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Money continues to count as speech.
June 26, 2006 8:53 AM   Subscribe

SCOTUS strikes down campaign finance restrictions [pdf]. The Supreme Court issued an opinion today in Randall v. Sorrell, striking down limits on campaign contributions and campaign spending imposed by the state of Vermont. The Court, in a fractured opinion (six separate opinions, including two dissents), concluded that restrictions on both contributions and expenditures ran afoul of the First Amendment. More from Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog. Expect more from Rick Hasen later today.
posted by monju_bosatsu (81 comments total)

 
heh? I just finished read this: Money-tracking leak angers Cheney and came and saw your post.

Can we put him in one these soon? Pretty please?
posted by Unregistered User at 9:06 AM on June 26, 2006


"All the power in the hands/Of the people rich enough to buy it"
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:24 AM on June 26, 2006


If it angers Dick Cheney, I'm all for it. Maybe one of these days his anger will be so great that something inside him pops.
posted by NationalKato at 9:28 AM on June 26, 2006


One dollar, one vote!
posted by namespan at 9:29 AM on June 26, 2006


Wow.

There is a lot here. I'll have to go back and do a closer reading of all of the opinions, but at first read, I am disappointed to the extent this doesn't fully address the situation in a satisfactory manner. If anything, this opinion appears to raise more questions than resolve them. And the fractured nature of the opinion only adds to that. But my initial views are that:

Expenditure limits are clearly off the table. As they should be.

Contribution limits are constitutionally questionable. I think that Thomas hit on the stronger reasoning in the concurrence. If there is a constitutional problem with some contribution limits, then there would necessarily have to be a constitutional problem with all contribution limits from a juridicial perspective.

I get the sense that the Court is drifting to a Ely-articulated view that the Court has a significant representation-reinforcing role in the democratic process.

The difficult and fractured reasoning in the opinions belies the problem of identifying what rights are at stake and what analysis the Court should be engaged in. That problem is because the things pursued by campaign finance reformers are not specifically tied to the problem itself.

Campaign finance is a bad policy "solution" that doesn't address the problem. Indeed, the unintended consequences are immense, and the constitutionality of it all is suspect. The Court needs to make a firm opinion on it or get out of the game because their signals aren't correct. Approaching all of the different reforms on an ad hoc basis is not the right approach.
posted by dios at 9:30 AM on June 26, 2006


The main problem with the absolutist money-equals-speech argument is that the more money you have, the more (influencial) speech you have. That destroys democracies, or at least destroys their legitimacy.

From what I can read from the opinion, the Court never seemed to connect the great damage caused to a democracy by more-money-more-speech with their evaluation of whether a limit was too low.
posted by Mr. Six at 9:33 AM on June 26, 2006


I get the sense that the Court is drifting to a Ely-articulated view that the Court has a significant representation-reinforcing role in the democratic process.

I see that in Breyer's opinion, as well, especially when he justifies striking down expenditure limits set too low as reinforcing the structural advantage of incumbents. It will be interesting to see if that kind of reasoning is applied in the redistricting case still pending before the court.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:34 AM on June 26, 2006


if we are honest, campaign financing in the USA is really a joke, beholden to a wide amount of abuses that a virtually impossible to change.

Remember just this year as the corruption scandals broke congress was tough talking? In the end, taxpayers got a couple changes which included even more loopholes.

Accountability and dare I say electability is left to the simple rule of he who has the most gold wins.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 9:34 AM on June 26, 2006


Remember just this year as the corruption scandals broke congress was tough talking? In the end, taxpayers got a couple changes which included even more loopholes.


Are you saying it's all a shell game? <>snark<>...

The Democrats will save us! Nov 06! Just wait!
posted by Unregistered User at 9:46 AM on June 26, 2006


I think that the simplest solution is to allow individuals to give and spend as they will but forbid or very tightly regulate and limit the giving of money by corporate entities (including non-profits).

The law is (for better or worse) well-settled that corporations are 'natural persons,' but they are not citizens. The way I see it, that means they have no particular right to political expression. Put another way, a corporation giving money to a political cause is not political speech but rather commercial speech, which is (and ought to be) far less protected.

If the individual employees, shareholders, or investors in a corporation really feel that supporting candidate X is in the corporation's best interest (and therefore their own), then they should just donate that money themselves.
posted by jedicus at 9:46 AM on June 26, 2006


he who has the most gold wins
Mr. T for President!
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:48 AM on June 26, 2006


The "more money means more influence" is a silly argument. There are tons of factors which give some people more influence than other people. Why isolate money as need legal protection from? Cindy Sheehan has more political influence than you do. Should you limit her? The guy who is the head of the AFL-CIO has more political power because he controls the votes of his union. That is disproportionate influence. Kos can start a website and exert more influence. If read the reasoning in some of the last opinions, especially the dissents, it is point out that indeed any human quality can be turned into the "more ___, more influence."

The real problem, as Thomas noted over a decade ago, is the problem of actual corruption or the appearance of corruption. These restrictions don't address that. What corrupts a politician more? Me giving $1000 to him, or the head of a group promising him tens of thousands of votes?
posted by dios at 9:51 AM on June 26, 2006


While I think it's true that the rule of "he with the money gets more free speech" undermines the central idea of democracy, I also think that democracy in its pure form is impossible in the real world. Free speech itself undermines democracy, since power inequities will always exist, and that means more free speech for the powerful.

Clearly, in order for true democracy to exist in a world where there are rich and poor people, free speech would have to be curtailed and restricted in order to give equal voice to all citizens, and not unfairly favor the rich. But I think one of the foundational principles of the U.S. is that free speech, even with its unfair weight toward the rich/powerful, is more imporant than true democracy. Why? Because the only way to really enforce restrictions on free speech in order to ensure true democracy would be to grant power to the Government to restrict speech -- and the Framers didn't trust the Government to do it right. I don't either. What's more 'democratic?:' Government control of speech to 'enforce' democracy, or free speech that naturally is weighted toward the powerful? That's the real balance that must be struck, and it's a tough call.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:52 AM on June 26, 2006


you know it's the entire premise that is incorrect. What the court does here is actually uphold ideals that run contrary to what democracy is about.

So, correct me if I am wrong with all the usual MeFite gusto, but essentially in Vermont, I can still donate as much cash as I wish to the person or party of my choice. Fantastic. Score one for the citizen. However, in the end, we all lose. There should be strict limits on all competitors in a public office race to ensure all have a fair chance.

Some might accuse of me of embracing the nanny state, but equality in spending between candidates might actually decrease the amount of outside influence (read corruption) in the current practice of spend spend outspend your opponent to win. And this does not even begin to address the swift boats or national party coffers....

God even typing this comment makes me fairly sick as to how the whole process is just whacked.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 9:54 AM on June 26, 2006


I think that the simplest solution is to allow individuals to give and spend as they will but forbid or very tightly regulate and limit the giving of money by corporate entities (including non-profits).

As Thomas argued before, the simplest solution that most directly addresses the problem in the least constitutionally questionable way is to allow individuals to give and spend as they will but require complete and full disclosure. If the chairman of Corporation X gives Y dollars to a group of politicians and then a special bill that benefits Corporation X only passes, you will know there was corruption.

However, if Chairman Z of a staffing corporation really loves the prospect of solar power because he is an environmentalist, what corruption occurs if he spends millions of his own money on ads supporting solar power and candidates that are green?
posted by dios at 9:55 AM on June 26, 2006


dios, I think the point being made is that the old phrase, "follow the money" definitely applies here. I agree with you as to the numerous factors that can cause undue influence but I don't think "more money/more influence" is silly. It is, in fact, quite accurate - as is your argument surrounding the Unions and that cackling idiot, Sheehan.
posted by j.p. Hung at 9:56 AM on June 26, 2006


I think that the simplest solution is to allow individuals to give and spend as they will but forbid or very tightly regulate and limit the giving of money by corporate entities (including non-profits).

Corporate contributions are already limited in significant ways. "Direct corporate contributions to candidates are obviously prohibited, but so are any uses of corporate facilities, resources, or employees provided by the corporation to a campaign. These prohibitions are stringent, and both the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice are aggressive in enforcing them with civil and criminal actions."
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:58 AM on June 26, 2006


"If the chairman of Corporation X gives Y dollars to a group of politicians and then a special bill that benefits Corporation X only passes, you will know there was corruption."

This is basically going on now and little has been done to stem the tide of corruption in government.
posted by j.p. Hung at 9:59 AM on June 26, 2006


sorry Funmonkey1's grammer filter has been set to off today. Oopsie.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 9:59 AM on June 26, 2006


The "more money means more influence" is a silly argument.

then why do corporations spend so much money on political campaigns? ... because they're silly and wasting their money?

i don't think so
posted by pyramid termite at 10:01 AM on June 26, 2006


This is basically going on now and little has been done to stem the tide of corruption in government.

Democracy depends on the citizens caring enough to stay informed. Don't ask the Government to police itself. Ask the people to police the Government by doing their homework and making informed voting decisions. Transparency is the best solution, but it doesn't make a difference if the electorate doesn't care to look at what has been made transparent.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:03 AM on June 26, 2006


I don't think "more money/more influence" is silly. It is, in fact, quite accurate - as is your argument surrounding the Unions and that cackling idiot, Sheehan.
posted by j.p. Hung at 11:56 AM CST on June 26


You are correct. I apologize and retract that comment if it reads that I was intending to suggest the comment was "incorrect" when I wrote "silly." More money can mean more influence (it doesn't always, though). What I mean by silly is that to focus on that alone is silly. As JekPorkins noted, there are always power inequities in anything.

I would comment to JekPorkins, though, that the way out is the representative model and regular elections. That is the way through the view that there are power inequities. Politicians get elected in single member plurality districts which decrease the likelihood of a specific interests. They necessarily have to appeal to a wide enough voter base to get elected. Once in office, they must still represent the districts interest. If they do not, they will be voted out at the next election. I would also argue that the fact we utilize representatives (as opposed to direct democracy) mediates against the likelihood of true corruption, but that is a tangent unnecessary for this thread.

Quite simply, a solution should be tied to the problem at issue. The campaign finance reform "solutions" are rarely tied to the problems they intend to address.
posted by dios at 10:06 AM on June 26, 2006


This is basically going on now and little has been done to stem the tide of corruption in government.
posted by j.p. Hung at 11:59 AM CST on June 26


It is? Where? Show it. The people will decide in the next election.
posted by dios at 10:08 AM on June 26, 2006


I would also note, that if it is going on as you suggest, there are criminal charges which would issue.

I think the belief that "this is happening" with any degree of regularity is a trope that is conspiratorial and speculative, at best.
posted by dios at 10:08 AM on June 26, 2006


"Direct corporate contributions to candidates" may be prohibited, but it's not what I had in mind. I meant things like corporate giving to PACs, 'campaigns to elect so-and-so,' and all the other softer forms of political contributions.

Note also that I'm not talking about eliminating PACs and political non-profits. I'm talking about eliminating corporate (even non-profit) donations to those entities. So, citizens can give money to, say, the Sierra Club or the NRA but, I dunno, Whole Foods and Smith & Wesson can't.

The reason is that people rarely have enough money to influence politics in a way that strongly benefits them directly and disproportionately. That is, it's hard for an individual to influence, say, a highway bill enough to make a huge profit on real estate values going up (although looking at Hastert's recent troubles, maybe it's possible). It's quite easy for a large corporation to make a ton of money by shifting the tariff on some product by half a percent. Yet what's good for that company is not necessarily good for the public or even for its employees.

So, that seems the best way, to me, to deal with the essential problem of corruption.
posted by jedicus at 10:12 AM on June 26, 2006


For the first time in history, I agree with dios.

There are a multitude of ways to buy politicians, and campaign contributions are one of the smaller ones.

I've yet to see a proposal that seemed like it might do something to clean up the corrupt mess of bullshit that is Washington. (well, except perhaps Jefferson's idea that every generation needs a revolution.)
posted by I Love Tacos at 10:16 AM on June 26, 2006


I think the belief that "this is happening" with any degree of regularity is a trope that is conspiratorial and speculative, at best.

Oh, I think that corruption is rampant. I'm not convinced, though, that campaign finance is the solution to the problems; or, at least, not an independently sufficient solution. Much of the corruption in the news recently has little to do with campaign contributions in exchange for votes. Instead, several representatives are being investigated for the direct receipt of bribes, which is, of course, already plenty illegal. Also, several representatives have engaged in questionable land deals in which the representatives, e.g. Dennis Hastert, profited because of legislation proposed or supported by the representative. Campaign finance reform certainly won't fix those problems.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:16 AM on June 26, 2006


more like scrotus amirite
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 10:21 AM on June 26, 2006


Why isolate money as need legal protection from? Cindy Sheehan has more political influence than you do. Should you limit her? The guy who is the head of the AFL-CIO has more political power because he controls the votes of his union. That is disproportionate influence. Kos can start a website and exert more influence.

I'm not aware that Sheehan and Kos receive and redistribute donations to politicians in any (significant) way. These people are citizens, legitimately representing the views of other citizens in a public fashion that is perhaps closest to the heart of the representational democracy we have chosen. If they have any influence, which is debatable, the system is working.

I'm not sure about your reference of the AFL-CIO, which must make donations to get face time with politicians, in order to represent union members. They do not have power from their (declining) membership.

Money is a solvent dissolving political will in the direction of its giver, and on the levels discussed by the Court, usually given by a corporation, or some other commercial entity whose speech is difficult to track. Corporations are not entitled to the same speech as citizens. The Courts are missing the forest when arguing tree-like minutiae about limits.
posted by Mr. Six at 10:22 AM on June 26, 2006


I don't think direct bribes and questionable business deals are the big problem either.

There are far more subtle and deniable ways to buy a politician. An easy example:

Congressman Dirtball works on laws that directly affect Unethical Inc.
Unethical Inc. gives Congressman Dirtball a lucrative consulting position.

Now tell me, is he a valuable consultant because he's a subject matter expert due to his previous experience.... or because he slanted the laws to help Unethical Inc.?
posted by I Love Tacos at 10:24 AM on June 26, 2006


Quite simply, a solution should be tied to the problem at issue. The campaign finance reform "solutions" are rarely tied to the problems they intend to address.

Yes. The campaign-finance reforms are the kind of fixing-the-wrong-problem solution that allows the promoters to look like they're working on something, but still avoid taking a real unpopular stance on anything. IMO.

The most ambitious campaign-finance laws floated would still not fix our congress, even setting aside all the unintended consequences of these plans, some of which discussed by CFR folks are quite broad.

Keep fighting the good, orthogonal fight, McCain.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:36 AM on June 26, 2006


'm not convinced, though, that campaign finance is the solution to the problems

If only because there are much more subtle, indirect ways to move money to politicians.

Certainly Dick Cheney's compensation from Halliburton has been more than well rewarded with oversight-free contracts for Halliburton's services in Iraq, to name one example.

To me, campaign finance reform is just one piece of law in a parcel to somehow cope with the influence of money in politics. Understanding the role of compensation, direct or indirect, is critical to keeping a stable, democratic government in place. People will only abide corruption for so long, before a country slides into disarray.

I liked what the NIH did two years ago, where they really sat down, discussed what it meant for a government researcher to have a conflict of interest from private financial interests, and dealt with it as mature, intelligent, responsible adults.
posted by Mr. Six at 10:37 AM on June 26, 2006


The "more money means more influence" is a silly argument.

C'mon dios. Advertising works and the more money one has to advertise, the more it works.
posted by three blind mice at 10:38 AM on June 26, 2006


how about this..?

For any campaign, each candidate who qualifies gets X amount of dollars to use... no more, no less... the money comes from a government fund; no corporate or individual money in the mix...

Equal funds, equal voice...

Right now, he who has the most money controls the argument... whether it is thru more ads on TV or a greater ability to travel... the candidate with less money is at a disadvantage, regardless of either candidates' position on the issues... even if candidate B holds all the ideals of his or her district but candidate A gets all the air time, candidate A is going to be the one elected... that doesn't serve anyone..

Of course, this little idea has problems (PAC's, etc..) but it's a start... it may be impossible to level the playing field... but it's worth the effort...
posted by WhipSmart at 10:44 AM on June 26, 2006


the sad part about all of this is that you shouldn't need to run slanted campaign commercials for people to be able to find out about you and what you stand for.

it says a whole lot about the general stupidity of the voting public that they make their decisions based on fifteen-second shock ads.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 10:46 AM on June 26, 2006


For any campaign, each candidate who qualifies gets X amount of dollars to use... no more, no less... the money comes from a government fund; no corporate or individual money in the mix.

Welcome to the land of permanent incumbency.
posted by dios at 10:49 AM on June 26, 2006


point taken.... but we're already there...

the paradigm has to shift somehow... I'm just throwing out ideas so others can debate and refine and figure out what can be changed and how that change can be effected...
posted by WhipSmart at 10:50 AM on June 26, 2006



Congressman Dirtball works on laws that directly affect Unethical Inc.
Unethical Inc. gives Congressman Dirtball a lucrative consulting position.


Better yet, a real example:

Tom Ridge, as head of DHS, tells people to go buy duct tape and plastic.
Tom Ridge joins the Board of Home Depot


Now tell me, is he a valuable consultant because he's a subject matter expert due to his previous experience.... or because he slanted the laws to help Unethical Inc.?


Both. And there in lies the problem. Does an individual (doesnt necessarily have to be a lawmaker, it could be an appointed position a la Ridge) who has influence over an industry in a regulartory or policy position be allowed to turn around and accept a position in the industry upon leaving government? It smells funny certainly (its easily construed as a reward for "being a good boy/girl" while in office), but what are the other options? Working at Burger King? Delivering pizzas? An idea from the corporate world is non-compete agreements, and should government institute a non-compete-like agreement. You aren't allowed to work in an industry you regulated or had policy control in after you leave your position for a specified time.
posted by SirOmega at 10:51 AM on June 26, 2006


as an aside, I'd like to point out that the fact that 95% of incumbents are re-elected is due to the enormous advatage they have in fundraising... take that advantage away, and it may not be as incumbent-centric as you seem to believe...
posted by WhipSmart at 10:53 AM on June 26, 2006


the paradigm has to shift somehow.

What problem are you trying to fix specifically? If you can isolate the problem, you can isolate a specific solution. Then you have to look at the unintended consequences of that solution.
posted by dios at 10:53 AM on June 26, 2006


Welcome to the land of permanent incumbency.

Do you deny the reality that an incumbent both has a vast financial advantage and is more likely to win re-election?

Permanent or just mostly permanent, incumbents shape a large chunk of the legislation in this country.
posted by Mr. Six at 10:54 AM on June 26, 2006


WhipSmart, aside from the extreme unconstitutionality of your proposal, what about third-party speech? Would you restrict, say, the Sierra Club from putting out a TV ad supporting a candidate? What if the ad didn't say the name of any candidate, instead supporting a certain position on a certain issue? What if the ACLU wanted to put on a multi-million dollar public relations campaign criticizing warrantless searches and other current government practices that they consider unjust? Would you make that illegal, since it would obviously affect the outcome of elections?

What if the UAW used its influence to get all the auto workers to have a day off work on election day, and simultaneously encouraged its members to vote for the democratic candidate? Should that be illegal?
posted by JekPorkins at 10:55 AM on June 26, 2006


as an aside, I'd like to point out that the fact that 95% of incumbents are re-elected is due to the enormous advatage they have in fundraising..
posted by WhipSmart at 12:53 PM CST on June 26


Studies show that the enormous advantage is in name-recognition. How do you get your name recognized? Getting it out there. What is the necessary precondition to getting your name out there? Money.
posted by dios at 10:55 AM on June 26, 2006


WhipSmart, your idea's intention is good, but the method is horrible. For one, it basically requires every taxpayer to donate money to every qualified (whatever that means) candidate. What if you strongly disagree with a lot of them? With all of them? Who decides who's qualified?

Frankly, I think a good long look should be taken at the countries that consistently top Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index. Clearly, those countries' methods work, at least within their own governmental and societal frameworks. I'm not enough of an expert to say what methods they use or if they're adaptable to the US or not, but it seems like that would be a good starting point.

(And yes, clearly, I'm guilty of armchair speculation about how best to curb corruption and encourage a level political playing field, too, just look upthread).

Also, with regard to the references to incumbency: a great deal of the problem is not just fund raising and access to the party machine. There are also the issues of name recognition, abuse of franking privileges, and the redrawing of districts. Lastly, of course, we should expect at least some incumbency. After all, if people liked them well enough to vote them in once before they were incumbents, it stands to reason that they're probably not completely inelectable (note that I didn't say 'right for the job').
posted by jedicus at 10:58 AM on June 26, 2006


Welcome to the land of permanent incumbency.

That's distinguishable from the current situation ... how, exactly?

I wonder greatly whether O'Connor would have sided with the plurality on this, considering her well known sentiments towards federalism and allowing state governments to experiment with democratic processes. I find the correlation of money and speech troubling, and at this point the court itself seems even to be buying into the Buckley hype of a direct a=a relationship (as I recall, that decision did not exactly say that).

This decision is not surprising at all, yet I wish states had a little more latitude in trying to correct the widespread assumption among the electorate that campaign finance rules are broken. And here we get another example of selective application of federalist principles from the court.
posted by norm at 11:00 AM on June 26, 2006


dios - the paradigm as it is now nearly guarantees that nothing changes... the people in office have to continually please their fund-base and can't act outside of that box... there are thousands of people with amazing ideas and determination who can't even begin to think about running because they can't afford it...

Right now, who runs for office..? Rich people... Lawyers, doctors, CEOs, actors, etc...

People give money not necessarily to those who share their ideals, but to those who they think will win so that they can come back later and ask a favor...

All I'm looking for is a sytem that puts in place a chance, just a chance, that the best candidate wins, not just the best financed one...

The reason I think the money should come from a government fund instead or donations is so candidates can concentrate on other things... if you're a member of the House, you have to run every two years... you spend more time on fund-raising for the next campaign than you do in actually doing the job you were elected to do...

I don't have all the answers, man... I'm just throwing out ideas... if you can make them better, then by all means... but if you're just going to belittle them, then please continue to vote for whomever has the best website or has the shiniest Stepford family in their TV ad... permanent incumbency indeed...
posted by WhipSmart at 11:05 AM on June 26, 2006


Studies show that the enormous advantage is in name-recognition. How do you get your name recognized? Getting it out there. What is the necessary precondition to getting your name out there? Money.

and money gets you elected, which gets you name recognition, which gets you more money, which gets you elected and so on...

Money is the problem... who cares that candidate A wants to eat babies while pissing on the American Flag... I don't recognize the other name on the ballot, so candidate A it is..!

Wonderful system...
posted by WhipSmart at 11:08 AM on June 26, 2006


While the profusion of opinions harckens back to Rhenquist days, the opinions show the influence of the Roberts and Alito ascension, as they continue to find ways to keep Kennedy in the conservative fold and to bring over one or more of the liberals on most of their rulings. (Breyer, today.)

I'm going to be fascinated to see how the Texas redistricting case works. A lot of people are expecting a bloody 5-4 match as the Justices revert to partisanship, but I think Roberts will deliver a quite different result.
posted by MattD at 11:17 AM on June 26, 2006


I think that Roberts sits that one out because he sat on the Federal Appeals court that already heard and ruled on the case...
posted by WhipSmart at 11:22 AM on June 26, 2006


I other SCOTUS news:

Scalia twisted my words: Criminologist says his work was used to reach its opposite conclusion in Hudson.

Supreme Court Ruling on Police Raids Endangers Citizens
posted by homunculus at 11:53 AM on June 26, 2006


Mr. Six writes "I'm not aware that Sheehan and Kos receive and redistribute donations to politicians in any (significant) way. These people are citizens, legitimately representing the views of other citizens in a public fashion that is perhaps closest to the heart of the representational democracy we have chosen. If they have any influence, which is debatable, the system is working."

I think you misunderstand dios' point, which is a really good one, and which basically boils down to pointing out that although more money may buy more influence it is not the only thing which delivers more influence. Even if money and influence have a one to one correlation, there are other ways in which not all particpants in a democracy are completely equal, and arguing that money must be regulated because it changes the playing field doesn't make sense when other forms of inequality are not even considered.
posted by OmieWise at 12:00 PM on June 26, 2006


Welcome to the land of permanent incumbency.
This is not meant as derail , but there is an easy solution to this part of the problem: term limits.

I'm all for short term limits - like two terms. I'd even trade in my life long Senator's Kennedy and Kerry, Senators I happen to think have represented Massachusetts well, to get rid of the stench of incumbency.

I don't know that incumbency does anything more than allow individuals to accumulate power. Furthermore, I'm not sure that experience counts for much given the diversity of backgrounds well regarded politicians have. (Admittedly, I could be very wrong; perhaps experience as a Senator or Representative is hugely important to the foundation of government.)

On a separate point, I don't know if it's something that happened in my perception of the world, but for whatever reason, I'm really liking (what I perceive as?) the new dios - even when I don't agree with him.
posted by sequential at 12:04 PM on June 26, 2006


I think you misunderstand dios' point, which is a really good one, and which basically boils down to pointing out that although more money may buy more influence it is not the only thing which delivers more influence.

I understand Dios' point, I just don't agree with it.

His point is that citizens whose political views he doesn't agree with should not have political influence ("speech"), if money should not be allowed to have political influence ("speech").

My point is that citizens should have unfettered ("free") speech, while money should not, and that there is no conflict because the source of the influence is entirely different.

The distinction is clear: citizens have the right to free speech, while money is not a citizen, and often — again, on the scale discussed in these cases — its spenders (corporations) are not citizens and neither should be given the unfettered political influence they currently hold.

If citizens have political influence it is because they are representing other citizens. Our representative democracy-by-choice works when citizens are allowed speak and influence the system. This is at the core of what representation means.

Corporations do not ever represent citizens of a state. They — their dollars — represent a handful of shareholders, many of whom need not be citizens of the state, who do not hold the interests of the state at heart in exchanging money for political influence.

Money from corporations unbalances the representative democratic system. It corrupts and delegitimizes a system of government for which many died (and continue to die; see the numbers of immigrants who struggle to make it to this country, some of whom do not make it alive).

The Supreme Court, in arguing the minutiae of contribution limits, is missing the point entirely that the source of influence is what represents the establishment of a conflict of interest, and is what damages the longterm stability of our democracy.
posted by Mr. Six at 12:24 PM on June 26, 2006


For any campaign, each candidate who qualifies gets X amount of dollars to use... no more, no less... the money comes from a government fund; no corporate or individual money in the mix.

Welcome to the land of permanent incumbency.


Welcome to Canada.

We passed this kind of election finance reform in 2003. And what happened - the government that passed the bill was out 2 years later. It locks newcomers out, but it's fine for established parties.

Of course, you guys already only have two parties so I duuno how it would work down there.
posted by GuyZero at 12:43 PM on June 26, 2006


Mr. Six, I don't think you're getting Dios's point at all.

He's saying that our system permits people to use the resources they've amassed to influence politics, and should hesitate to prefer one set of resources versus another.

It reflects a particularly judgment -- and a biased, ideological judgment at that -- to say that the resources amassed from one combination of prudence, talent and discipline (money) ought to be excluded from influence while the resources amassed from other combinations (say, that which culminates in a prominent position in media, labor, religion, or activism) ought to not only be permitted unlimited political influence, but ought actually to be subsidized by unwilling taxpayers. In other words, that the product of a banker's lifework ought to be banished from politics, but a product of a labor organizers lifework ought to be allowed to determine who wins elections.

I'd say that the judgment is particular pernicious when almost every material thing we consume and/or rely upon to sustain our quality of life arises principally from the process of money accumulation rather than the process of accumulation of other reosources.
posted by MattD at 1:16 PM on June 26, 2006


Mr. Six writes "His point is that citizens whose political views he doesn't agree with should not have political influence ('speech'), if money should not be allowed to have political influence ('speech').

"My point is that citizens should have unfettered ('free') speech, while money should not, and that there is no conflict because the source of the influence is entirely different.

"The distinction is clear: citizens have the right to free speech, while money is not a citizen, and often — again, on the scale discussed in these cases — its spenders (corporations) are not citizens and neither should be given the unfettered political influence they currently hold."


Yeah, I still think you miss it. I'm not sure that I entirely disagree with you, but pointing out that influence is not the same across society is not the same thing as saying that money=speech. There are reasons that Jon Stewart or Cindy Sheehan or Kos have more political influence than I do, and those reasons are not reason enough to limit their right to attempt to use that influence. Similarly Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have more money than I do, and that might buy more influence, but that may not (the hesitation is my own) be enough to warrant limiting how they can spend their money.

The source of the influence is not transparently "entirely different." I mean, I'm willing to grant that it might be, but not just because you say it is. Jon Stewart's influence seems pretty consonant, in terms of source, with Bill Gates' or William Bennett's. I might like Stewart's and Gates' better than Bennett's or Ken Lay's, but the source of the influence is pretty much the same.

I tend to agree with the issue of the confusion of corporations with citizens.
posted by OmieWise at 1:26 PM on June 26, 2006


biased, ideological judgment

I disagree, and yes, I do understand — loud and clear — that Dios does not want Sheehan to allow her to speak her voice, or that people should be allowed to choose to agree with her. :)

The difference in the source of influence in both cases is entirely, qualitatively different and requires no prior ideological bias on the part of the observer to discern.

One form of influence is the expression of the democratic will of citizens, who express their agreement with the political views of their chosen representative, whereas the other form — through cash — is not clear at all where the expression comes from. In the example of your hypothetical banker, let's say a foreign investor makes a large investment in his bank, so he'll lobby on behalf of his investor for lax banking oversight laws.

And as far as being subsidized by unwilling taxpayers, I seem to have much of my tax money going towards failed policies. So this is something we agree to do as a country on a regular basis.
posted by Mr. Six at 1:30 PM on June 26, 2006


Jon Stewart's influence seems pretty consonant, in terms of source, with Bill Gates' or William Bennett's. I might like Stewart's and Gates' better than Bennett's or Ken Lay's, but the source of the influence is pretty much the same.

People resonate with Stewart's political views, not because he pays each audience member $5 when they walk into the studio. Citizens resonating with someone generally have their own (citizen-based) interests at heart. Seems pretty obvious to me.

On the other hand, let's say China makes a large investment in Microsoft's MSN service. These sorts of foreign investments happen all the time. Well, who really knows what Microsoft's campaign donations mean in terms of the domestic and foreign policies they will expect from Washington, which will favor their immediate and long-term business interests? Who knows if the policies that these companies buy represent the will of the US people or of a few select shareholders, most of whom are in all likelihood not American and do not represent Americans?

In the age of globalization, corporate money destroys local sovereignty — and by extension, the American form of representative democracy. Politicians are selling themselves out of their own role in government.
posted by Mr. Six at 1:43 PM on June 26, 2006


Mr. Six writes "The difference in the source of influence in both cases is entirely, qualitatively different and requires no prior ideological bias on the part of the observer to discern.

"One form of influence is the expression of the democratic will of citizens, who express their agreement with the political views of their chosen representative, whereas the other form — through cash — is not clear at all where the expression comes from."


What? Jon Stewart's relatively greater influence is based on his job, media exposure and money. Sheehan's similarly. How is that different?
posted by OmieWise at 1:43 PM on June 26, 2006


Our comments crossed. You're giving Stewart so much benefit of the doubt that you're not even seeing his relatively powerful position. The point is not the people resonate with him, by that measure there's no reason why we can't allow people to spend as much as they want, hoping simply for that same resonance. Stewart has more influence than I do because he has a bigger soap box. I'm not saying it's a bad thing or even an unfair thing, but you haven't explained why it's a different thing for his bigger soap box to be ok.
posted by OmieWise at 1:47 PM on June 26, 2006


What? Jon Stewart's relatively greater influence is based on his job, media exposure and money. Sheehan's similarly. How is that different?

Wha? Please explain how these two are lobbying the government with campaign donations, or paying people to follow them.

Their influence — which so far has been insignificant insofar as we're stuck with the same horrible civil rights violations and foreign policy disasters — comes from people agreeing with their views, not from the money they spread around.

But if you have evidence of payola from them, it would make an awesome FPP. :)
posted by Mr. Six at 1:50 PM on June 26, 2006


I'm not saying it's a bad thing or even an unfair thing, but you haven't explained why it's a different thing for his bigger soap box to be ok.

"If citizens have political influence it is because they are representing other citizens. Our representative democracy-by-choice works when citizens are allowed speak and influence the system. This is at the core of what representation means."
posted by Mr. Six at 1:52 PM on June 26, 2006


Please explain how these two are lobbying the government with campaign donations, or paying people to follow them.

Every time someone appears on television or in some other public forum and advocates a political position, they are donating to the campaign of anyone who takes that same position. Understand?
posted by JekPorkins at 1:55 PM on June 26, 2006


Mr. Six, you keep saying you understand, but I don't think you do.
posted by dios at 1:59 PM on June 26, 2006


Every time someone appears on television or in some other public forum and advocates a political position, they are donating to the campaign of anyone who takes that same position. Understand?

Post copies of the cancelled checks.
posted by Mr. Six at 1:59 PM on June 26, 2006


Post copies of the cancelled checks.

Where would I get those? The TV studios don't really give those out to the public.

You honestly don't understand? How much does it cost to advertise your product during the Daily Show? Well, see, if your product is a candidate, every time Jon Stewart mentions either your candidate or one of his hot-button issues in a favorable light, The Daily Show has just donated to your campaign whatever the cost would have been for you to pay them to advertise. Get it yet?
posted by JekPorkins at 2:03 PM on June 26, 2006


You honestly don't understand? How much does it cost to advertise your product during the Daily Show? Well, see, if your product is a candidate, every time Jon Stewart mentions either your candidate or one of his hot-button issues in a favorable light, The Daily Show has just donated to your campaign whatever the cost would have been for you to pay them to advertise. Get it yet?

Admit it, you've never watched The Daily Show, right? That's the only way you could have written this comment.
posted by Mr. Six at 2:04 PM on June 26, 2006


Mr. Six, you keep saying you understand, but I don't think you do.

Don't worry. We all understand you just fine.
posted by Mr. Six at 2:06 PM on June 26, 2006


No, Mr. Six. *You* really don't. Your comments are so far from the realm of "understanding" what has been argued in this thread that I'm wondering if your insistence that you do get it is some form of performance art.

Apparently you think there is some ideological basis for my comments in this thread. You are clearly confused.
posted by dios at 2:12 PM on June 26, 2006


Cindy Sheehan has more political influence than you do. Should you limit her? The guy who is the head of the AFL-CIO has more political power because he controls the votes of his union. That is disproportionate influence. Kos can start a website and exert more influence.

Apparently you think there is some ideological basis for my comments in this thread

Really.
posted by Mr. Six at 2:13 PM on June 26, 2006


Anyway, before this got derailed into a conspiracy theory involving Jon Stewart and shadowy, underground politicians with invisible checks, I have to say I was just a little surprised at how little genuine understanding there is of what representative democracy as a system actually means. No wonder this country is in so much trouble!
posted by Mr. Six at 2:17 PM on June 26, 2006


a conspiracy theory involving Jon Stewart and shadowy, underground politicians with invisible checks

Um, it is a discussion about how inequality in people's power to engage in influential political speech exists independent of whether or not they pay politicians in the form of direct campaign contributions.

Jon Stewart (or pick another politically-active public figure) has more political power and influence than I do, regardless of how much money he and I pay to some campaign. Campaign finance reform doesn't change that. Likewise, the Swiftboat people have more political power than I do, not because they gave a bunch of money to Bush, but because they produced a set of ads themselves attacking Kerry. Again, pay attention: They don't need to pay money to Bush in order to exert significant political power in his favor. Yes, money is required, but no check need be written to the campaign.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:26 PM on June 26, 2006


I Love Tacos writes "Congressman Dirtball works on laws that directly affect Unethical Inc.
"Unethical Inc. gives Congressman Dirtball a lucrative consulting position."


I agree with dios, et al., that campaign finance reforms are not the answer to our problems. These kind of laws will not address the basic problem that I Love Tacos mentions. It seems as if our politicians have sought their positions, not out of civic duty, but to reap the financial rewards the position brings (beyond the paycheck, obviously). Direct cash bribes are too dangerous, so things like consulting positions are the goal. The incentives are all wrong--the rewards for Congressman Dirtball are so great that Dirtball will fight tooth-and-nails to defeat Congressman Goodfaith, who eventually becomes disheartened with the whole thing.

The life-long terms of Supreme Court Justices appear to create an incentive for the Justices to serve their conscience rather than their financial well-being. Of course, life terms for congresspeople would be ludicruous, but perhaps the incentives can be rigged to emulate the effect. Maybe healthy pensions after only one-term and restrictions on future employment. I'm just thinking off the cuff here, but I feel like campaign finance reform is exactly the wrong area to address.
posted by mullacc at 2:53 PM on June 26, 2006


"Anyway, before this got derailed into a conspiracy theory involving Jon Stewart and shadowy, underground politicians with invisible checks,"

You really, really don't know what you're talking about. You sound like someone who thinks if they say "patriotism" enough their argument will be won.
posted by OmieWise at 3:14 PM on June 26, 2006


I disagree with both sides of the court on this one. My thoughts on this are closest to jedicus'.

First: Thomas' view that campaign finance should be a First Amendment right is ridiculous. The First Amendment was passed in 1791, at a time what much of the population was not part of the political process (the most important part, they couldn't vote). Does Thomas really believe what Congress intended with the First Amendment was that people had to have a voice in the election process?

Second: It's bad to make up numbers, like $1000, and think they will solve the problem.

Viewing the right to contribute to campaigns as a voting right might solve some of the problems the left is trying to solve, while being congruent to the Constitution.

In this system, citizens could contribute only to elections they could vote in. This would eliminate contributions from felons, corporations and labor unions, foreigners, and non-domiciliaries. On the other hand, they could contribute as much as they want.

I believe in the importance of eliminating out-of-state campaign finance. This would decrease the importance of national political committees, increasing the importance of local committees. It would force politicians like Hillary to raise funds in important small states like New Hampshire instead of raising all her money in New York and California. Additionally, it would rebalance the large state/small state power structure by not allowing large states to influence elections in small states.

This makes the electoral college sensible because we don't have national elections, we have state-wide elections and for president, we total them. This system would keep local elections local.

Yes, politicians would have to keep track of where their money came from, and where it went to, but computers can do that.

Television campaign ads would have to be local, but they are now. Since I live in a solidly blue state, I haven't seen a presidential ad in years.

I haven't solved the internet issue (which is inherently national advertising), but some sort of solution could be worked out.

I believe in the right of free speech, as I believe in the right to vote, but where must be taken into consideration, and the Supreme Court doesn't understand that.
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 3:51 PM on June 26, 2006


rakish_yet_centered, you make some good points, but I have to disagree re: restricting political speech geographically. Building on your guess as to what the Framers may have thought about political campaigning, I think the idea that they would have wanted Jefferson restricted from participating in political discourse outside Virginia is sort of silly (i.e. incorrect).

Again, I think the necessary tools are 1: transparency and 2: a non-apathetic electorate. If Ohio democrats relize that the reason Hillary is advertising a lot in her state is that New Yorkers want Hillary to be President, then those Ohio democrats can make an informed decision about whether they agree with what New York wants.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:02 PM on June 26, 2006


So, does this mean that the supremes have essentially tossed all laws against bribery out the window as long as you never *directly* say that you are giving a person money in exchange for their decision? For that matter, how does this decision effect laws prohibiting prostitution?

What I mean is that the classic "it isn't really bribery" argument re: campaign contributions goes something like this: "senator Smith would support this bill which benefits billionaire Jones, who gave him money, even if billionaire Jones hadn't given him the money. The only reason billionaire Jones gave senator Smith money in the first place is because he knew senator Smith supported these kinds of bills."

The problem with that blatantly self-serving line of argument is that it can apply equally well to bribing a police officer or judge: "No, I didn't give Judge Smith money to let me off the hook, he simply has a policy of letting people like me off the hook, and I chose to give him money as a way of showing my support for his policy."

Or prostitution: "This woman isn't a prostitute, she simply has a policy of giving free sex to random strangers. I gave her money, not to buy sex from her, but merely as a way of showing my support for her policy of having sex with men she doesn't know."

The fact of the matter is its bullshit and we all know it. Politicians don't insert riders benefiting their donors into bills just for grins. No one ever actually has to say "here senator, I'll give you $100,000 of you vote for SR 1234" not because that isn't the essential nature of the transaction, but because the senator knows damn well that if he doesn't vote for SR 1234 that donor won't be around next election cycle, or he won't donate as much. The bribery is never discussed explicitly, not because it isn't bribery but because it isn't necessary to discuss it explicitly (and there is always the risk that you might be recorded discussing such things explicitly).

Money is not speech. If it were it would be written into the Constitution: "Congress shall make no law restricting the giving of money to politicians" but they didn't. Somehow Thomas, Scalia, and all the other "original intent" types magically forgot their dedication to, nay worship, of the founders today.

So, Dios, o lawyer, tell me why I can't bribe a judge, or hire a prostitute (though, I emphisize, without ever explicitly trading money for getting off the hook, or money for sex, I'll just happen to give this person money and she'll just happen to have sex with me) and use today's decision as the entirity of my defense? Didn't the supremes just say that as long as you wink and nudge, but don't actually *say* "Here's some money, do X for me" it isn't really bribery (or prostitution)?
posted by sotonohito at 4:40 PM on June 26, 2006


sotonohito, did you read the opinion?

To use your analogy, the Vermont statute didn't outlaw prostitution. It put a limit on the price that a prostitute could charge for her services and the amount of the proceeds the prostitute could spend on advertising and new costumes.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:51 PM on June 26, 2006


I think the idea that they would have wanted Jefferson restricted from participating in political discourse outside Virginia is sort of silly (i.e. incorrect).

Jek, you are equating political discourse with campaign financing, I think they are two different things. One is speech, one is advertising. This is the core of what the Supreme Court has been arguing about since the 1970's, is money speech?

Again, I think the necessary tools are 1: transparency and 2: a non-apathetic electorate. If Ohio democrats relize that the reason Hillary is advertising a lot in her state is that New Yorkers want Hillary to be President, then those Ohio democrats can make an informed decision about whether they agree with what New York wants.

Is that how advertising works? If I watch a commercial I discount the effect it has because I know someone is trying to influence me? If advertising didn't work, people wouldn't spend so much money on it.
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 7:19 PM on June 26, 2006


Jek, you are equating political discourse with campaign financing,

That's right. So is the Supreme Court.

Is that how advertising works?

No, and that's part of the problem.
posted by JekPorkins at 8:09 PM on June 26, 2006


The US should really just cut to the chase and auction public offices.
posted by pompomtom at 10:36 PM on June 26, 2006


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