Democrats & Liberals Archives

Government for Sale

We have a Congress, which supposedly represents all citizens, but which is primarily beholden to those who supply the “funds” to get them elected. This is the purpose of “fundraisers.” Congress has passed restrictions, but the U.S. Supreme Court has partially removed them. Now the Supreme Court is on the verge of finishing the job by removing even restrictions that have been on the books since 1907.

Government has been for sale for a long time. According to the Supreme Court money = free speech. And you know who has the money: Big Business. So Big Business has most of the free speech. Here's how elections really work:

Starting the day after they are elected, House members must begin raising more than $1,000 a day – including Saturdays and Sundays – to amass large enough war chests to wage their next campaign. On average, a U.S. Senator must raise more than $3,000 per day, every day. .... Fundraising success correlates strongly with electoral success. In 2002, 95 percent of House winners raised more than their opponents. In 2004, more than 95 percent of House winners outspent their opponents. And the size of campaign funds remained predictive in 2006. In that election, more than two-thirds of Senate winners – 24 of 33 – outspent their opponents. Meanwhile, nearly 94 percent of House winners – 407 of 435 – outspent their opponents.

Senators McCain and Feingold recognized this and sponsored the McCain-Feingold Bill to restrict this buying of votes.

During the last primary season, Citizens United, a conservative group, produced "Hillary: a Movie," which was in essence a long campaign ad. It was challenged and the Supreme Court argued the case in March. Now, we hear that the Supreme Court wants to reargue the broader issue of whether the political spending of unions and corporations should be restricted at all. It will do so this Wednesday, September 9.

Tension fills the air. There is a good chance that the Supreme Court will remove restrictions on unions and corporations that have been on the books since 1907. This would be a body blow to our democracy. As Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, says:

This has the potential to unleash massive corporate spending. It would be a disaster for democracy.

I put it this way:

  • Democracy for the Little Guy: No money = No free-speech

  • Democracy for the Big Guy: Big money= Big free-speech

All of us must watch closely what the Supreme Court does. If it opens the floodgates of corporate political money, we must do something to restore some semblance of democracy. We need to have Clean Elections that reduce the influence of money. See Breaking Free with Fair Elections.

Posted by Paul Siegel at September 7, 2009 7:05 PM
Comment #287710

Paul, unfortunately neither party is interested in championing public financing.

The last time I watched Meet The Press was about a year or so ago. Rep. Hoyer (D) and Rep, Boehner (R) were the guests. When asked about the unseemlyness of all the corporate money in politics, both were adamant that there was no problem because there was no quid pro quo.

When asked about public financing, both were adamant that they were not in favor of it and the American people were’nt either.

I think it is safe to say that both political parties are adamantly opposed to public financing.

Posted by: jlw at September 8, 2009 12:59 AM
Comment #287712

jlw, I agree and it appears that public financing is dead thanks to Obama, who would want to do it now that it has been proven to be a losing strategy?

Now, I am not a big fan of public financing, it seems a silly solution to the issue. But I was under the impression that Obama supported it. However, when the rubber met the road…

Posted by: Rhinehold at September 8, 2009 4:16 AM
Comment #287713

BTW, I have a real problem with corporations getting listed as ‘individuals’ and then being granted individual rights. They are most definitely not individuals and while I think it might be a good idea to give the owners of a company some protections against lawsuits (the real purpose of a ‘corporation’), it is most definitely going to far to give them the same natural rights that individuals have.

I would like to see a complete ban on any ‘corporation’ being able to give money to a politician in any way, shape or form. Individuals within that company? By all means. But not the corporation itself.

Posted by: Rhinehold at September 8, 2009 4:19 AM
Comment #287714

Of course, I think the same goes for unions as well… But how many people are going to be for both? I wonder… how many liberals in these comments will say that they are all for unions being able to buy politicians?

Posted by: Rhinehold at September 8, 2009 4:21 AM
Comment #287716

Yeah well I have a problem with the whole idea of equating monetary donations with free speech. Ridiculous.

Posted by: Schwamp at September 8, 2009 8:32 AM
Comment #287717

The unions have been paid back for their support for Obama ever since this administration has taken control. Union members have no say in how their money is spent when it comes to support of politicians. Just yesterday, a union representative was on Fox News, and said a government run health plan WOULD NOT affect the health plans provided by companies under collective bargaining contracts. This was a flat out lie. There is a clause in the mineworker’s contract that says; if a national government health care policy is invoked, their private insurance policy will have to be renegotiated. Union leaders are like politicians, once they get in office, you can’t get them out.

Posted by: propitiation at September 8, 2009 8:35 AM
Comment #287722

“Rep, Boehner (R) … When asked about the unseemlyness of all the corporate money in politics, both were adamant that there was no problem because there was no quid pro quo. “

John_Boehner handed out “about a half-dozen” checks from the political action committee of tobacco company Brown & Williamson Corp. to fellow Republicans on the floor of the House. Boehner’s chief of staff Barry Jackson stated, “We were trying to help guys who needed to get their June 30th numbers up, their cash-on-hand numbers up. All leadership does this. We have to raise money for people and help them raise money.” Boehner was forced to stop handed out the checks when two freshmen Republicans, “appalled by it,” confronted him and voiced their displeasure”

8 Sponsored Bills (Ranks 198 of 440) 0 Passed (Ranks 20 of 440)
57 Co-Sponsored Bills (Ranks 428 of 440) 0 Passed (Ranks 352 of 440)

WHTaft would be so proud.

Posted by: ohrealy at September 8, 2009 10:45 AM
Comment #287733


the exception does not make the rule. Perhaps a logic class or at least the chapter on extrapolating from the anecdote to the universal, would be of some propitiate advantage to your comments.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 8, 2009 5:35 PM
Comment #287737


“the exception does not make the rule. Perhaps a logic class or at least the chapter on extrapolating from the anecdote to the universal, would be of some propitiate advantage to your comments.”

?????, can you explain your point

Posted by: propitiation at September 8, 2009 7:39 PM
Comment #287740

On what basis is it being said that corporations are no different from individuals and have the same rights? Or that the Supreme Court said that money is the same as speech?

I’ve heard this stuff said enough that I assume there must be something to it, but what are the precise rules in question here? I’m honestly just asking because I don’t know.

It would seem to me that if corporations have the same rights as individuals, they’d be subject to the same restrictions on campaign contributions that individuals are, which is now, what, $2000? On the surface, that doesn’t seem to create a recipe for massive amounts of corporate cash being pumped into the system. I mean, if the Exxon Corporation, for example, can only donate as much as Mabel Monahan of Miami Beach.

Posted by: Paul at September 8, 2009 8:08 PM
Comment #287748


The case before the Supreme Court (Hillary the Movie) is not directly about corporate or union prohibitions on contributions to political campaigns.

The broad issue before the Supreme Court is whether the government (state or federal) can restrict direct corporate expenditures on independent ads, books, movies, etc., advocating or attacking a particular candidate or limit the manner of such activities (e.g, within 30 or 60 days of an election). There are two principal precedent cases which hold that the government has such authority in certain cases. The Supreme Court is therefore reconsidering its precedents and appears to be prepared to issue a fairly broad and definitive ruling on corporate funding of political advocacy independent of a particular candidate.

Posted by: Rich at September 8, 2009 10:10 PM
Comment #287749

Thanks, Rich. That makes things a bit clearer.

I don’t like the idea of huge amounts of unrestricted money being pumped into elections, but I’m not too comfortable with restricting “indirect” expenditures either. I think that the mechanisms for enforcing such a things present all kinds of possibility for abuse, unfairness, and unequal application. Banning books and movies? I can never get behind that for any reason, even if it’s only temporary before an election. I remember, for instance, when California Democrats were pressuring the cable stations from broadcasting to not air the Terminator movies for 30 days before the governor’s election, which seemed downright silly to me.

Also, aren’t media outlets part of corporations? How could it be fair for a newspaper to endorse a candidate under such a system but not allow other corporations to do the same thing? This seems like an equal protection issue to me. Are Fox News, The New York Times, and MSNBC not corporations? Why do some corporations get rights that others don’t? Who gets to decide whose opinions are allowed to be heard and whose aren’t? Anybody who goes on the air, produces a movie, or publishes a book requires money.

It seems to me that “freedom of the press” is a bedrock principle of our democracy, and that the press is whatever means people choose to print or broadcast their points of view. And all of it costs money.

Posted by: Paul at September 8, 2009 10:39 PM
Comment #287754

Frankly, I have never thought that public funding is a solution to this problem. There will always be someone who can find more money. I find it odd that Rhinehold supports this gestapo like robbery to fund something.

The problem is undue influence.

Real transparency seems to me the only way to stem this. 501 groups and such have become a cloak behind which the puppeteers pull the strings.

Allowing only individual contributions and tying it immediately to the names of the persons funding this seems to me, the way to go. Transferring funds to someone else to make a contribution (transferring funds for the purpose of hiding the source, should then be a jail-able offense)

Since TV ads seem to be a big source of the problem, limiting the political season and making time available for free as part of their license, might go a long way toward ridding us of the snippet ads.

Posted by: gergle at September 8, 2009 11:58 PM
Comment #287760
I find it odd that Rhinehold supports this gestapo like robbery to fund something.

It would be odd if I did. But I don’t. As evidenced by this statement in my first comment:

Now, I am not a big fan of public financing, it seems a silly solution to the issue.
Posted by: Rhinehold at September 9, 2009 6:46 AM
Comment #287765

The concept that corporations are persons equal to naturally born persons and fully protected by constitutional rights of free speech appears, to me, deeply flawed. Corporations are artificial entities chartered by the state for the exclusive purpose of conducting business. They are not part of the electorate. They cannot vote. The limited legal fiction of personhood is helpful in some instances (corporate liablity shield, legal actions, etc.) but should not be carried to an extreme. Otherwise, we create a class of super citizens capable of overwhelming influence on elections for their own vested interests.

Gergle argues that with full transparency, it is a manageable problem. I doubt it. Enormous amounts of carefully managed political messages will trump transparency. There is a very strong correlation between the amount of money spent on a political campaign and the outcome.

Paul argues that it is a violation of equal protection for statutes that exempt media corporations from restrictions on political speech immediately prior to elections. Perhaps so. I would prefer the elimination of media exemptions rather than a blank check for corporations to spend whatever it takes to protect or promote their vested interests in elections.

Posted by: Rich at September 9, 2009 9:32 AM
Comment #287767

You are not going to be able to legislate these issues away. That’s the problem with legislation like McCain-Feingold; if there is the will someone will find a way around it.

The best idea is to limit the influence of the federal government so that there is nothing for the corporations to “buy” in the first place. That concept has never been more clear than in the current health care debate.

Posted by: George at September 9, 2009 10:58 AM
Comment #287768

Rich, I agree that the potential for an undesirable influence of money on elections is a serious problem, but I can’t help but think that sometimes we just have to live with one problem instead of creating more, especially when it comes to something like the freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

There is a very strong correlation between the amount of money spent on a political campaign and the outcome.

No doubt. But I for one think there’s something patronizing and a little disturbing about trying to control what anybody can see and hear. Period.

The assumption seems to be that voters are not critical thinkers, that they can’t process information for themselvess. That they have to be protected from being excessively exposed to certain points of views because it they hear them, they have so little control over their own intellectual processes that they won’t be able to help themselves from buying into them.

Do I think there’s some truth to this? Yes. Do I think that a lot of people are sheep? Yes, unfortunately. But I have a serious problem with treating them like sheep as a matter of law, and codifying into law the notion that rationing the production and distribution of books, movies, ads, etc., can ever be done for “the public good.”

We have to envision what will inevitably happen when people violate these laws. Are we prepared to see police raiding and closing down newspaper offices and television stations? Confiscating magazines from newstands because they contain forbidden ads or verboten points of view? Where does this kind of thing lead, and are we really willing to go down that road?

Posted by: Paul at September 9, 2009 11:26 AM
Comment #287784

Paul, a sheep is just a sheep no matter how you treat it.

Take a look at the last election. Two big concerns of the people were illegal immigration and the exporting of jobs. Both political parties conspired to make certain that neither concern was an issue in the election.

Free speech is censored constantly in America by our political system and our free press. The primary means of censoring is money, either an abundance of it or a lack of it.

Our Constitution and our political system isn’t really much different than other forms of government in that it was designed to be dominated by the elites, especially those with an abundance of wealth.

Posted by: jlw at September 9, 2009 2:44 PM
Comment #287810


I am all for free speech but not for moneyed interests disproportionately influencing the debate among citizens in an electoral process. Corporations are not the electorate. They are not “persons” in any common sense definition of the word and are not entitled to blanket constitutional protections afforded to natural persons.

You may have faith in the electorate to discern truth from fiction, to recognize bias in a corporate political advertisement. I have no such faith.

Posted by: Rich at September 9, 2009 9:07 PM
Comment #287812
You may have faith in the electorate to discern truth from fiction, to recognize bias in a corporate political advertisement. I have no such faith.

I have no such faith either. And I thought that came across when I said a lot of people are like sheep.

What I do not believe in, however, is enacting laws based on my lack of faith in people to make the decisions I’d like them to make. Controlling information because we don’t trust people with it is not a road I think we even dare go down.

Posted by: Paul at September 9, 2009 9:37 PM
Comment #287874


My mistake, I stand corrected.

Posted by: gergle at September 10, 2009 4:48 PM
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