Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The root of all evil

Dimitri Vassilaros lays bare the farce that are the U.S. campaign finance laws. My advice: Allow unlimited contributions from U.S. donors. (No foreign donors, and no cash.) The huge advantage that the byzantine fundraising laws give incumbents will be mitigated, the influence of money will be easier to trace and full freedom of expression will return to our political campaigns.

The only other alternative is to publicly finance campaigns, which means that your tax dollars would go to support ideas and politicians that you may find to be abhorrent.

(Thanks to Three Rivers Post & Standard.)


Blogger djhlights said...

(No foreign donors, and no cash.)

So it's free speech as long as you have a checking account or a credit card?

1:41 PM

Blogger Ol' Froth said...

I'd modify Dimitri's suggestion...Unlimited contributions to those who directly represent you. For example, I live in Mike Doyle's district, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in the United States of America. I should be allowed unlimited contributions to Doyle or his opponent, To Pa senate candidates, or to presidential canididates. Why should my money be permitted to influence elections in Virginia, New York, or Utah?

6:53 PM

Blogger fester said...

Jonathan --- Your argument that publicly financed campaigning forces people to support "abhorrent" is weak. As a collective decision, we are spending billions on a mission that I think was both wrong and a mistake, and we'll spend billions more, but I, as an American citizen, still have to pony up to pay for it. Theoretically a responsive democracy's expenditure patterns should roughly match the aggregated preferences of the entire electorate, and if we are living in a heterogenous world, some of those preferences will be abhorrent to at least some person

10:36 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I'll go in reverse order.

Fester, that's a powerful argument you offer. However, our legal system and our political culture, at least for the past 100 years or so, has made a clear distinction between politics and policy, and between the act of governing and the act of campaigning for elective office. We don't allow elected officials or their staff to conduct fundraising or other political activities in their government offices. We also don't allow tax-exempt organizations to endorse candidates for office, because we recognize that a tax exemption is a de facto government subsidy, and we do not allow taxpayer dollars to fund purely political activities.

Now, as a nation, we can decide that in order to root out corruption and create a more level playing field, we are going to publicly fund elections. I don't think that is a good idea, because it would have the effect of conveying legitimacy on political candidates and parties who might not otherwise have it. (I say that having no idea how other democracies fund their elections.) We do give federal matching funds to presidential candidates who agree to spending limits, but only candidates who belong to parties that have received a minimum number of votes in the previous election qualify. Thus, it is voters, and not the government, that is conveying legitimacy.

Frothy: I see your point, but representatives and senators also are supposed to look out of the national interest. Decisions made by a California senator can have a major impact on the lives of Pennsylvanians, and vice versa. Therefore, I believe all Americans should be able to contribute to any political campaign.

DJ: I could be wrong, but I don't think cash contributions are currently allowed. Fester might be able to correct me if I'm mistaken. Cash increases the chances for corruption. I do believe in full disclosure, and cash contributions are easier to hide.

6:32 PM

Blogger djhlights said...

According to Federal Election Committee guide to citizens nothing is mentioned regarding the elimination of cash donations. If it did it would then eliminate purchase of fundraising items for political candidates such as t-shirts and buttons by supporters. These purchases have to be reported and the full purchase price is the donation not just the "profit" it generates for the campaign. The same goes for non-profit tax donations.

If you believe that donations are free speech, the elimination hard currency removes the poor and the young from the process thus restricting speech to those who have a checking account or a credit card when the process has been determined to be for all. It may have taken us close to 200 years for blacks and 150 years for women to achieve it, but that should be our constant aim. Whether it is the 10-year-old giving his piggy bank to a politician or the 50-year-old businessman, the minimum should be an equal playing field. Hard currency is the only way to ensure that.

I'd also have to say that I agree more with the sudsy one regarding Congressional campaigns. Whether a Rep and or Senators vote affects citizens in other states is immaterial. Reps and Senators are only required to respond to their constituents not the general population of the US. By allowing financial contributions by all citizens you are then able to garner influence in a way that a citizen who cannot afford to donate in another state or district cannot. If the fact that they deal with national issues is enough to garner their financial donation then they should have an obligation to respond to my email, phone call, or letter even though I am not a constituent.

Generally I think the problem on a national scale has gotten so large that it is almost beyond repair and no amount of campaign reform or lack thereof can accomplish squat. I would say free airtime to candidates, but since the gov is taking them back you cann’t necessarily do that. The only thing I feel that can be saved is possibly the House.

Similar to the debate of class size in schools, making smaller congressional districts could garner more of a citizen/rep relationship but could also reduce the need for large funding and drive more community oriented campaigns similar to state campaigns. Representation in the people’s body has been stagnant since 1911 besides the 2 years in the 60’s when we had 437 reps. 435 members of congress are not enough. The addition of several states to the country on top of a population that has expanded three fold while the body that is supposed to be the representative of the people remains stagnant to me is disgrace. The population size of a congressional district is an average of 646,952 people. This is up from 193,167 in 1900. When Denny Rehberg of Montana has a district with 905,316 people and Barbra Cubing of Wyoming has one with 495,304 how can we say a constituent in Montana can get equal treatment when they are in competition with close to double the amount of people of Wyoming for that one vote?

Sadly the only way to garner that equal treatment tends to be donations or graft as we saw in the case of Cunningham. If you reduce the population that the representative has to deal with you somewhat even the playing field.

Besides that anything else is really trying to use a cup of water to put out a burning building in my eyes.

8:47 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

OK, I'm willing to change my mind about cash, especially if there are no current restrictions on it. My aim is fewer restrictions on fundraising, not more.

Regarding the size of the House, I totally agree. We have one of the highest, if not the highest, ratio of residents to representatives among democracies worldwide. And it does make for lawmakers less responsive to citizens and more responsive to interest groups.

10:09 PM

Blogger djhlights said...


I was wondering if you happened to see this considering your thoughts on publicly financed campaigning.

2:58 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Given how unlikely it is that what I advocate will ever happen, this law isn't terrible. The most troublesome thing, setting aside public financing, is the restriction on campaign advertising booklets. I don't know how you can say that doesn't violate free speech.

On the other hand, I like that those who opt out of the system can raise more from individuals. And I won't lose sleep over state contractors being denied the ability to contribute. Of course, that places a greater onus on regulators to make sure there aren't loopholes, like through political action committees.

1:41 PM

Blogger djhlights said...

I am more shocked that this got passed with a Democrat controled congress and and a GOP Governor AND this will directly efect thier own seats and campaigns. That maybe a first for statewide campaign finace law changes.

2:45 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

And that's what makes me a little suspicious. McCain-Feingold met a lot of resistance, but the bottom line is that it probably benefited incumbents. The harder it becomes to raise money, the more valuable the advantages of incumbency become.

5:20 PM


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