Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Mayday, Mayday, democracy in danger . . .
May 2, 2014 10:09 AM   Subscribe

The Mayday SuperPAC. Yesterday Lawrence Lessig announced the launch of the Mayday SuperPAC, "The SuperPAC to end all SuperPACs." Its ultimate goal is to achieve constitutional campaign finance reform. They've set out specific funding goals--$1 million in 30 days, $5 million in the next 30--which will be matched by Lessig and other (currently) anonymous funders once achieved. Their initial goal is to influence races in five House districts and if successful they hope to expand in 2016.
posted by schroedinger (94 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
If they don't succeed, what does that mean about the power of money in politics?
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:17 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Possible derail: How does Lessig have millions of dollars of his own money?
posted by schmod at 10:18 AM on May 2


I don't know, but: Speaking fees can be very lucrative. So can being a lawyer. So can sitting on the board of various organizations.
posted by Flunkie at 10:27 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


Books? Speaking engagements?
posted by graphnerd at 10:27 AM on May 2


Can anyone give me a reason why I shouldn't donate? If they don't make the commitment you don't get charged, and it looks like they're 30% to the first commitment already.
This is a good thing, right?
posted by newpotato at 10:28 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


So let me get this straight: they are proudly raising money so that they can express themselves in this election with the hopes of influencing legislation that will prevent people from doing the same in the future? Mind-boggling. And self-defeating: their very success would be overwhelming evidence that the system works and does not need reform.
posted by dios at 10:31 AM on May 2 [6 favorites]


And self-defeating: The very success of male voters who elected Congressmen who changed the Constitution so that women could vote was overwhelming evidence that the system worked and did not need reform.
posted by Flunkie at 10:34 AM on May 2 [58 favorites]


The FAQ addresses that, Dios.

So you want to use big money to fight big money?

Yes. We want to use big money (collected from the many) to fight big money (collected from the few). Ironic, we understand. But embrace the irony. Everyone recognizes that politics costs money in America. And we don’t imagine a future where campaigns are free. But if we can pull together a large enough pool of money through this campaign, we can convince Americans that they can change the way money matters in politics. We can create a system in which it isn’t the influence of a few that matters. Instead, as any democracy should, it would be the influence of a majority that matters.

posted by jeanmari at 10:35 AM on May 2 [17 favorites]


man, I have been waiting for this to happen. Not sure if I will donate anything... I'm pretty jaded after we elected obama the first time. But, I've been hoping that other people would do something like this.

I don't think it will work, though, because even if the 99% all donate money, they still won't have enough to counter the 1%'s cashflow. Maybe all this will do is cement their stranglehold on the election process.
posted by rebent at 10:39 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


Isn't this in essence the political function of unions?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:42 AM on May 2 [5 favorites]


Lobbying wouldn't be so lucrative if it wasn't a hell of a lot cheaper to pay for the political clout to change the rules instead of working with them as they are.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:42 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


The FAQ addresses that, Dios.

Yeah, they acknowledge the "irony." (One could also call it hypocrisy: using money to influence elections for me but not for thee.) But you'd have to be a potted plant to not recognize the irony. I don't think their acknowledgement of the obvious undermines the absurdity of it all. They are exercising the very first amendment protected rights they would curtail for others. They are using the system because they admit it is necessary, but somehow think it is inappropriate when others who they don't like use it. You cannot escape the hypocrisy here.
posted by dios at 10:47 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


So let me get this straight: they are proudly raising money so that they can express themselves in this election with the hopes of influencing legislation that will prevent people from doing the same in the future? Mind-boggling. And self-defeating: their very success would be overwhelming evidence that the system works and does not need reform.

Here's the thing: it's a hell of a lot easier for one billionaire to decide on a cause and donate $1,000,000 than it is to whip up 10,000 people to donate $100 each to the same cause. If you don't think it hurts democracy to have laws that make it even easier for the ultra-rich to influence their pet causes then you may be confusing "democracy" with "oligarchy".
posted by schroedinger at 10:48 AM on May 2 [46 favorites]


I don't think it will work, though, because even if the 99% all donate money, they still won't have enough to counter the 1%'s cashflow. Maybe all this will do is cement their stranglehold on the election process.

Umm... If 99 people gave $1 and 1 person gave $100, then that 1 person would give more money. But THEN those 99 people could vote for candidate A and the 1 could vote for candidate B. Who would win? Candidate A.

The problem is not that the ultra-rich's money literally buys the election. The problem is that the ultra-rich can dominate the mass media such that their candidate appears to the uninformed voter to be the best choice. What is currently happening is that ultra-rich conservatives can spend 75% of the money in a given election to promote a candidate that 20% of voters would support. The liberal 20% is appalled, but the 60% moderate middle just sort of goes with the mass media opinion.
posted by Slothrop at 10:52 AM on May 2 [23 favorites]


Let me be clear lest someone thinks otherwise: I don't think anything they are doing is wrong, morally or other otherwise. On the contrary, they should be applauded for engaging in the civic process and using their available resources and abilities to advance policy agendas that they perceive to be beneficial to society at large. That is a great and wonderful thing that should be encouraged, and it is the type of civic engagement that the Framers wanted. And if they are successful, that is a success story of our system and is proof the system works properly. I want a system where people can do things like this and effect change. I just can't get passed the fact that they would show a healthy system but still want to dismantle it in a way to prevent this type of thing happening in the future.
posted by dios at 10:53 AM on May 2


> Yeah, they acknowledge the "irony." (One could also call it hypocrisy: using money to influence elections for me but not for thee.)

So say I think that the status quo is unacceptable, and seek to diminish the role of money in elections. You're suggesting that if I want to accomplish that goal, I am obligated (lest I be a hypocrite) not to raise money in support of that goal?

To paraphrase The West Wing: I should obey laws that don't exist? What's next — imaginary street signs?
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:55 AM on May 2 [12 favorites]


Here's the thing: it's a hell of a lot easier for one billionaire to decide on a cause and donate $1,000,000 than it is to whip up 10,000 people to donate $100 each to the same cause. If you don't think it hurts democracy to have laws that make it even easier for the ultra-rich to influence their pet causes then you may be confusing "democracy" with "oligarchy".
posted by schroedinger at 12:48 PM on May 2


You must have missed the part where Lessig and a few of his rich friends are going to spend millions. But that's ok with you, I'm guessing, because Lessig is one of the good guys, and we like it when our guys use their resources in the ways we like. Just don't like the bad guys do it.
posted by dios at 10:55 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


So if those in power will not/can not change a rule you feel is unjust and unfair if you don't follow that very rule to get it overturned. And if you DO, that makes you a hypocrite?

It's not hypocrisy, it's a catch-22.
posted by Freon at 10:55 AM on May 2 [24 favorites]


The problem is that the ultra-rich can dominate the mass media such that their candidate appears to the uninformed voter to be the best choice.

I would've added "sheeple" in here somewhere, but that may just be personal preference.
posted by jpe at 10:56 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Mayoneus: spreading rich, creamy democracy across the nation
posted by Dmenet at 10:57 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


You cannot escape the hypocrisy here.

Sure you can. They're playing by the rules of the current system, and trying to change the system. That's how any movement that tries to change the rules of the political system works.

Suppose it was more explicit. Suppose the rules of the current system were, "you can pay each voter up to $50 to vote your way." There's a ballot initiative to ban vote buying, and both sides offer voters $50 to vote their way -- including the side that wants to ban vote buying.

Is that hypocrisy? Does it undermine the point that vote buying is a bad system? Of course not. Hypocrisy would be, I say that vote buying is a bad system, but I act as though vote buying is an awesome system that we should keep forever. That's just not a relevant concept here.
posted by jhc at 10:59 AM on May 2 [32 favorites]


But that's ok with you, I'm guessing, because Lessig is one of the good guys, and we like it when our guys use their resources in the ways we like. Just don't like the bad guys do it.

It's not hypocrisy. It's attempting to fix a flaw in the system by exploiting that self-same flaw. Recognizing the flaw's utility in its own correction is not at all the same as embracing the flaw as a generally useful part of the system.
posted by solotoro at 11:02 AM on May 2 [18 favorites]


So say I think that the status quo is unacceptable, and seek to diminish the role of money in elections. You're suggesting that if I want to accomplish that goal, I am obligated (lest I be a hypocrite) not to raise money in support of that goal?

What I would hope you do is come to the transparent realization that your ability to engage in the political expression you desire in hopes to effect the marketplace of voters necessitates the spending of money and that such spending is a component of your political expression. So I would hope you would think to yourself, "since I want to do it when I believe in the situation, I ought not try to strip others of that right." Then you'd revisit your assumptions and try to figure out if there is perhaps another way to accomplish whatever goal you want. For instance, you might realize that is not "the role of money" that is the problem and might say, "It's really corruption I am worried about." So you might start looking at disclosure/sunshine laws or more aggressive enforcement actions. Or maybe advocate proportional representation system which de-emphasizes influence more than a single-member plurality system. In other words, you'd realize that there might be a better way that is not hypocrtical or destructive to political expression to fight the problem properly understood.
posted by dios at 11:05 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Isn't this in essence the political function of unions?

No. The political function of unions is to represent the union.
posted by srboisvert at 11:06 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


For example, assume we had an honest to god literal plutocracy where 1 dollar buys 1 vote. Maybe to keep things a little fair, you only have to pay up if you win. Wouldn't it still behoove everyone who wasn't benefitting from the current system (i.e. 99% of everyone) to pledge every dollar they could spare in hope of getting a system that works for them?

Such a resolution winning would not indicate a healthy system or a democratic system, only that the ultra-wealthy don't have quite have enough spare cash to counteract the needs of everyone else.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:07 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


I really like the way they put their mission:

[Political donors] hold our democracy hostage. We want to pay the ransom, and get it back.

To me, this is only ironic at a surface level -- they're really just saying you can't change the system without getting involved in it.

To be sure, this approach often fails; the reformers get coopted by the system. Almost every political group starts, by definition, as an advocate for eliminating its own reason for existing; almost none ever recognizes its purpose as fulfilled and summarily dissolves.

Nevertheless, I like the image of their goal as a ransom payment -- it implicitly accepts that it is a regrettable means to an end, that the whole endeavor is rather foul but unfortunately necessary.
posted by bjrubble at 11:08 AM on May 2 [15 favorites]


So let me get this straight: they are proudly raising money so that they can express themselves in this election with the hopes of influencing legislation that will prevent people from doing the same in the future? Mind-boggling. And self-defeating: their very success would be overwhelming evidence that the system works and does not need reform.

Ya know, I saw this argument coming 2.38 seconds after I found out about the project. And you're seeing it wrong -- rather, it's a statement that the system has gotten so rotten that this has become the only effective way of changing it. The people behind the project themselves state they hate the idea, but if they're going to change the system so these things are no longer effective, they've got to work within it to obtain that power. They're being pragmatic about it, using a flawed system to try to fix itself.

Whether they're successful or not proves nothing. There are too many variables flying around to ever conclusively say some thing happening "proves" a system works or not. Ideals are what we aim for, events may situationally support or deny them, and petty reality makes fools of us all.
posted by JHarris at 11:08 AM on May 2 [6 favorites]


In other words, you'd realize that there might be a better way that is not hypocrtical or destructive to political expression to fight the problem properly understood.

Even among those who have spent some time thinking about it, not everyone believes that restricting unlimited anonymous campaign donations is destructive to political expression.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 11:08 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


What I would hope you do is come to the transparent realization that your ability to engage in the political expression you desire in hopes to effect the marketplace of voters necessitates the spending of money and that such spending is a component of your political expression.
They directly said that they don't envision a future in which campaigns don't cost money. And that they hope to change the way in which money matters in politics, not to abolish money from politics.

Seriously, your arguments read like "I didn't read what they wrote, but what I assume they wrote is ridiculous, because any attempt to change a system from within the rules of that system is mind-boggling hypocrisy."
posted by Flunkie at 11:11 AM on May 2 [6 favorites]


True facts:
  1. Currently, winning the game requires exerting power through using money.
  2. Changing the rules of the game requires winning the game.
As such, if it is unethical to exert power through using money, either:
  1. Changing the rules of the game is unethical, because only winners of the game can change it, and winning the game requires being unethical. Therefore, we must quietly submit to the unethical people who rule us; turn the other cheek, submissively help them rule, and (I guess) hope for a better world in the afterlife. Or,
  2. We must jump out of the system altogether — we must end the game by flipping over the table using some other kind of force.
I would talk about how fascinating it is that dios is, apparently, an advocate of revolutionary methods, but in reality? Dios thinks the current system is just fine — he doesn't think it's unethical at all to use money power to win the game and write the rules — and he's just throwing a little tantrum about the existence of people who don't agree with dios and who are willing to use the force of money to succeed in their aims.

I think perhaps the thing to do is to interpret his sophistry as damage and route around it. Instead of assessing the use of money power in the abstract on ethical/unethical terms, we should instead treat the use of force through money as having no innate ethical valence whatsoever. This leaves us in the position of analyzing the rightness or wrongness of specific acts rather than specific methods; if ethics come into play, it's a type of consequentialist ethics that — unlike the rigid... whatever it is... that dios pretends to espouse. vulgar deontology? — allows us to place the wellbeing of others and the wellbeing of the country as a whole above maintaining our hypothetical individual purity.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:11 AM on May 2 [20 favorites]


What I would hope you do is come to the transparent realization that your ability to engage in the political expression you desire in hopes to effect the marketplace of voters necessitates the spending of money and that such spending is a component of your political expression.

In other words, democracy as you know it is dead, just accept it and don't bother fighting back.
posted by bjrubble at 11:11 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


> not everyone believes that restricting unlimited anonymous campaign donations
> is destructive to political expression.

0.01 percent in favor -- the proposition passes.
posted by hank at 11:14 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


And self-defeating: their very success would be overwhelming evidence that the system works and does not need reform.

The other way to say it of course is that you can only change the system from within, so that's what they're attempting to do with the insanity that is current campaign financing.
posted by aught at 11:14 AM on May 2


> So I would hope you would think to yourself, "since I want to do it when I believe in the situation, I ought not try to strip others of that right."

What? I wouldn't try to strip others of that right; I would try to strip everyone of that right, including myself.

The hypocrisy thing seems to be a red herring. You're against this idea on its merits; you've just chosen an ornery way to express it.
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:15 AM on May 2 [9 favorites]


Dios, you're thinking is muddled and bizarre here.

Our system has rules by which it can modify itself. Using the current rules to make changes to the rules going forward is the basis of our system of government. It is not hypocrisy or self-defeating.
posted by jsturgill at 11:15 AM on May 2 [10 favorites]


they would show a healthy system

A system that is growing isn't necessarily "healthy." Cancer, for example, if we want to continue the metabolic metaphor you started, is successful but not "healthy" for the system it is part of.
posted by aught at 11:17 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


I used to believe that "the Master's tools will never dismantle the Master's house" (Audre Lorde) but in this case, I don't know that we necessarily have any other tools and may genuinely NEED to use the ones at hand.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:19 AM on May 2 [4 favorites]


we like it when our guys use their resources in the ways we like. Just don't like the bad guys do it.

I know you're using ironic exaggeration, but in a word, yes.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:20 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


I've tried to donate three times and keep getting:
"Error establishing a database connection"
posted by whatgorilla at 11:25 AM on May 2


Me too... hopefully a sign of massive interest in the project (and hopefully something they can fix quickly).
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:27 AM on May 2


The PAC's address (mayone.us), puts me in mind of a mayonneuse, presumably a woman who makes mayonnaise.

Anyway, I hope they succeed, but I am pretty pessimistic about their chances.
posted by jedicus at 11:29 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


If anything this proves how broken the system is, the only real hope for actual reform is via the brute force of millions of dollars.
posted by hellojed at 11:30 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


Got through finally. Pledged and shared. Thanks for posting this.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:31 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


On their tumblr they said they're trying to switch servers to handle the unexpected load. I'll be donating too!
posted by schroedinger at 11:38 AM on May 2


The problem is that the ultra-rich can dominate the mass media such that their candidate appears to the uninformed voter to be the best choice.

I would've added "sheeple" in here somewhere, but that may just be personal preference.


I don't know where you live, but I live in a state, North Carolina, where huge amounts of outside wealth is being poured into deceptive advertising promoting conservative candidates and platforms. No one in North Carolina that I am aware of has ever been in favor of fracking (and many are opposed) but now it will be ramrodded through our legislature and implemented in mostly poor communities across the state. The governor and legislature, elected through the power of this outside money, are already trying to suspend public review of proposed fracking projects. People won't be able to vote on fracking projects and no candidate ran on a pro-fracking platform. But now that they are in power, that will be a primary goal of this administration. So, outside money created a legislative result that few, if any, people were informed about.

But sure, I'm just some eggheaded know-it-all...
posted by Slothrop at 11:43 AM on May 2 [8 favorites]


You must have missed the part where Lessig and a few of his rich friends are going to spend millions. But that's ok with you, I'm guessing, because Lessig is one of the good guys, and we like it when our guys use their resources in the ways we like. Just don't like the bad guys do it.

This is like mocking someone's ostensible position on any topic by saying "So you like it when good things happen, but when bad things do, all of a sudden you're against things happening!" You're not catching anyone in an inconsistency here, because, despite your rather facile equivocation, not all political initiatives have identical goals simply by virtue of using similar means. You're basically suggesting that your interlocutor is a hypocrite for having political preferences in the first place.
posted by clockzero at 11:53 AM on May 2 [17 favorites]


I'm going to cross the streams of the two threads I'm participating in right now: this one, and the BEEFTANK thread.

Say we are at a party (a really boring party, to my eye, but oh well) where everyone is playing sportsball games. We decide that whoever wins a given game gets to play in the next game, and moreover decide what the next game is.

One person gets a bright idea: he decides to field a team featuring Clarence BEEFTANK, an utterly unstoppable five foot zero inches tall 400 pound round ball of muscle and talent. This player, because of the presence of BEEFTANK, wins every time, and keeps insisting that we keep playing the copy of Madden or whatever that lets him field BEEFTANK.

Other people don't like this. BEEFTANK games are boring, and, anyway, people other than the BEEFTANK guy would like to play. As such, BEEFTANK guy's next opponent one-ups him by fielding a team of nothing but BEEFTANK,1 and then switches to a BEEFTANK-free game. Everyone who wasn't having fun before2 — which is to say, everyone but BEEFTANK guy — rejoices.

"But guyzzzz," whines BEEFTANK guy, "It's not ethical for you to use BEEFTANK to get rid of BEEFTANK! I'm going home!!" He sulks his way out the door.

No one misses him.

[1]: Trivia: "Nothing but BEEFTANK" was the original title of Talking Heads' "Nothing but Flowers." It took weeks for the rest of the band to convince the perpetually coked-up David Byrne to change it.
[2]: Or, I suppose, everyone who wasn't represented before.

posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:56 AM on May 2 [23 favorites]


31% in one day? Daaaaayyum.
posted by Big_B at 12:11 PM on May 2



>So say I think that the status quo is unacceptable, and seek to diminish the role of money in elections. You're suggesting that if I want to accomplish that goal, I am obligated (lest I be a hypocrite) not to raise money in support of that goal?

What I would hope you do is come to the transparent realization that your ability to engage in the political expression you desire in hopes to effect the marketplace of voters necessitates the spending of money and that such spending is a component of your political expression.


In other words, the idea of diminishing the role of money in elections should simply be unthinkable.
posted by anazgnos at 12:12 PM on May 2 [3 favorites]


The idea that one can go to extraordinary effort to use a broken system to fix itself is not proof that the system wasn't broken in the first place. In this case, they're trying to hack a system that is not responsive to citizen pressure to make things so it is.
posted by graymouser at 12:14 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Haven't noticed it linked in the post or thread, Lessig did a decent AMA on Reddit yesterday here.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:25 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


There is a forest fire and I set another fire to prevent the fire from spreading. Therefore there was never a fire in the first place.
posted by benzenedream at 12:25 PM on May 2 [6 favorites]


Let me make sure I understand this. If they succeed, the system, as it stands, is healthy. Would you really point at any situation where the good guys (or at least less bad guys) ultimately prevailed and declare that, by virtue of their success, all that came before was, ergo, for the best. Because I've got a Mr. Le Docteur Ralph on the line and he's got an essay for you.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:28 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


They are exercising the very first amendment protected rights they would curtail for others.

This only matters if the end result is Lessig and friends get to spend money and others don't. Lowering the amount of political spending for everybody isn't curtailing anybody's right. It would lower the chance of quid pro quo arrangements between donors and candidates, however. The SCOTUS is (supposedly) against those, no?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:37 PM on May 2


Slothrop, as a lifelong NC resident I feel the pain too. I feel like I'm living in some kind of mirror idiot world since the current administration. There was a story on the local news site today that said "Changes could mean shorter wait times at NC DMV offices" and I thought "yay, they're going to staff the offices properly" but instead McCrory wants to remove the written driving test requirement. Shit, let's just mail everyone a license when they turn 16 while we're at it. *facepalm*

More on topic, I applaud the effort to limit the influence of big money in politics. I think it's completely reasonable to get there using the broken system as it is now. I think most people would prefer that to armed protests or something ...
posted by freecellwizard at 12:44 PM on May 2 [2 favorites]


I'd like to thank dios for reminding me of the importance of money in the political process, thus giving me the boost of encouragement I needed to donate to the Mayday SuperPAC.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:44 PM on May 2 [2 favorites]


The only winning move is not to play. Which results in you losing.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:45 PM on May 2 [5 favorites]


i can't tell if this idea is embarrassingly naive or embarrassingly cynical. I don't think Lessig has the slightest idea about how to win congressional elections nor any interest in actually mobilizing people at the grassroots... so why should be be given millions of dollars to play with? Is this like a Kickstarter, where Lessig is going to turn around the hire the best people for his politics startup?

and then political idea behind this sounds something like $1, one vote: which is patently self-defeating if you think about it for 30 seconds, especially on this issue. But America always loves a self-righteous huckster...
posted by ennui.bz at 1:04 PM on May 2


We need to get money out of politics. Comcast PAC gave money to every single senator examining their proposed Time Warner Cable merger (source). Care to guess whether the senators will approve the merger?
posted by Triplanetary at 1:09 PM on May 2 [4 favorites]


ennui.bz: well, according to him he's going to use the money to rent brand-name political campaign consultants, so, yeah...

" nor any interest in actually mobilizing people at the grassroots." Really, this Lessig?.

You could argue he's not good at mobilizing people, but to claim he's not interested in the matter doesn't seem to be coming from a place of knowledge.
posted by el io at 1:12 PM on May 2


I don't think Lessig has the slightest idea about how to win congressional elections nor any interest in actually mobilizing people at the grassroots

Well, if you bothered to learn even one thing about this effort, you would notice that there is a board of directors as well as others involved directly in the management of the PAC, so it's not just Lessig. Plus, um, have you looked at his work history?

But America always loves a self-righteous huckster...

Yes, Lessig's quite extensive experience, expertise, and training are no better than a random dude selling counterfeit purses in a back alley. Same exact thing, no false equivalence here.

Reading this thread has been upsetting to me, I'm actually shocked that smart, thoughtful people don't all agree that the amount of money and lack of limits on spending in American politics are a big problem--I guess I thought that was self-evident to anyone paying attention. Whether or not we can agree on how to fix it is a different question, but as to whether or not it's a problem? Not as self-evident as I supposed.
posted by LooseFilter at 1:15 PM on May 2 [2 favorites]


Just chiming in to say that I also don't see any hypocrisy here.

A problem this doesn't address is that access to the ultra-rich is still going to be something politicians seek out. People in politics will often use the office to develop relationships with powerful, rich people--doing favors etc--in order to ensure they have a nice, cushy post-politics career. Campaign finance is only part of the problem with the super-rich in the political process.

But it would sure be a nice thing to happen.
posted by Hoopo at 1:24 PM on May 2


I hope none of you people who are decrying this as hypocrisy ever need chemotherapy. Because the shit they pump into you is poison.
posted by Etrigan at 1:28 PM on May 2 [12 favorites]


I'd like to point out the fact that even if this money, in the end, doesn't make an iota of difference directly, the capacity to raise it is, in itself, a very strong message!
posted by Riton at 1:29 PM on May 2


I used to believe that "the Master's tools will never dismantle the Master's house" (Audre Lorde) but in this case, I don't know that we necessarily have any other tools and may genuinely NEED to use the ones at hand.

Plus, this seems more like "let's steal the Master's tools, use them to break into his house, then change the locks and redecorate."
posted by Panjandrum at 1:30 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


For anyone else wondering just what "fundamental reforms" this SuperPAC would be promoting, their FAQ links to a set of five proposals so far at www.reform.to. It looks like the Republican proposals focus on tax credits or vouchers, e.g. a $200 credit for donations under $200 (maximum $400 per person to avoid the obvious loophole), whereas the Democratic ones focus on matching funds, where the first $200 or so of every donation would be matched by government funds (again with enough detail work to avoid loopholes).

Both kinds of proposal are ultimately about the same thing: using government money to lessen the imbalance between many voters' small donations and a few voters' large ones. Of course, the government gets its funds in the first place from taxes, which are paid disproportionately by the rich, so campaign finance reform basically gets the rich to help fund whatever campaigns the poor ones donate towards (which may or may not be ones those rich voters agree with). It doesn't sound any more unfair than other tax-based programs, like public highways or FEMA or food stamps.

I'm more concerned about calls for a constitutional amendment: what is so wrong with the current system that would require such a brute-force measure to overcome it? Any amendment that gets passed would need another amendment to correct it, even if unforeseen negative consequences quickly become apparent.
posted by Rangi at 1:34 PM on May 2


If I was evil and republican, I would have sat around after the two Obama campaigns proved that there was a significant amount of money now in play on the democratic side from small donors, and tried to figure out a way to answer the question: How can we minimise the influence of that?

I couldn't have come up with anything as brilliant as convincing an audience that skews incredibly democratic to donate to a superpac that will fund republican candidates in marginal seats though - which, let's be clear, is an explicit goal of this campaign as far as I can tell.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 1:42 PM on May 2


What is so wrong with the current system that would require such a brute-force measure to overcome it?

The current Supreme Court views money spent toward campaigning (including by supposedly third-party PACs) as political speech and thus Constitutionally protected. Any garden-variety laws attempting to restrict the use of money to influence elections have been struck down by them in short order.

Thus, nothing short of a constitutional amendment will suffice for those of us who truly believe that money should play a diminished role in politics (or, y'know, none whatsoever).
posted by Ryvar at 2:11 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


The problem is not that the ultra-rich's money literally buys the election. The problem is that the ultra-rich can dominate the mass media such that their candidate appears to the uninformed voter to be the best choice.
This is true. But how does the control of campaign finance change that for the ultra-rich, other than making it harder for the merely-rich to compete and impossible for the non-rich? If you can't afford a single advertisement then you have to pool (i.e. donate) your money, but that doesn't apply to someone who can afford to pay for a whole TV commercial by themselves, much less to someone who can afford a whole TV network.
posted by roystgnr at 2:19 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


But how does the control of campaign finance change that for the ultra-rich, other than making it harder for the merely-rich to compete and impossible for the non-rich?

I don't know that campaign finance would do this, but if we had stricter laws about making false statements on television, you might have some greater control against Roger Ailes (who is probably more dangerous than Rupert Murdoch, as Murdoch's lackey-with-his-own-ideas). In other countries, many of the assertions made on Fox News would subject them to harsh penalties from a governmental oversight board, because they are baseless and false. This is part of how tabloid newspapers are loosely "controlled" in Britain.
posted by Slothrop at 2:27 PM on May 2


Y'know, while this is an interesting idea and all, it's worth remembering that Karl Rove's SuperPAC distributed, what, $300MM in 2012?

And got nothing for it?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:43 PM on May 2


(Okay maybe not nothing exactly but their goal IIRC was to put Romney in the White house with R majorities in both House and Senate. Fell a little short of that goal there. And that was orders of magnitude more money than Lessig is even thinking about raising.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:50 PM on May 2


The current Supreme Court views money spent toward campaigning (including by supposedly third-party PACs) as political speech and thus Constitutionally protected. Any garden-variety laws attempting to restrict the use of money to influence elections have been struck down by them in short order.

There was a thread about this last month. As far as I can tell, any amendment that doesn't ban the super-rich from funding political ads, even right before an election, would not have the effect that the amendment's supporters desire; and any amendment that does, really would be restricting the ability to communicate free speech. Like saying, "You have the right to say what you want in newspaper editorials, but if you want to say the wrong thing we'll ban you from buying ink."

Yes, the existence of mass media gives the rich an unequal control over what gets aired, but a Constitutional amendment broad enough to stop them would be worse than whatever indirect influence they have on viewers' opinions. Besides, citizens who can be trusted to vote at all can be trusted to know the difference between paid political ads and factual news. (Fox News would then be Exhibit A that some viewers cannot be trusted to vote at all.)
posted by Rangi at 2:52 PM on May 2


Dios channels Justice Roberts: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." The way to stop corruption in politics is to stop spending money on politics. Obviously -- otherwise you are a hypocrite.
posted by JackFlash at 3:04 PM on May 2 [2 favorites]


Welcome to Metafilter Justice Roberts!
posted by benzenedream at 3:08 PM on May 2


One thing I always liked about elections and campaigning back home in Germany was that campaign ads including billboards as well as radio and TV spots are strictly limited both to a specific range of dates prior to the election as well as to a maximum number of slots per channel. If a station broadcasts an ad for one party they must also make equivalent room for ads from all other parties. Parties can't purchase additional ads beyond the ones granted to them officially (and, I believe, for free).

There actually aren't any limits on campaign spending or private/corporate contributions but the limits on advertising make it basically pointless for anybody to try and outspend other parties or candidates. The most you'll get with extra money is higher quality of spots and prints but that's about it. That's not to say that there isn't corruption (there have been a few scandals along the way usually involving the non-disclosure of significant contributions) and I would sure like to see limits on contributions. But I have to say that limiting political advertising does a pretty good job at preventing the kind of BS that's commonplace in US campaign financing and advertising.

More details about German campaign financing rules here at the Law Library of Congress
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:13 PM on May 2 [2 favorites]


Part of the problem is the neverending campaign cycle. If you're President, you know (once) you're standing for re-election in four years. Senate, 6; House, 2.

So this puts politicians in constant campaign/fundraiser mode instead of actually doing their jobs.

Not that there aren't problems with financing in Canada's elections, but we have basically a six-week campaign (maximum) that can occur anytime between the day a government first sits and five years later. (Fixed election dates are moving in across Canada, which I think is just going to create a lot of the same problems as in the USA, at least anywhere above municipal level).

I realize this is a function of Westminster Parliamentary democracy as opposed to the American system, but somehow making the timing of elections a little more random, with concomitantly shorter campaign periods, might help.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:19 PM on May 2


Hey, Trevor Potter is one of the legal counsel.

He was involved in the Colbert SuperDuper PAC, wasn't he?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 3:41 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Not that there aren't problems with financing in Canada's elections, but we have basically a six-week campaign (maximum) that can occur anytime between the day a government first sits and five years later

The current government has been a bit sneaky about this I find, too, making their party name, brand, or colors visible on a lot of government initiatives and communications. Which strictly speaking isn't campaign advertising but accomplishes a similar purpose.
posted by Hoopo at 4:19 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Pledged. Thanks!
posted by unknowncommand at 5:23 PM on May 2


Hey, Trevor Potter is one of the legal counsel.

He was involved in the Colbert SuperDuper PAC, wasn't he?


Yes, and he also used to be a Commissioner (& Chairman) of the Federal Election Commission. So yeah, good guy to have around.
posted by scalefree at 6:25 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Money in politics is a horror that undermines democracy, but we can choose to use today's rules to create a better tomorrow. There's nothing hypocritical or ironic about that.

Sadly, I'm not surprised to see the most predictably partisan and pro-status-quo people on this site arguing otherwise.
posted by grudgebgon at 7:08 PM on May 2 [3 favorites]


Sadly, I'm not surprised to see the most predictably partisan and pro-status-quo people on this site arguing otherwise.
posted by grudgebgon


Heh.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:15 PM on May 2


My cynicism and my hope are deadlocked right now.
posted by salvia at 7:50 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


There's no grudge here, just observations.

Many people argue that wealth inequality should cascade directly into inequalities of political access, control, and power. There are huge contingents of people who believe that those who have money are better people, and thus should have more power. It saddens me to see people making that argument, but it doesn't surprise me.

The idea that people deserve equal say is a radical and relatively new idea. 250 years ago America's founding fathers made that claim, but then they handed control to the white, male landowners. Money in politics is the same game that's always been played in the US.

Color me cynical, but I don't think this PAC stands a chance, even with a few generous backers. The ROI for corrupt donors is sky-high compared to the ROI for honest donors, so the scales won't ever balance.

I hope I'm wrong.
posted by grudgebgon at 7:58 PM on May 2


There's no grudge here, just observations.

I know! Just thought it was a wee bit funny, and was betting on you not taking it too seriously. I also agree with the idea you expressed in your comment.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:49 PM on May 2


Campaign Finance and the Nihilist Politics of Resignation: Most Americans want to take money out of government but don't think it's possible. Here's a plan for overcoming our defeatism.
posted by homunculus at 10:11 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Lessig on McCutcheon v. FEC: Originalists Making It Up Again: McCutcheon and ‘Corruption’. The Supreme Court decision ending aggregate limits on political donations was made possible by a dangerous, narrow definition of "corruption" the Framers themselves wouldn't recognize.
posted by homunculus at 10:13 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Congratulations to Lawrence Lessig on his 500th big idea project to save us all!

How have his other campaigns turned out? I'm genuinely curious, since I'm under the impression that he's a mostly-well-meaning self-promoter, but by no means an effective organizer, but I'd love to be proven wrong.
posted by univac at 12:20 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


Congratulations to Lawrence Lessig on his 500th big idea project to save us all!

Better than what you've done, mate. Every project he's been a part of has been at least a very good idea, the fights that need to be fought even when the forces arrayed against you are powerful.
posted by JHarris at 2:39 AM on May 3 [3 favorites]


The current government has been a bit sneaky about this I find, too, making their party name, brand, or colors visible on a lot of government initiatives and communications. Which strictly speaking isn't campaign advertising but accomplishes a similar purpose.

Sorry are you talking about Ontario Liberals or the federal Tories?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:28 AM on May 3


Sorry FFFM, missed that. I am rarely in Ontario much these days so I was talking about the federal Tories. What did the Ontario Liberals get up to? Same business?
posted by Hoopo at 11:31 AM on May 5


I dunno, it's just seemed like every time I've glanced at some official OnGov thing there seemed to be a little more red around than strictly necessary, you know?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:26 PM on May 5


Well then.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:56 PM on May 15


« Older Alan Dershowitz and Michael Hayden (for); Glenn Gr...  |  If you're looking for someone ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments