance reform has a channel or band of channels to air every candidates views.

Hats off to you LoHK.
posted by Max Power at 5:32 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The forbiddenness of "leveling the playing field" has been a long time coming, though. Even back in Buckley v Valeo in 1976, the court found that taking away the speech of one person in order to level it with another person's is contrary to the first amendment, and only allowed it in cases where it was necessary to avoid the appearance of corruption. I'm inclined to agree with them. The idea of leveling the playing field is a tempting one, but it's incredibly problematic.

I think the central theme of this whole case is how the court chooses to define "corruption". Lawrence Lessig makes the argument in the brief linked in the Media Matters article:

Appellant McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee (collectively "McCutcheon") contend that the federal aggregate contribution limits impose substantial burdens on First Amendment freedoms and cannot be justified by any constitutionally legitimate interest, and in particular, by the interest in avoiding corruption. ... McCutcheon's argument, however, depends upon a modern understanding of the term "corruption," in sharp conflict with the term's original meaning.

The Framers viewed corruption as one of the greatest threats to government. They considered anti-corruption measures essential to an enduring republican system of government. As George Mason warned his fellow delegates at the Constitutional Convention, "if we do not provide against corruption, our government will soon be at an end." ... Thus, in drafting the Constitution, the Framers sought to ensure that "corruption was more effectually guarded against, in the manner this government was constituted, than in any other that had ever been formed."


More here: The Court Case That Pivots On What "Corrupt" Really Means
posted by triggerfinger at 5:33 PM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


koeselitz,

Are you saying that every group of individuals is the same as an individual? Political parties, clubs, unions, baseball teams?

It sounds like you're arguing that corporations are made of people (which we can all agree is at least partially true). But does that alone make them a person? If so, is there any difference between an individual and a group?

(don't mean to pile on you here... Just interested in hearing your take)
posted by graphnerd at 5:37 PM on October 7, 2013


Candidates are collecting and spending MILLIONS to get a job that pays 174K/yr. If that's not obviously fucked up, I don't know what is. And the answer is more money? Bullshit.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:40 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe a better way to phrase my question above is, do these studies just mean that the person attempting to influence politics via money simply needs the equivalent of a diversified stock portfolio to achieve objectives over the course of multiple elections?

Because based on the descriptions of this current case we're discussing here, that seems like exactly what the backers of the suit are trying to achieve - to ensure that moneyed individuals can spread millions or billions of dollars across all of the elections in the country, rather than having to care about the outcomes of the particular few elections they can currently spread their $123,000 over.
posted by XMLicious at 5:42 PM on October 7, 2013


Contrary to popular belief, study after study in the United States has shown that dollars don't win elections, as least not predictably or decisively.

Either these studies are broken, or donors are choosing irrationally to throw money away on candidates, win or lose. The latter option is not impossible but seems unlikely, given the sums of money that change hands. There seems to be an expectation of ROI.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:52 PM on October 7, 2013


Man, why don't corporations ever try to buy my vote directly? Just pay me $50 and I'll vote for whichever candidates they want.
posted by Noms_Tiem at 6:11 PM on October 7, 2013


Money may or may not buy elections. It does buy outcomes. Obama won the election. We now have a shut down Federal government, and we will soon have a government that renegged on its debts. This will most likely be a permanent situation, much like the sequestor is now the normal. Even if by some miracle a clean continuing resolution passes before Obama leaves office in 2017, the spending will be even lower than Paul Ryan's radical spending proposal. The Democrats (not liberals) may have won a few battles, but the radical conservatives, and more importantly their hyper-rich backers, have won the war.
posted by dirigibleman at 6:15 PM on October 7, 2013


On the bright side (and yes, there may be one), this may open up campaign contributions from Wall Street at exactly the same time that they are drifting away from the Republican party. The Koch brothers put a lot of time and effort into building their political machine. If McCutcheon wins, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey or George Soros could make a comparable impact just by writing a few checks.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:26 PM on October 7, 2013


I bet of if you compare the top two candidates money isn't decisive between them. But what if you compare the top two to everyone else?

I don't know that anyone has studied that, but it's very unlikely that it would matter.

The problem with money and election outcomes is that the relationship is deeply endogenous. Of course having more money helps you win, at least a little bit, because you can do more stuff. But at the same time, being a candidate who can possibly win is an important part of getting campaign contributions. If I want to change stuff, there's very little point in giving money to sure losers.

And most congressional challengers are almost certain losers, because they are terrible candidates. Democrats to the left of Pelosi running in deep red districts and Republicans to the right of Attila the Hun running in deep blue ones, and everywhere but everywhere people running as challengers who have never once, in their entire lives, ever won election to any office. Chumps. Losers. Sacrificial lambs. Why them? Because the potential good challengers are playing a long-term strategic game and they don't want to fuck with their political careers by taking stupid-ass risks running against incumbents who have proven themselves to be bad-ass campaigners.

Disentangling this endogeneity where donations cause outcomes but outcomes cause donations is really REALLY hard and typically involves all sorts of heroic assumptions to get the math to work well enough. People who do this typically find that mostly outcomes cause donations. There's some little effect of donations on outcomes, but it gets mostly washed out because by the time you're pitting one decent candidate against each other, both of them are spending lots and both easily have enough money to take their case to the people in the district.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:29 PM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is interesting to hear after reading that Scalia interview posted yesterday. This is the issue with strict originalism.

Of course it's not strictly constitutional to restrict money as a form of speech. But it will keep us from the continuous spiral into oligarchy hell to restrict it. Sanity, please.
posted by es_de_bah at 6:32 PM on October 7, 2013


Wonderful, I can now use my vast personal wealth to fund a cause very near and dear to my heart, renaming every town and city in this great country "Bonerland".
posted by The Whelk at 3:48 PM on October 7

Oddly enough, I was thinking of doing the same thing but calling the place Whelkville.
posted by Bonerman26 at 6:33 PM on October 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Are you saying that every group of individuals is the same as an individual? Political parties, clubs, unions, baseball teams?

It would be fascinating if the US suddenly had on the order of n! voters.

where n is several hundred million
posted by zippy at 6:35 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Either these studies are broken, or donors are choosing irrationally to throw money away on candidates, win or lose. The latter option is not impossible but seems unlikely, given the sums of money that change hands. There seems to be an expectation of ROI.

This is another endogeneity problem -- maybe donations cause legislative behavior, but legislative behavior also causes donations. That is, people give money to candidates they already like, because they like them.

People who try to disentangle this plate of causal spaghetti typically find that most of what we see is people giving money to candidates they like, because they were already doing stuff they liked. Their ROI is primarily just encouraging the election of candidates who agree with them. Some studies do find some nontrivial effects of donations on behavior, though. Especially IIRC more with respect to when things happen than whether things happen, but I haven't looked at this stuff in a while. Mostly because pieces that are trying to directly disentangle the causality through complex statistics or natural experiments are really LOOK AT MY GIGANTIC METHODOLOGICAL PENIS but kinda silly; a more elegant way to deal with it would be to look for other observable consequences of each causal direction.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:36 PM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


If people want to dig into the numbers people come up with, here's (I think) a good place to start: Steven Levitt, "Using Repeat Challengers to Estimate the Effect of Campaign Spending on Elections in the U.S. House," 1994.

As ROU_Xenophobe says, it's unfortunately not incredibly conclusive, but I think Levitt succeeds at throwing a lot of doubt on the common conception that dollars equal votes and spending flat-out wins elections. It's a condition of campaigning, but increases and decreases in spending don't seem to do a whole lot generally as far as one's chances of winning go. Indeed, I feel like that's why the super PACs on the right have focused much more on small elections where they know they can either provide the decisive condition for campaigning to a likely winner or pull their small lever in a way that affects the outcome of a minor race that turns out to be important in the long term. That's not to say they're all hyper-intelligent, and people throw money away on elections all the time.
posted by koeselitz at 6:47 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Levitt's conclusion is interesting, too; he's more worried about the perception that money is important. I think this has only gotten worse since 1994; people follow fundraising assiduously in the press during Presidential campaigns now, and every week people are talking about who "out-fundraised" who. Interestingly, the money itself seems to matter less than the fact of having raised it.)
posted by koeselitz at 6:49 PM on October 7, 2013


Money can influence politics without even being the deciding factor in a single election.

Most obviously money can simply buy attention, both at the electoral level by simply supporting a candidate but more insidiously at the policy level by simply funding both parties where appropriate as others have pointed out.

Even nastier, voter attention is a finite quantity; Joe Sixpack and Susan Soccer Mom and their 2.5 kids can spend maybe a handful of hours a week thinking/talking/doing political things. Every hour spent discussing something funded by a seven-figure SuperPAC is an hour not spent discussing something (or twenty somethings) that might otherwise have come up.
posted by Skorgu at 6:59 PM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just adding another vote for TV advertising as being a critical point where campaign finance reform could actually work. People hate political ads, and they are the main thing candidates spend money on. And the airwaves are publicly owned!
posted by ropeladder at 7:05 PM on October 7, 2013



Just adding another vote for TV advertising as being a critical point where campaign finance reform could actually work. People hate political ads, and they are the main thing candidates spend money on. And the airwaves are publicly owned!


the biggest dollars are spent on last minute advertising for TV and radio (as I remember). The whole issue of "campaign finance reform" is a huge exercise in misdirection: what the US needs is reform of the mass media and Congress has ample constitutional space to do that. But it would mean going straight up against the various big media companies and their owners.

a "free market" for mass-media is completely antithetical to democracy: the power of ownership makea a mockery of freedom of speech. but then, what else could you expect from a society that increasing equates "liberty" to almost exclusively mean the right to own property.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:43 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


We have all kinds of limitations on freedoms of speech when it's for the public good If I can't produce 'speech' that happens to involve the adventures of Mickey Mouse, then I'm quite comfortable with saying Disney can't produce 'speech' that includes spending millions of dollars paying to get the right politicians elected. Has nothing to do with whether or not Disney's shareholders are or aren't human beings. 100% freedom is anarchy, and that is not compatible with democracy. At some point, some people have to make a few sacrifices, and I'm comfortable with starting with the ability to spend unlimited funds influencing the outcome of elections, seeing as it impacts an incredibly tiny sliver of the population and does a lot of good.
posted by Sequence at 8:02 PM on October 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Congress is like shopping at Costco: you can't buy just one, you have to get a bulk package all shrink-wrapped together.

If I remember correctly, an interviewer once asked Earl Long about his uncle Huey, specifically about the time Huey bragged that he "bought and sold legislators like sacks of potatoes".

Earl's response: "I don't buy 'em, I rent 'em. It's cheaper."
posted by gimonca at 8:21 PM on October 7, 2013


What you really want to be worried about is people donating to state legislature campaigns. That $2600 per campaign goes a lot, lot further at that level, and with no limit on personal donations, one person--or say, a few dozen people at a hotel ballroom fundraiser or two--could spread mayhem far and wide.

Some numbers on state legislative financing
posted by gimonca at 9:05 PM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


This American Life did a fantastic episode on the corrupting influence of money on politics.
posted by klangklangston at 9:18 PM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Considering the corruption definition, I wonder how it can't be considered corrupt for someone to be able to donate to a candidate running for an office for which they aren't a constituent? It seems almost de-facto corrupt to want to influence an election for an office in a place someone doesn't live. The ONLY reason (that I can think of) that someone would want to help a candidate in another jurisdiction would be to somehow gain more influence than one would normally have via the regular representative process.

And why is the maximum limit of $123,000 not a multiple of $2600?
posted by gjc at 9:54 PM on October 7, 2013


Corporations are not people. The Supremes never said that. It was a fucking clerk that said that. Stop parading that canard like it were gospel. It isn't gospel, and we don't have to accept any of this man-made horseshit as unchanging gospel in any case. It is what We the People make it.
posted by Goofyy at 11:37 PM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


koeselitz: Incidentally, corporations are people. It feels odd to have to say this

I find it odd that you felt compelled to say it. Unhelpful, misguided pedantry or a case of being too clever by half? AFAICT, what you had to say (at least w/r/t corporations being people) is of little practical value in any meaningful sense (cf. JHarris).

The condescending way you chose to say the meaningless thing you were compelled to say didn't help, either.
posted by syzygy at 12:34 AM on October 8, 2013


The important point about money winning elections is that, whether it is effective or not, it is perceived to be so. It means that candidates have to think about their funding if they want to be re-elected, and it leads to bad bills proposed pretty much entirely at the behest of corporate sponsors. There was a flash game where you played an oil baron, which had a mini game where you could donate money towards candidates. Your money could effect the outcome, but it usually didn't. What it did change was how many pro-oil business men there were in the White House at the end.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:47 AM on October 8, 2013


@ Sequence: the constitution expressly authorizes congress to draft copyright laws. there is no such authorization for campaign finance.
posted by jpe at 4:01 AM on October 8, 2013


Contrary to popular belief, study after study in the United States has shown that dollars don't win elections, as least not predictably or decisively.

You guys are missing the point. The problem isn't that money spent can influence election outcomes, but rather that the money spent will influence how the politicians vote on certain matters pertaining to the interests of big money donors.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 4:32 AM on October 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


> (Incidentally, corporations are people. It feels odd to have to say this, but somehow people seem to have convinced
> themselves that only robots run corporations. No, corporations are made of people, just like soylent green. Is that
> not pretty intuitive? I'm a liberal guy who likes the idea of campaign finance reform, but this seems pretty obvious
> to me.)

I sort of get a different read on the example, k. Soylent Green is people, sure. But even granting that, is Soylent Green then a person? I mean, considering that a group of four chairs is not a chair, notwithstanding that each member of the group is a chair.
posted by jfuller at 4:59 AM on October 8, 2013


You guys are missing the point. The problem isn't that money spent can influence election outcomes, but rather that the money spent will influence how the politicians vote on certain matters pertaining to the interests of big money donors.

Agreed. Which is why the concept of free speech matters. If money classifies speech as important then it is speech encumbered by a demand, representing an investment, and a price. Every donation limit raises a bar and leaves swaths of people behind it. If money was banned from speech altogether it would approach other definitions of free. This is the best reason to support a randomly selected body of qualified legislators on a state level, then perhaps a federal house membership from such randomly selected state legislators. Elections are not the democratic point either, representation is.
posted by Brian B. at 7:11 AM on October 8, 2013


I'm waiting for the Supreme Court to consider whether straight-up vote buying should be illegal.
posted by adamrice at 7:25 AM on October 8, 2013


I'm waiting for the Supreme Court to consider whether straight-up vote buying should be illegal.

Or at least bring whiskey back to the polling stations.
posted by Quonab at 7:51 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem isn't corporations are people, its "money corporations donate is speech."
posted by Ironmouth at 11:42 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


koeselitz: "You can't say "you have freedom of speech, but a hundred of you don't." That doesn't even make sense - and it certainly isn't some kind of progressive idea."

That's a mischaracterization of the position you're arguing against. A hundred people have freedom of speech. They are perfectly free to go out and say anything they like and support any candidate they like. The corporation, however, not being a human being, has no natural or constitutional rights, except as provided by law. It is a creation of the state, therefore the state can place whatever limitations upon it that it finds expedient.

State legislatures which have in the past authorized the creation of corporations could tomorrow all decide to no longer authorize their existence.

People have the right of free association. That is, they can agree between themselves to work toward a common goal. They do not have the right to receive special privileges from government. Those privileges are granted by statute. In the main, they are a good thing. They grease the wheels of commerce and allow our economy to reach the towering heights it has. That does not mean all of them are necessary, much less required by the Constitution.
posted by wierdo at 7:04 PM on October 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


Chief Justice John Roberts looks for a compromise on contribution caps, which seems to boil down to: 'lift the limits on small contributors but leave some in place for large contributors'.
posted by kliuless at 5:38 AM on October 9, 2013


'lift the limits on small contributors but leave some in place for large contributors'

small contributors are already limited by what they can afford, unless his definition of 'small contributor' is contributing more than anybody I've ever known personally...
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:20 PM on October 9, 2013


The problem isn't corporations are people, its "money corporations donate is speech."

Well, matter of opinion? There are other problems with the personhood of corporations than money == speech, like giving them First Amendment rights (which is the basis of this whole thing, come to think of it).

Huh. I'm surprised we haven't gotten more webcomics starring corporate "people." Would you want Phillip-Morris (or as that hipster jerk styles himself now, "Altria") living in your apartment building?
posted by JHarris at 3:34 PM on October 9, 2013


A corporation is quite a lot like Soylent Green.

A corporation ensnares people like a bramble thicket, and sucks the power from their souls (or the work from their bodies, at least). The small cadre of wizards at the top of a corporation gather up this power and spin it using a magic focusing engine which takes it all and concentrates it and enables it to be used for their own wizardy ends (insert cackling sounds).

Naturally one hopes they are nice wizards but one suspects that due to human nature, sometimes they are not.

Our society is now structured so that it would collapse in the absence of profit-making entities to provide the engine of growth that fuels employment and taxation. So we can't get rid of the bastard wizards whether we like it or not.

It seems disingenuous in the extreme to refer to the fact that the corporation is made of people as evidence that is in any way like a person.
posted by emilyw at 4:35 AM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


wierdo: “People have the right of free association. That is, they can agree between themselves to work toward a common goal. They do not have the right to receive special privileges from government. Those privileges are granted by statute.”

Right, but we're not talking about rights granted by statute; we're talking about freely-associated people. Unions and non-profits in general were also barred from political speech under those rules. Do you really think that a bunch of people who get together and say "we want to support someone" should never, ever be allowed to? I don't think it's such a simple question. And that's why I started with the "corporations are people" thing – because, in these terms, corporations are just as much "people" as unions, non-profits, and any other group. We're not talking about the limited corporate personhood which must be granted in court; we're talking about the ability of individuals to form groups and engage in speech.

emilyw: “It seems disingenuous in the extreme to refer to the fact that the corporation is made of people as evidence that is in any way like a person.”

This is true. Corporations, as a legal entity, are granted a special form of "personhood" legally specifically so that they can be engaged in legal action. That's necessary, and it makes sense. But it has nothing to do with the granting of rights. Corporations can be regulated by law, but it has to be on the basis of their status as a corporation, and it has to be a limitation on their corporate monies. You cannot just arbitrarily limit the rights of a group of people; otherwise unions, nonprofits, and other groups are left in the cold.
posted by koeselitz at 1:16 PM on October 11, 2013


Which of these two groups will be able to buy the loudest bullhorn from the whole speech == money thing: non-profit groups, or entities whose primary objective is the gaining of gigantic levels of profit?

Which of those two categories of groups is more likely to campaign for the public interest, and which is more likely to instead put their thumb on the scales in whatever direction will best cause more money to accrue to them?

Phooey.

If the price of corporations not being able to endorse candidates by swinging around the full obscene weight of their bank accounts is meaning non-profits and unions can't do it either, then oh well. If one really cared about the voices of non-profits and unions, then one wouldn't argue for them in such a way that it uncorks the flood of corporate lucre. No net good will come of this.
posted by JHarris at 1:57 PM on October 11, 2013


I am not arguing that all corporations must have the right to donate unlimited funds because I want all groups to have the right. I am complaining that all election legislation hitherto - McCain/Feingold and the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (especially the 1971 amendments) - made absolutely no distinctions here, and that seems unconstitutional to me. That's one reason Bucky v Valeo shook out the way it did. If we're going to regulate corporations, we need to regulate corporations as corporations, not as simple groups of people.

But, in a larger sense, I think this is why donor-side election regulation is a terrible idea. Saying "you deserve to get to donate money, but you are trying to give too much money so you can't" is a recipe for overcomplexity in the tax code, messiness of donation schemes, and hundreds of easy loopholes to be exploited. The only way to effectively regulate campaigns is to regulate how much money candidates are allowed to accept. But the only schemes that have been introduced to try to do this - like the optional federal-financing thing for presidential campaigns, which everyone but John McCain has refused - have all been instituted half-heartedly and in ways that guarantee that they will never be adopted. It's almost as if the laws are being written by people who stand to profit from loose campaign finance laws.

It's nice to say "corporations are evil." But it's harder to draw the line between good corporations and evil corporations than you'd think. There are corporations of one person and corporations of a million people, there are non-profit corporations, there are corporations that exist solely to give form to a movement. A friend of mine runs a corporation that is a non-profit that came out of the Occupy movement. Really, if candidates were limited to a set amount of money they could raise and spend, all of these problems would go away without us having to sort out whose speech should be limited and whose shouldn't.
posted by koeselitz at 4:10 PM on October 11, 2013


It seems to me as though doing that would result in most high-value donations becoming "in kind" or other non-cash donations. I'd think the fundamental quid pro quo would be exacerbated because once a candidate had topped out on their cash donations, the average citizen wouldn't be able to give ten or twenty-five or a hundred bucks in support any more, but the one percenter donors would still be able to arrange for the prime advertising spots to be available while all the rest gets sold out, or the right photo ops to occur for the campaign, or a cushy interest rate on the candidate's next mortgage or a sinecure at a company or nonprofit for after they get out of office. I'm not saying that we shouldn't try things like that but I think it's naïve to say that all of the problems would go away.

A far more fundamental problem than campaign funding policy, it seems to me, is all of the scaffolding and mechanisms we have supporting the two monolithic parties. I would not expect that the government shutdown and debt ceiling deadlocks could occur if it was two coalitions of multiple parties facing off against each other and the Teahadis had to worry about the integrity of their coalition, and I think that powers-that-be would be much more hesitant about pulling the swivel-eyed looneys out of the closet as a secret weapon and egging them on the way they have during the Obama Administration if there were more than two options for where the looney vote and political momentum could inhere.

The unlimited gerrymandering that we for some reason allow gives the parties most of the benefits a proportional representation system would provide to them, in that it allows particular percentage of legislative seats to be "spoken for" so that the power of incumbency dwarfs what the most successful campaigning or political movements can accomplish anyways, while still preventing candidates who don't properly subordinate to the establishment from getting anywhere and hence ensuring that the people at the apex of society have the most predictable and manageable political outcomes to deal with and the most tractable political class to influence.
posted by XMLicious at 6:30 PM on October 11, 2013


koeselitz: "Unions and non-profits in general were also barred from political speech under those rules. Do you really think that a bunch of people who get together and say "we want to support someone" should never, ever be allowed to?"

Of course people are allowed to agree between themselves to support a candidate. I said as much in the post you quoted. Unions and nonprofits are as much a creation of law as any other corporate entity. That said, my biggest complaint with corporate campaign donations is that shareholders may or may not desire that particular speech. Thus, I'd be perfectly fine with the law allowing (general) partnerships and possibly certain not-for-profits to contribute to political campaigns and not allow joint stock corporations, limited partnerships, or LLCs with nonvoting members such privilege.

I don't see it as a constitutional issue because the individuals owning or employed by the corporation are always and at any time free to speak on their own behalf. To me, the present system is akin to giving some people multiple votes.
posted by wierdo at 6:55 PM on October 11, 2013


wierdo: "To me, the present system is akin to giving some people multiple votes."

I don't see it as quite that simple; I think it's utterly essential to remember, as I said above, that dollars absolutely do not translate to votes, contrary to the popular wisdom. You cannot buy elections. The reason I champion electoral reform isn't because I'm worried about elections being bought; it's because the false dogma that dollars buy votes causes incredible damage to the electoral system. People follow fundraising as if it were equivalent to a poll these days; and, more worryingly, politicians busily sell their souls and mortgage their leadership by promising favors and benefits for financial support. It's a whole system based on a ridiculous misconception, and while I'm glad that dollars don't buy votes I think the misconception is actually almost as bad.

Which is really why I don't give a crap whether corporations give money to campaigns, so long as it's limited in a way that makes it clear to everyone that there's no monkey business going on.
posted by koeselitz at 9:52 AM on October 13, 2013


Dollars don't directly buy votes (which is why I said akin), but they do buy long term shifts in the Overton window. And they also seem to buy people's apathy. It is the flood of dollars itself that gives the appearance of corruption and causes the citizenry to disengage, not people talking about how much money is spent.

There was a time when we all grasped that the appearance of corruption is just as bad as corruption itself.

Regardless, I wasn't arguing that dollars buy votes, I was arguing that giving some people access to drastically more speech than others is similar in concept and just as repulsive to me.
posted by wierdo at 11:50 AM on October 13, 2013


If dollars can achieve political objectives, it's rather obtuse and hair-splitting to fixate on whether or not the methods used include altering the vote numbers or proportions in one particular election. If dollars don't translate into votes in one particular election at a time then guess what: these massive outlays of dollars we see are probably being spent on a much wider and more longitudinal, more sophisticated, and more effective variety of tactics than simply trying to directly buy votes in particular elections.
posted by XMLicious at 7:20 PM on October 13, 2013


XMLicious: “If dollars don't translate into votes in one particular election at a time then guess what: these massive outlays of dollars we see are probably being spent on a much wider and more longitudinal, more sophisticated, and more effective variety of tactics than simply trying to directly buy votes in particular elections.”

There is a sense in which this is true; the Republican Party was smart, for instance, to channel donated funds to an array of smaller races in a strategic way to gain and keep their majority in the House. But I think it's incorrect to think of this as a game where scientific experts are hired to build a calculated strategy with a high probability of succeeding. That isn't how politics works, generally. Even that channeling of money to smaller races could easily have backfired, and it only worked because the Republicans were lucky in a lot of other ways. This is generally a crap shoot, and even the highly-sophisticated campaign machines staffed by "political scientists" who have a large amount of expertise in these matters don't have any chance at forcing an outcome.

The issue, in my mind, is not the power of money. It's the perception of the power of money. I know the conventional wisdom on this says: "wait – if money doesn't actually matter, then why are politicians fighting so hard for it? Why are political advocacy groups warring for money, if it isn't decisive in elections? If money really didn't matter, wouldn't those groups just stop going after money over everything else? Surely they can't be so stupid as to continue doing something that doesn't actually help them in the long run."

But the truth is: they are. They really are that dumb. And donors especially are that dumb. What's the guy's name – I don't even remember, but remember how there was that one incredibly rich guy who kept pouring millions upon millions of dollars into Rick Santorum's campaign? And how that didn't even slow it down on its race to the bottom? That's how most donors are: happy to be giving huge amounts publicly, not entirely thoughtful about it. And really, the campaigns, candidates, and politicians themselves aren't much smarter in this. They go after money because they're supposed to, because that's what they're expected to do, and because they're seen as failures if they don't.

And in the pursuit of that money, they tend to do dumb things; they tend to make promises to wealthy people in backrooms and make pledges about what they're going to do when they enter office. That's where they get into trouble, and that's how money begins to corrupt politics. Lobbying isn't problematic because of campaign donations; it's problematic because of outright bribery of public officials. The weird and irrational pursuit of campaign donations is where that problem begins, though.

Which is why I say that I believe in campaign finance reform. The myth of the impact of dollars on campaigns needs to be dispelled forcefully and decisively.
posted by koeselitz at 10:03 AM on October 14, 2013


But you still haven't actually demonstrated that there's a myth to dispel; all you have done is keep repeating this bit about how it's a scientific fact that money doesn't have any influence on the outcome of individual elections, which you have fallaciously extended into a principle that the expenditure of money has no influence on the course of politics in general. I don't see any reason to think that the sole purpose of all of the money laid out during the Santorum campaign was only to get Santorum himself elected.

Somehow we're living in a society where a multi-millionaire who openly admits to paying dramatically less in taxes than everyone else, and shrugs and says it's got nothing to do with him, he's just following the law, nearly won control of the executive branch in a democratic election. And where the sequester has now become the baseline for government budgeting, as the result of a political compromise under a Democratic president. I really don't think we should be patting ourselves on the back over how much dumber big-money donors are than everyone else.

Craps is no less susceptible to controls that let it appear as though individual players have a chance, even though the house always wins, than is any other casino game. The conventional wisdom you have to handwave away isn't just why money still gets spent in vast amounts on politics here and now, it's why moneyed interests appear to have been able to leverage their wealth and resources to effect political influence across myriad and varied political systems throughout human history. Plus you have to explain how it is we in 21st century America have had the luck to be in possession of a political system that will be immune to the influence of money if we'd only fervently ignore it like you're asking us to, at odds even with the political history of this country itself.
posted by XMLicious at 9:24 PM on October 14, 2013


As an exercise, you may wish to go back and find the place where I said that money doesn't influence politics. You may be surprised to discover that I haven't said any such thing. If you want a more fleshed-out version of what I've been arguing here, I'll just direct you to the conclusion of the Levitt paper I linked above.
posted by koeselitz at 10:27 PM on October 14, 2013


You've been making statements that political funding is "a whole system based on a ridiculous misconception." But if the money in politics has a wide array of effective uses for achieving political goals via methods other than altering the outcome of individual elections, the whole system is not based on a single misconception (if indeed it's a misconception, as the Levitt paper repeatedly notes that its conclusions are at odds with other contemporary work) about that one particular tactic.

It just sounds to me like you're taking some very specific statistical results and getting hyperbolic in investing broad meaning into them as well as taking a bit of an aggrandizing iconoclast role for yourself when you further interpret it all as a cause where you need to lead us in pursuit of tearing down false dogma and mythology and whatnot.

At most, all these results in the Levitt paper actually look like they're calling for is for someone to step up to the big chalkboard where the schema is drawn of all the possible manipulations and achievable political goals that money and powerful resources can effect in the 21st century American political sphere, and some little bit of the diagram around the particular effects on one election that are possible need to be rubbed out and redrawn.

I personally think there's lots of great work available to be done to improve how our democracy is run and to remedy serious flaws it has. I just think that exhorting about how dumb everyone involved in political funding is and promoting an idea that if money's having an effect on political races, it's only because we aren't trying hard enough to believe it's irrelevant, are measures that will probably do more damage than good.
posted by XMLicious at 11:32 PM on October 14, 2013


XMLicious: “You've been making statements that political funding is 'a whole system based on a ridiculous misconception.'”

Campaign fundraising. Not all political funding. Reading back over my comments, you can see that, right? In fact, I've been pretty much crystal-clear on this from the beginning, so I'm not sure where your misconception is creeping in.
posted by koeselitz at 8:41 AM on October 15, 2013


There's no misconception, you just haven't demonstrated that the dogma you're claiming to expose as false even exists in the first place. Your "common wisdom" soliloquist above, who can't imagine any reason to funnel money through campaign funding mechanisms unless it produces a decisive victory for a candidate in the election at hand, seems like a rhetorical device rather than an actual description of opinions I've heard voiced among pundits or acquaintances. (Unless "help... in the long run" from campaign fundraising and expenditures is actually referring to achieving the sort of goals that transcend individual campaigns I'm talking about, in which case it doesn't seem like much of a demonstration of stupidity the way you use it there.)
posted by XMLicious at 1:23 PM on October 15, 2013


« Older Media Studies professor Anne Helen Petersen writes...  |  Baz has graciously agreed to l... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments