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House set to vote on campaign finance reform
February 12, 2002 7:53 AM   Subscribe

House set to vote on campaign finance reform It would be the biggest overhaul of the nation's campaign finance laws since Watergate. "We should win it," Shays, R-Conn., said Monday. "We've had the votes in the past and, frankly, I think our cause is just." Some people are against it.
posted by kliuless (30 comments total)

 
From the Business Week article:
"Companies and unions don't buy politicians. Rather, the pols usually shake down the givers. Enron wasn't a raging bull, muscling its way through the corridors of power. Instead, it was a cash cow -- milked by pols, lobbyists, and consultants for untold millions of dollars. Enron was actually extraordinarily naive about the way Washington works."

I love the subtext of Enron as victim. Ha! Too funny.
posted by mikhail at 8:20 AM on February 12, 2002


" ... I love the subtext of Enron as victim. Ha! Too funny..."

And unfortunately true. National campaigns run exactly like any large non-profit - very sophisticated donor lists, mailings, invitations to parties (at $25K a ticket) to big companies.
posted by MidasMulligan at 8:31 AM on February 12, 2002


let's just assume that enron, and thousands of other companies are the victims of a massive shakedown by politicians. first of all, it's funny to think about. second, if this is true, it's a powerful argument to stop the practice, don't you think? why should business have to pay millions of dollars in protection money to our elected representatives?

especially when they don't get anthing out of it.
posted by lescour at 8:50 AM on February 12, 2002


Companies and unions don't buy politicians. Rather, the pols usually shake down the givers.

It's a false choice, as both of these things happen. Business Week wouldn't be performing its function if it portrayed businesses as anything but the victims of overpowerful government.

Having worked on both national and smaller grassroots (how I hate that word) campaigns, in my experience current campaign finance law does more to hobble smaller campaigns than it does to level the playing field. If the limit on individual donations were indexed to inflation, it would do a lot to lessen the pressure on pols to fundraise every second of every day.

And sooner or later, soomeone's going to realize that the airwaves are a public resource, and broadcasters are going to have to give up some airtime during campaign season, which would drastically lower the amount of money needed to effectively get your message out.
posted by Ty Webb at 8:56 AM on February 12, 2002


This posturing in Congress doesn't much matter because "campaign finance reform" is unconstitutional anyway.

The First Amendment affirms that people have the right to free speech, and to freedom of association. All the campaign finance reform efforts I've seen have sought in some way to restrict one or both of these rights.

I am not saying, mind you, that the U.S Government has not been bought and paid for by moneyed but narrowly-focused and self-serving organizations. It has; this is a bad thing, and almost certainly not the intention of the founders of the country.

I think that most genuine attempts at campaign finance reform are well-intentioned. They're still unconstitutional.

The only real solution to the problem of government-for-sale that I can see is to radically increase the rate of individual representation in the government. There is currently one member of the U.S. House of Representatives for between 455,000 and 803,000 people, depending on the state. (The national average is 647,000 per representative.)

Contrast this with the UK, which has one member of the House of Commons for every 90,000 people. Or Germany, with a ration of 126,215:1; Canada with 103,923:1; Mexico with 200,699:1; Russia with 324,447:1; and the PRC with 423,575:1.

Now, of course some governments are not representative at all, regardless of how many people are represented by a single politician. But the fact remains that, judging by this one simplistic measure, the United States has very nearly the least-representative republican government on Earth.

This has not always been the case. As recently as 1920, the U.S. had a citizen-to-Congressperson ratio of about 250,000:1. Until the early part of the 20th century, the population of the House of Representatives grew along with the population of the country. Since the 1920 census, though, the H. of R. has been frozen at 435 members. The population of the U.S. has almost tripled since then, and the power of the federal government has much more than tripled -- which makes this under-representation in Washington a big problem.

Which means that if you're a Congressperson in 2002, you can't really even hope to actually represent the people who live in your district. There are just far, far too many of them for a single approach, a single answer to a question to be possible. Further, you now have to campaign to so many people just to get elected in the first place, that you've got to spend money on TV ads and other relatively-expensive ways of communicating.

All of which tends to lead to politicians sucking up to large moneyed interests. This is because the moneyed interests can "shout", with money, loudly enough to be heard over the teeming mass of people the politician supposedly represents, and because the politician truly needs the money to get elected if he's going to make even a token gesture to help the people in his district in Congress.

The answer? Bring government closer to the people. If your Congressman lived down the street, he's have to be more responsive, he wouldn't need as much money to run an election campaign, and he could more accurately represent your interests. If there were thousands of members of Congress, it'd be prohibitively costly for large organizations to buy them up wholesale.

Now, most people rightly blanch at the mention of "thousands of members of Congress." Even given that we would not have thousands of the puffed-up, well-financed characters that have hundreds of today, it'd still be chaos.

It's entirely too bad, then, that there's no political unit in the United States smaller than the federal government but larger than a county, and no way to have, for instance, sub-legislatures that govern only a particular region, independently of the others.

Oh. Wait a minute, we do have smaller political divisions. They're called states. And you'll find that most of them have decent rates of representation, and that the legislatures tend to -- more so than the federal government, anyway -- actually reflect the views of the people they represent, rather than the views of the highest bidder.

The federal government's assumption, in the 20th century, of a lot of powers formerly reserved to the states was born largely out of a desire to correct civil-rights injustices in the South. There's no problem with that; states' rights are not absolute. But an unintended(?) consequence of the federal government's involvement in local affairs and its subsequent growth in size and power is that we now have a government not only that can be bought, but one that might not be unable to be bought, given the realities of the situation.
posted by tino at 9:00 AM on February 12, 2002


This is America at it's butt ugliest. The towers of rationale are only topped by the mountains of greed.

Politicians, riding a wave of popular sentiment and compassion for 1000s fucked out of their retirement, scamming for cheaper TV ad prices.

ugh. It's the type of thing where just READING about it make ME feel dirty.
posted by victors at 9:03 AM on February 12, 2002


I've been hoping someone would start a thread like this so I could post my opinion as written by a clearer advocate than myself.
posted by Octaviuz at 9:10 AM on February 12, 2002


A MetaFilter (mostly) exclusive: Legislation Related to Campaign Finance Reform.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:15 AM on February 12, 2002


"campaign finance reform" is unconstitutional anyway.

bullshit stooge-think. Sometimes the supreme court gets it wrong. Sometimes they get it so wrong it's evil. A few generations from now they will look back at these times with more disdain and wonder than we do on the Jim Crow days.

Let's be clear, the moral foundation for capitalism is that rich people are rewarded for being rich. Fine. But having the following things for sale:

- health care
- education
- police protection
- justice system
- honest political representation

is NOT a matter of free speech. It's a matter of greedy capitalism run amok using some back-filling, self-serving flag-wrapping crap that magically justifies any and all actions that preserve the statis-qou.

"Grandpa, how did you sleep at night?"

"On a feather bed paid for by the tax breaks I bought in the golden age of bribery as 'free speech' -- bwahahahaha"
posted by victors at 9:19 AM on February 12, 2002


Business Week wouldn't be performing its function if it portrayed businesses as anything but the victims of overpowerful government.

Really? It's an advocacy rag? I bet The Wall Street Journal hasn't slanted things in such an obvious suck-up-to-the-readership way. I doubt that all its readers are business people anyway.
posted by raysmj at 9:44 AM on February 12, 2002


The idea that companies don't get anything out of contributing to politicians is really, really ignorant. Companies spend money because they seek a return on investment, and with American politics, that's just what they get.

One of the best websites from the last political election was Billionaires for Bush or Gore... I especially liked their cynical, tongue-in-cheek prospectus on the "low-risk, high return world" of buying favorable legislation.

Hey, Bill Gates used to not contribute to politics and his company was on the verge of being split up, but now look at him - the government floated him a softball antitrust settlement that only a monopolist would love, raising M$FT's stock valuation by Billions of dollars. Not a shabby return at all for a few hundred thousand dollars.

Now if only he could bribe those pesky judges too...
posted by insomnia_lj at 10:01 AM on February 12, 2002


I bet The Wall Street Journal hasn't slanted things in such an obvious suck-up-to-the-readership way.

I'll take that bet. Who do you suppose WSJ editor Robert Bartley is talking to here?:

BARTLEY: You'd have Enron on one side and some other big corporation on the other side, and...

MOYERS: but people with money have more clout than people who don't.

BARTLEY: Yes, it's better to be rich than poor.

MOYERS: But is that what democracy is about?

BARTLEY: Yeah, equality of opportunity.

MOYERS: Equality of opportunity as defined by wealth?

BARTLEY: Well, some people get wealthier than others if you have equality of opportunity. But if you try to level society, then nobody is going to do anything.
posted by victors at 10:02 AM on February 12, 2002


As I understand it, most of this campaign contribution money goes towards buying television ads - 30 seconds of "Our candidate is a noble, caring, patriotic American who looks out for you. The other guy is a lying scumbag who wants to destroy your way of life." In order to completely negate the effects of excessive campaign contributions, all the voting public has to do is make voting decisions based on gathering a few facts and reading a little bit instead of meaningless sound bites and pretty pictures.

Oh wait, this is the same public that will spend $100 on a pair of sneakers worth $20 because the shoe company pays a million dollars to a professional athlete to tell the public to buy those shoes.

Never mind.
posted by tdismukes at 10:14 AM on February 12, 2002


" ... I love the subtext of Enron as victim. Ha! Too funny..."

And unfortunately true. National campaigns run exactly like any large non-profit - very sophisticated donor lists, mailings, invitations to parties (at $25K a ticket) to big companies.


Oh, the poor poor poor businesspeople.

Well, since they're getting shaken down by these mean political parties, let's help them out by outlawing the practice. It's called campaign finance reform.

Businesses who are being shaken down oh so meanly won't mind not having to pay all that money, right? So why aren't more big businesses clamoring for laws that will prevent them from having to give their lunch money to some mean bully? I mean, it's not like companies are trying to bribe (gasp) politicians so that the businesses can make even more money, is it?

~laugh~

let's just assume that enron, and thousands of other companies are the victims of a massive shakedown by politicians. first of all, it's funny to think about. second, if this is true, it's a powerful argument to stop the practice, don't you think? why should business have to pay millions of dollars in protection money to our elected representatives?

especially when they don't get anthing out of it.


~chuckle~

Yeah, especially...
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 10:14 AM on February 12, 2002


all the voting public has to do is make voting decisions based on gathering a few facts and reading a little bit instead of meaningless sound bites and pretty pictures.

I won't argue that we get what we deserve but the 'garbage in-garbage out' argument doesn't justify the deliberate obfuscation of the truth by those who can buy it and use it to gain advantage over those who are too busy working for a living to dig the facts out. Just look at all the rationalizing going on in this thread.

Buying a political favor is wrong. Justifying it is wrong.
posted by victors at 10:29 AM on February 12, 2002


victors: You lose the bet. I didn't mean editorials.
posted by raysmj at 10:31 AM on February 12, 2002


Oh, just out of curiosity, it looks like Bill Gates has sold or given away over 40 million shares of Microsoft stock in the last year alone. Microsoft stock went up over $6 in the week following the announcement of the antitrust settlement.

Sure sounds like a good investment to me.
posted by insomnia_lj at 10:33 AM on February 12, 2002


victors, on my comment that "campaign finance reform" is unconstitutional -

bullshit stooge-think

I'm being called a stooge by someone who wants the government to regulate political speech.

Leaving the ad hominems aside, I'd like very much to hear that position explained.

I agree that we're living in a "golden age of bribery." And I agree that government should not be for sale to the highest bidder. But it occurs to me that the very purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit what we're now calling "campaign-finance reform" -- that is, restrictions on your ability to express your political ideas.

I don't understand how you think that restricting political speech is going to improve matters.

Who's going to decide what's acceptable political money-speech and what's not? Is it legal for you to give money to a candidate whose views you support? Is it legal for you to give money to a candidate if you own a hardware store? If you own a chain of hardware stores? If you own a global hardware conglomerate?

Would it be legal for AOL Time Warner to use its capital to make a movie whose charismatic protagonist bears a resenblance to a current presidential candidate, and who advocates political opinions similar to those of the AOL board of directors?

For that matter, would it be acceptable for AOL Time Warner to use its capital -- which has a very definite cost in dollars -- to distribute copies of "Roger and Me", a film with a definite political message?

I suppose I'm asking you to tell me at what point people lose their First Amendment right to free speech as a result of their exercise of their First Amendment right to free association.
posted by tino at 10:55 AM on February 12, 2002


raysmj: yea, you're right. never mind what their own editors say.

tino: you're entire argument is based on the premise that "bribery" equals "free speech" -- an you want me to explain my position better?

Who's going to decide what's acceptable political money-speech and what's not?

How about: anybody who doesn't benefit directly from bribery masquerading as free speech while cloaking themselves behind a mangling of the First Amendment.

Buying a political favor is still wrong. Justifying it is still wrong.
posted by victors at 11:20 AM on February 12, 2002


Companies absolutely are purchasing access when they make campaign donations. The mistake is when you start beliving that "access" amounts to anything more than invites to some major ego-boosting soirees, at which the executive might get said politican to spend five minutes nodding his head at everything you say before instantly forgetting it, instead of only one minute like the average joe. Look at what Enron has gotten for all its donations: Every time they begged for help they were shot down, and they ended up declaring bankruptcy. Some quid pro quo.

Besides, tino is right. These bills are completely unconstitutional; they're not going to happen.

tino: you're entire argument is based on the premise that "bribery" equals "free speech" -- an you want me to explain my position better?

The Constitution does not grant the right to equality of speech. You have no right to be heard, only to try to be heard. If someone, even a politician, wants to listen to person X instead of you because person X said "let's have lunch at the country club" and you said "let's meet at McDonald's," that's too bad for you. If someone has a million dollars to spend on saturating the airwaves with ads promoting a certain political matter, and you don't have 20 cents to spend on ads telling the public why you think that argument is crap, that's too bad for you. You can argue the morality of this all you want, but the legality is unquestionable.
posted by aaron at 11:53 AM on February 12, 2002


First rule of business: make money. If the large corporate donors didn't get a return on their investments, they wouldn't do it. The fact that business are giving money to politicians, and continue to do so, indicates that they're getting something for that money.

What, you thought they were being charitable?
posted by yesster at 12:08 PM on February 12, 2002


"you can argue the morality of this all you want, but the legality is unquestionable"

which is why so many want to change the law - to bring it into closer accord with morality
posted by yesster at 12:10 PM on February 12, 2002


The Constitution does not grant the right to equality of speech...If someone has a million dollars to spend on saturating the airwaves with ads promoting a certain political matter, and you don't have 20 cents to spend on ads telling the public why you think that argument is crap, that's too bad for you. You can argue the morality of this all you want, but the legality is unquestionable.

Wow, that's one of the best, most concise arguments for a constitutional amendment I've ever read.
posted by Ty Webb at 12:23 PM on February 12, 2002


Political donations are political speech, in my opinion. If I have $1,000,000 I think I should be able to give it in support of whatever political goal I wish.

The problem to me is that I do not think that corporations (or unions or non-profits or whatever) have a right to political speech. If there are 250 million citizens of this country then there are 250 million eligible contributors. If the check doesn't have the name of one of those people on it, you don't get to give it.

Yes, the rich still get more power here, but life isn't fair.
posted by obfusciatrist at 12:35 PM on February 12, 2002


Wow, that's one of the best, most concise arguments for a constitutional amendment I've ever read


Don't worry Ty, they're just making it up as they go along. There is such a thing as the public forum doctrine that guarantees that voices be heard, not just pissed in the wind against the tyranny of wealthy royalty.

But, hey, I guess to be correct the proper thing to so is: next time a plantation owner rapes a servant remind her that morality be damned, the law is the law and that life isn't fair. Any slave has the opportunity to buy their freedom. Like everything else: it's for sale.
posted by victors at 12:44 PM on February 12, 2002


Companies absolutely are purchasing access when they make campaign donations.

Wait, aaron, I thought they were just speaking via money, trying to positively influence the outcome an election in whatever small way. And blah blah blah. Jeepers! The spin on here today!
posted by raysmj at 2:50 PM on February 12, 2002


Look at what Enron has gotten for all its donations: Every time they begged for help they were shot down

Exactly right.
posted by Dirjy at 8:34 PM on February 12, 2002


just to update, zdnet is reporting that microsoft paid out over of 6 million dollars in political contributions in the 2000 election cycle.

does anyone here believe this is simply to buy access? i'm serious. do you?

[note: i wasn't impressed with the sources in the story, and woudn't be suprised if the actual figures had to be revised]
posted by lescour at 9:10 AM on February 13, 2002


does anyone here believe this is simply to buy access? i'm serious. do you?

I worked at msft and was solicited for contributions for 'the cause'

when I declined because of my stance on soft money I got a hearty "good luck"

I know exactly what they were trying to buy.
posted by victors at 10:01 AM on February 13, 2002


um, if you're keeping up at all here's an update :)

In a key test vote, the House of Representatives on Wednesday endorsed a sweeping measure to reduce the influence of money in politics, clearing the way for possible approval later in the day.

yay! still walking through a minefield though cuz they still have to vote on amendments designed to kill it.
posted by kliuless at 1:50 PM on February 13, 2002


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