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July 23, 2009

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I may have the senator wrong, but NPR reported that they had to correct a story in which they reported that 13% of Baucus' (D-Montana)donations came from in-state.

...

To 5%.

You don't think, all this said, the blue dogs have some principle*? For example -- and I may be mistaken -- but weren't the BGs the big pushers behind a strong MedPac in the bill?

*aside from raising money from interest groups

"But then I had an epiphany. What if they really didn't care about policy? What if they (being gritty populists) instead only cared about helping industry groups? Under that theory, everything sort of falls into place."

You are kidding about the "I just figured this out," part, right?

The only entities that should be allowed to contribute to political campaigns, PACs, political parties, political officeholders, etc., should be natural human beings who are citizens of the United States.

Period.

No corporations, no unions, nothing other than natural persons who are citizens.

"No corporations, no unions, nothing other than natural persons who are citizens."

With no limits as long as there is a public record of who contributed to whom and how much.

"With no limits as long as there is a public record of who contributed to whom and how much."

Because the poor already have far too much political power compared to the rich.

"With no limits as long as there is a public record of who contributed to whom and how much."

I'd prefer a limit, although a more generous one than is currently in place.

Hell, make it $100K a year. You can make a pretty freaking big dent with $100K.

But millions from an individual is getting into "buy your own personal Congressman" territory.

Sorry dude, but money ain't speech.

"Because the poor incumbents already have far too much political power compared to the rich rest of us."

There, fixed it for you. :)

"But millions from an individual is getting into 'buy your own personal Congressman' territory."

I rather someone have to carry their "personal Congressman" around on their lapel instead of in their pocket.

I saw that earlier. It was amusing to see outright bribery written of as business as usual.

First you paint the positions of blue dogs that is so far off base that it might as well be called a lie. Then you pretend you know the reasoning behind their positions. This is a game that you can play with any politician. They all have their constituencies and special interest groups that support them, and its impossible to know whether politicians act a particular way because interest groups got them to vote their way, or because they already do so and lobbyists want to help them stay in office because of it.

That they are raising more money than ever is quite simply because they political lay of the land makes them among the deciding votes for possibly every mildly controversial bill that makes its way through the senate, and some committees in the House. More power equals easier to raise money... which is why Dems are raising more than Reps now, and why incumbents (no matter the party) almost always out raise challengers. This isn't an aha moment, its common sense cause and effect politics. Welcome to reality.

Coming back to the part where you pretend you know why the Blue Dogs are doing anything... I happen to agree with what they're doing for the most part. Also, in many cases polling shows a majority is with their moves as well... so by your logic, I am both illogical in my beliefs... and the only thing that makes this add up is I must be being bribed to take these positions. Are they also bribing the public at large? Who's being logically inconsistent?

That not only doesn't pass the small test, it doesn't even pass the crazy test. Unless you're psychic, you don't know why these people are taking these positions... hell, you can't even describe them accurately.

They don't oppose "the costs" of the health care bill, they objected to how expensive it initially was, and some of them would rather find other ways of doing it altogether. Obama sold this idea as much on cost savings as he did on expanded coverage, and with the estimates coming up showing little cost savings, I wavered on my support of it as well.

Its absurd to lay all the blame on the Blue Dogs for any of this... the funding issue is a tough one, which is SHOULD BE. We're talking about hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars here. I blogged about the failure of the two major funding provisions here:

http://donklephant.com/2009/07/14/how-not-to-pay-for-health-care-reform/

Also, it wasn't the liberals that fought for this medicare panel taking over some of the cost decisions regarding medicare payments... it was the moderates. Strange that they don't care about measures to cut costs... when this is estimated to save hundreds of billions.

And on what planet do you come from that you can't see the remaining position between being against huge deficits (which a massive majority also thinks) and being against some revenue increasing ideas? First of all, they aren't opposing all revenue increasing proposals, namely arguing for raising the lid on the surtax up from the initial 280k/yr. Secondly... could you be so dense as to not see that... *gasp* we could not spend as much to lower deficits?

The kind of reform that the moderates have negotiated for in Medicare could be brought to other areas of government as well... wait... moderates and blue dogs ARE pushing for that idea!

I also have to mention that the two ways that the Democratic leadership have mentioned to raise money to pay for this bill aren't the only things people have suggested. I think its a good idea to raise taxes on consumption of things that lead to many of our health problems, like alcohol, junk food and cigarettes. This makes much more sense to me than just raising money on the wealthy... I go into detail on that idea here:

http://donklephant.com/2009/07/14/how-to-pay-for-health-care-reform/

Look - I'm happy about the MedPac thing. That's good.

But we'll have to respectfully disagree on a lot of the other stuff. But yes, I do see them operating a lot for the interests of corporate lobbies. Let's go back in time a bit to the Bush years -- what exactly did the Blue Dogs oppose? Did they oppose any of Bush's tax cuts? Estate tax expansion? Were they vocal opponents our Iraq adventure? I don't remember any of these concerns coming up.

But moving forward to today -- they nearly wrecked Waxman-Markey. And they loaded it up with all sorts of bad policy.

And on health care, they threatened to scuttle the whole bill b/c of surtax on 1% of the population (even though they live in districts that insurance reform would really help). Plus, thy're opposing cost-cutting measures like the public option while requesting higher expenditures for rural areas.

I mean, do you think the people of these districts are SO opposed to the public option or to a tax on 1% of America or estate tax repeal, etc.

I don't think so. I think these legislators are betting on the fact that no one is paying attention but lobbyists. Then they take their money.

And they actually probably will come around in the end. It's a sort of arbitrage -- take money from lobbyists, raise a stink, and then fall in line and enjoy the benefits of majority.

That's fine -- that's politics after all. And they're holding office, and I'm sitting here in my pajamas.

But while they're looking out for #1, they're hurting the public perception of hte legislation. I mean, just think about how much momentum it would have it all the blue dogs and all the Senate gang said, "you know what, we're going to do this."

And honestly, I don't like the fact that Democrats (any Democrats) are taking this much money from these particular people, who are all harmful forces on national policy

Solomon, my memory is hazy: can you remind me how many Blue Dogs opposed the Medicare Part D expansion? I mean, surely serious Congressman would never approve a massive new entitlement program with NO funding source, right?

I don't think the blue dogs are right all the time. This post is about THIS reform bill. I think the Blue Dogs are doing the right things right now. A whole bunch of people made the wrong call with Medicare part D. PayGo should have been law for ages... and guess who's pushing for it now?

Thats right... moderate Dems and Blue Dogs.

Like I just said. I'm not saying they're the cats meow all the time. They just happen to be making the most sense right now, on this issue.

I just think its a joke when people pretend they know why politicians make certain decisions. I don't care why they're doing it, I'm just happy they forced the cost of the bill down, I'm happy they're pushing for paygo in general and I'm happy they pushed for the medicare cost savings.

And you could list a bunch of corrupt people forking over bribes... sorry, I mean donations... to politicians over here, while I can point out other organizations that are donating to whoever you support. Like I said before, none of us will ever know which of them are acting because of the money, or whether the money is going to them because of where they already stand. Pretending you know otherwise is ridiculous.

And no, I don't think that a majority are against taxing the 1% more, as a matter of fact I've seen polling suggesting the opposite. I've also seen polling that shows that the public is against health care reform if it doesn't save money, which this bill wouldn't have (according to the CBO) had moderates not pushed for the Medicare panel proposal. It seems to me to make more sense to cut costs from the system before you look for new sources of tax revenue, no matter the source.

Don't even get me started on Waxman-Markey... that bill was garbage, and the blame for screwing it up can be spread around pretty damn well.

"I rather someone have to carry their "personal Congressman" around on their lapel instead of in their pocket."

I'm holding out for no personal Congresspeople at all.

"none of us will ever know which of them are acting because of the money, or whether the money is going to them because of where they already stand."

Either way you have people in a position to make law because somebody with a lot of money likes the way they vote.

And I just think it's a joke when people are unable to candidly acknowledge the influence of the lobbying industry on the US Congress.

Money is like gravity, it warps everything around it. As long as entities with some vested interest can bring millions and millions to bear, the function of government is going to be distorted away from the public interest.

This is just one more example.

"MoneyPower is like gravity, it warps everything around it."

The power congress has to make or break individuals and institutions sucks in the money. If congress didn't have so much power, no one would waste their time and money trying to influence it.

"But moving forward to today -- they nearly wrecked Waxman-Markey. And they loaded it up with all sorts of bad policy."

*They* loaded it with all sorts of bad policy? You're overincluding what *they* did unless you're including some very liberal members of the farm contingent. The decision to exclude the worst polluters and the farm impact is what sucks about Waxman-Markey. That decision went far beyond the blue dogs in the Democratic contingent.

Statements like that give the impression either that blue dog=publius doesn't like a particular vote, rather than a describing a specific group of Congressmen, or that you overattribute all bad things to this specific group. You're demonizing, not explaining if you think they are the ones that wrecked Waxman-Markey.

And honestly, I don't like the fact that Democrats (any Democrats) are taking this much money from these particular people, who are all harmful forces on national policy

I don't like Republicans taking money from these people either. But I don't vote for Republicans and (unfortunately) I often have to vote for Democrats because there are no better alternatives.

Hiding behind the (feigned?) surprise at the sources of Blue Dog behavior is a not-at-all feigned shock that these people are Democrats.

Progressive Democrats need to rid themselves of their no-true-Scotsman understanding of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is as tied to corporate elites as the Republican Party is, though, at times, it's a slightly different set of corporate elites with a slightly different set of interests. The Blue Dogs are just the most severe example of a broader problem.

The problem is not that Democrats are taking money from insurance interests. That's what Democrats do...including many who don't call themselves Blue Dogs. The problem is that progressives keep voting for Democrats who take money from insurance interests and then expect them to behave like the sort of politicians who wouldn't take money from insurance interests.

"The only entities that should be allowed to contribute to political campaigns, PACs, political parties, political officeholders, etc., should be natural human beings who are citizens of the United States."

We currently have a pending court ruling in which campaign finance laws are being examined in respect to a video against Hillary Clinton. So, I'm unsure what "contribute" means.

If an environmental group pays for an ad against a candidate because of their record, doing so per a "political action committee" wing of the group, is this wrong? If they help in some way involving money some local Green Party candidate or even the party itself?

I don't know why unions can't in some fashion, especially with limits, donate money. I give money to causes so they can promote things, including politicians who support that end. I'm a person. The group as a whole is not.

I also don't know about this "citizen" limitation. Millions are legal long term residents, some of them can (and for years quite often did; some probably do now in some cases) have a right to vote. The officials affect their lives in any number of ways. But, giving a small amount of money should be illegal?

"The power congress has to make or break individuals and institutions sucks in the money. If congress didn't have so much power, no one would waste their time and money trying to influence it."

Then the sensible thing would seem to be to remove money as a motivator.

You get to keep your power if you can convince your constituents you're doing a good job -- fine with me.

You get to keep your power if some organization with a few million bucks to spend likes the cut of your jib -- not fine with me.

Joe, I got no problem with special issue organizations, and have no problem with them using broadcast, print, or whatever to state their case.

Personally, I'd like them to not make endorsements of specific candidates.

What I'm after is keeping large sums of special interest money away from political *campaigns* and *officeholders*.

I'm not really interested in keeping large sums of special interest money out of the public debate. I'm not sure how you'd do that without actually running afoul of the 1st Amendment. And yes, I recognize that McCain-Feingold has that problem.

Yes, it can be a tricky line to draw, but we don't have to hand it to them on a plate.

"Citizen" may be too narrow, I'd have no problem with legal residents making contributions. Any US person seems like a reasonable standard.

My goal is to keep the guys with millions of bucks out of the room, not the guys with tens.

@ russell
Sorry dude, but money ain't speech.

In any world built on common sense, I agree.

Unfortunately, *OUR* campaign finance regime is built on the SCOTUS "Buckley" decision, the basic finding of which is that money does indeed equal speech. Unless and until there's an amendment that says otherwise, we're stuck with it.


It was a crappy decision. It wasn't the first such, and it won't be the last. Corporate personhood comes into this also, which IMO is also a crappy precedent.

In the meantime, we'll all do what we can to keep folks honest.

Transparency helps, but keeping the freaking money out in the first place would help more.

Agree 10000% with crappiness of the decision. I'd use stronger language, but even with hilzoy gone the mods don't like it.
Problem w/bad scotus precedent is it can take decades or more to overturn. I'm afraid this one will likely outlive me (I'm 64). I gasped when I first read/heard about, and my reaction hasn't changed.

"What I'm after is keeping large sums of special interest money away from political *campaigns* and *officeholders*."

"Large" means something different than "none."

Also, I'm not sure what "special interest" means. Again, an environmental group can be a "special interest." It's special, it's an interest. These sorts of things explain why the ACLU opposes your path.

Though line drawing can be a problem, I can understand some strict rule about for profit corporations. But, some "natural person" rule, especially as absolute as you set forth, doesn't work for me.

I also don't know the problem of unions in this context. I know they can be seen as a sort of quid pro quo (fine, you can have the corporations, if we have the unions), but why they cannot donate to PACs etc. is unclear to me.

---

BTW, corporate personhood has been overblown. Corporations do not have the same rights as natural persons. This was true back in 1905. The right path would be for the state to limit the charter, like they used to do so much more often.

And, money isn't speech, but it pays for speech. Tell the NYT it can only spend a small amount of money, but hey, no worry about freedom of press. Since it is not directly speech, that's one reason money can be regulated more. But, just saying it is not speech is dubious.

The only entities that should be allowed to contribute to political campaigns, PACs, political parties, political officeholders, etc., should be natural human beings who are citizens of the United States.

Period.

No corporations, no unions, nothing other than natural persons who are citizens.

I'd go even further than that. Not only can donations only come from citizens, it can only come from constituents. So no more of this crap that both parties do like "let's all send money to Minnesota to elect/defeat Franken." If you want to represent Minnesota in the Senate, all of the money you raise has to come from Minnesota residents.

"Again, an environmental group can be a "special interest."

Environmental groups are definitely special interests. I support them wholeheartedly, and I don't want them contributing to political campaigns or officeholders.

"These sorts of things explain why the ACLU opposes your path."

I support the ACLU more than pretty much any other organization in the country, and I do not want them making contributions to political officeholders, parties, or campaigns. It's kind of moot, because I don't think they have a lot of money to throw around, but if they did, I'd want their money out of government.

"BTW, corporate personhood has been overblown. Corporations do not have the same rights as natural persons"

They have far too many of the rights of natural persons. Getting the state to limit corporate charters will prove to be a bigger challenge than you appear to think, not least because of the rights that have been recognized for them.

I have no special animus toward corporations. I think they're a splendid vehicle for their intended purpose.

I don't want them contributing one red cent to any political officeholder, party, or campaign. I don't want them contributing a cent to lobbying efforts directed at officeholders. I want their money out of government.

"And, money isn't speech, but it pays for speech."

Yes, it surely does.

Allow me to make my meaning plain.

I disagree with the doctrine that the 1st amendment guarantees a right for any entity to spend any money it cares to on contributions to political officeholders, parties, and campaigns, or to lobbying efforts directed at political officeholders.

As I've mentioned in this thread, and in other threads where this has been discussed, I have no problem with individuals and corporations participating in the public debate through broadcast and print issue ads, etc. They can spend as much money on that as they like AFAIC.

I don't want them to be able to make contributions to political officeholders, political parties, or political campaigns. I don't want them to pay for direct lobbying of political officeholders, elected or otherwise.

I want their freaking money out of government.

If they want to participate in public debate and try to persuade voters of the goodness of their point of view, fine. That's called "speech".

I don't want their money anywhere near the functioning of government. That's not "speech", it's influence peddling.

If I could really have my druthers, I'd even exclude for-profit corporations from issue advocacy, and would limit that to not-for-profit corporations whose members were exclusively natural human persons.

I believe the political process in this country to be profoundly corrupted by the influence of private capital, and I believe many of the important regulatory functions of government to be captive to the industries they're intended to oversee.

I'd like that sh*t to stop.
Hope that helps.

The law should be thus: If an individual, corporation, labor union, or house plant makes donations to candidates from one political party, that's free speech.
If they donate to both, that's bribery.

JMG, good point.

Russell, what if the corporation (or anybody else) says to a politician:
Just so you know, I'm going to spend $1M on a series of ads portraying your opponent as a child molester. I guess that will cut down on your ad budget, huh? Anyhoo, about my proposed bill...

The difficulty of stopping this sort of thing is one of the reasons for Buckley and later cases along the same lines. Funneling more of the money into the actual campaign at least makes it a little easier to track.

"what if the corporation (or anybody else) says to a politician:
Just so you know, I'm going to spend $1M on a series of ads portraying your opponent as a child molester"

Then they would be a bunch of insufferable pr*cks.

Sadly, there's no shortage of that.

What does that have to do with anything?

Excluding corporate money from campaigns would make it as easy to track as it could possibly be, because there wouldn't be anything to track.

Corporations are just groups of real, individual people, getting together to accomplish something no one of them can manage on their own. Ban corporations from, for instance, buying TV airtime, and a wealthy individual with $40,000 to spend will be heard on TV, but 1000 people with $40 to spend won't ever be heard, because they won't be able to pool their money.

Why do you want to shut those of modest means out of the public airwaves?

but 1000 people with $40 to spend won't ever be heard, because they won't be able to pool their money.

Well, first of all, russell specified that "I have no problem with individuals and corporations participating in the public debate through broadcast and print issue ads, etc. They can spend as much money on that as they like AFAIC." So, you know, RTFT.

But in any case, is there something that prevents 999 of those people from giving the 1,000th individual $40 each, and that 1,000th person simply buying the airtime? Must they form some kin of corporate entity? Because I'm pretty certain they don't need to. If I can collect the appropriate money from my friends and like-thinker, I don't need to form The Committee to Blah Blah Blah. With the money in hand, I can do exactly what anyone wealthy individual can.

"Must they form some kin of corporate entity?"

Um, yeah. Haven't kept up with campaign finance laws, have you? The threshold for having to form a Political Action Committee, a form of corporation, is $1000.

People don't form corporations for yucks, they do it because a variety of laws and legal doctrines make forming a corporation the only legal or safe way to engage in a wide range of collective activities.

"Ban corporations from, for instance, buying TV airtime, and a wealthy individual with $40,000 to spend will be heard on TV, but 1000 people with $40 to spend won't ever be heard, because they won't be able to pool their money."

I have no problem with individuals banding together, pooling their resources, and publishing their point of view in any available form of media. Whether they do so in the form of a not-for-profit public interest corporation or a bridge club, it's all fine as far as I'm concerned.

That, to my eye, is the textbook example of "speech" in the sense that the 1st Amendment was intended to protect.

I have no problem with individuals contributing directly to political campaigns, parties, and officeholders, within reasonable limits. IMVHO, that limit is pretty low right now, and could be made significantly larger without doing any kind of harm to the political process.

What I do not want are corporations, whether for-profit or not, or any other entity other than individual natural human persons contributing to political campaigns, officeholders, or parties. If you can put hundred of thousands or millions of bucks on the table, you get into buy-a-Congressperson and/or buy-a-vote territory in a damned hurry.

I would also like commercial, for-profit corporations, specifically, to be banned from funding registered lobbyists.

I have no, or at least very little, issue with not-for-profit issue-based corporations funding lobbying efforts. Provided that their membership was made up exclusively of natural human persons.

I would, personally, also put serious limits on the ability of for-profit corporations to engage in political speech of any kind, which would include issue ads etc.

If the management of some company wants to do that, they can join or start a not-for-profit organization as private individuals, put their own personal money on the table, and have at it.

For-profit corporations are decidedly NOT just groups of individuals banding together to accomplish something of interest to them. They are a legal entity that exists to accumulate wealth and shield its owners from liability. Not the same thing.

My goal here is to get for-profit and special-interest corporate money the hell out of the political process. Not out the public debate, at least in the case of not-for-profit political advocacy corporations, but out of the political process per se. Running for office, making executive and other operational decisions, writing and voting on laws.

The reasons for that ought to be, I would think, self-evident.

"I would also like commercial, for-profit corporations, specifically, to be banned from funding registered lobbyists."

Not gonna happen: Half the motive behind the regulatory state is forcing for-profit corporations into enriching members of Congress through defensive bribery; You really think Congress is going to cut off a flow of money they went to so much trouble to encourage?

"For-profit corporations are decidedly NOT just groups of individuals banding together to accomplish something of interest to them. They are a legal entity that exists to accumulate wealth and shield its owners from liability. Not the same thing."

Huh. Never would have occurred to me that there weren't groups of individuals interested in accomplishing "accumulating wealth". And as for shielding owners from liability, I did say that our legal rules made corporations the only safe way to get together to accomplish many things.

"You really think Congress is going to cut off a flow of money they went to so much trouble to encourage?"

No, not really. To be honest, I kinda think we're screwed.

Most of us will probably still be able to live a basically decent life, but IMO we're in for at least another generation of the nation's wealth flowing to about 1-2% of the population.

We'll probably get some kind of health insurance entitlement, which along with SS and Medicare/Medicaid will probably keep the bottom 1/4 or 1/3 of the population from dying in the streets. Assuming their paperwork is in order.

Personally, I'd rather see the wealth spread more broadly up front than see it redistributed through entitlements, but that's another whole topic altogether.

But either way, US public policy is gonna be all about the Benjamins for as far ahead as I can see.

The turning point for me on this topic was Obama's astounding (to me) deference to Wall St. in handling the most recent financial mess. If there was ever a time when the interests of the broader population had a chance of being represented, that was it.

Far as I can tell, we got nothing.

And Obama, who is by any reasonable standard a mildly conservative centrist, is about a left-wing a guy as the national audience is likely to tolerate.

So, shorter me: no, I don't think Congress is going to do anything to shut off the tap.

"Never would have occurred to me that there weren't groups of individuals interested in accomplishing "accumulating wealth"."

My view is that if you want to organize to make a lot of money, mazel tov. If you want to organize to promote your political position, have at it.

The same organization can't do both.

In case it really isn't obvious why this might be useful, see your first question.

Actually, I'll break that last point down a little more.

People who join the NRA do so because they're interested in preserving the right to bear arms. There are, no doubt, other factors, but let's take that as the motivation for purposes of discussion.

If they contribute to the NRA, it's to advance that position. They know they've joined the NRA, whatever money, time, or effort they contribute is intended specifically to advance a particular political or social cause.

And the money, time, and other effort they contribute is their own, personal money, time, and effort.

If the board and executive management of Exxon, or Citigroup, or Pfizer, decides to buy an ad to advocate a certain policy, they aren't spending their own money. They are spending money that actually belongs to thousands or millions of other people, who are the shareholders of those companies.

Some of those people might agree with the position the corporation is advocating, and some not. Some might be aware the company is advocating the position, and some not. Some might be aware that they even own a piece of the corporation whose money is advocating the position in question, but I can guarantee you that many do not.

In a nutshell, in the area of political advocacy, there's no meaningful connection between the decision to spend resources to advance one point of view and another, and the will or intent of the folks whose resources are being spent.

Because it ain't the board's money, or the executive management's money. It's the corporation's money. It might be plausible to say it's the shareholder's money, but they're really not involved in the decision making.

If the board members, management, or for that matter the shareholders of a company want to advocate a political point of view, they can organize themselves as a political advocacy corporation and spend their own money. Not yours, not mine, not that of the pension funds, not that of the educational institutions, not that of any other capital investor in the enterprise.

Want to exercise your first amendment rights? Put your own damned money on the table.

It ain't much to ask.

That's fair enough, but I'd merely point out that businesses are as much victims of extortion, as they are guilty of bribery. Fat chance you're going to end the extortion by getting the extortionists to pass new laws.

The problem to date has been that the extortionists, when they pass those laws, have been far more intent on hamstringing potential challengers, and silencing pesky critics, than anything which really deserves to be called 'reform'.

"The law should be thus: If an individual, corporation, labor union, or house plant makes donations to candidates from one political party, that's free speech.
If they donate to both, that's bribery."

The problem here is that it assumes complete cohesion to ideology, and complete opposition of all member of both parties on all issues, and despite the vastly increased polarization of recent years, neither of these two things is true.

At a slightly more granular level, it presupposes that you, whether individual or organization, might generally prefer the principles of one party, but highly respect the individual of the other party running for a given office, and highly disrespect, for whatever reason, the individual running from your party. It's hardly as if this is rarely all that rare.

"It's hardly as if this is rarely all that rare."

Er, it's hardly as if this is all that rare.

"Excluding corporate money from campaigns would make it as easy to track as it could possibly be, because there wouldn't be anything to track."

Russell, I couldn't agree more that the issue of money in politics is one of the largest problems in our country. It utterly distorts our politics, and gives an almost complete lie to the notion of "one person, one vote" in favor of something more like "ten thousand dollars, one vote."

We practically live in a plutocracy more than a democracy, a plutocratic oligarchy more than a democracy.

So I couldn't be more emphatic in agreeing with you about the problem.

Where I'm stuck is that all the solutions I see proposed always have major problems, too. The basic problem is that money is fungible. As soon as you plug up one way for it to influence politics, there's usually another way found.

"Excluding corporate money from campaigns would make it as easy to track as it could possibly be, because there wouldn't be anything to track."

So if the corporation doesn't contribute directly to the candidate, they simply publish ads "independently" on "issues" that happen to align with the candidate they support. Then we plugged that loophole. So 527 organizations were formed to get around that limitation. So if we ban 527s, I'm just unconvinced that "special interests" of whatever sort won't find another way of organizing individuals to spend a bunch of their money in a common cause. Same effect results.

I've liked some of the ideas I've heard over the years, and I agree we should keep trying, but I'm pessimistic about finding a real cure. (We could go to complete public financing of elections, with strict limitations on amounts spent, free limited air time for all contenders, but that's such a radical change I don't see it happening any time in the foreseeable future, and I don't know that that would prevent third parties from distorting elections anyway.)

Russell: "If the management of some company wants to do that, they can join or start a not-for-profit organization as private individuals, put their own personal money on the table, and have at it."

So companies start up non-profit foundation adjuncts, to funnel their money. Or they bundle. How, ultimately, do we stop people from spending money without becoming highly fascistic about it? I have to say that the more limitations on free speech that get proposed, even for corporations, the more uncomfortable and doubtful I become, just on principle, let alone on my doubts about true effectiveness.

Phil: "But in any case, is there something that prevents 999 of those people from giving the 1,000th individual $40 each, and that 1,000th person simply buying the airtime? Must they form some kin of corporate entity?"

But I'm not seeing how this effectively changes things: the office-holders still know which bunch of people in an interest group they owe.

And this is one of those issues where I find Brett making some sense some of the time, as well as you, Russell, who pretty much always makes sense all of the time.

I'd really love to believe there's some simple cure to this problem. But wanting one badly doesn't necessarily make for one.

I agree that Brett makes sense. I share his pessimism that much of substance will ever be done. There's too much money on the table.

Here's the thing.

We currently keep track of all kinds of things. We have a laundry list of different kinds of corporate organizations, each of which is entitled to do different sorts of things. We keep track of how much money any individual gives to political campaigns. Lobbyists have to register and have to disclose all kinds of financial information.

What I'm looking for is pretty simple:

If you're any kind of corporation, you can't contribute to political parties, campaigns, or officeholders.

If you're a for-profit corporation, you have no 1st Amendment free speech guarantees, and you can't give any money at all to registered lobbyists. Not-for-profit corporations that are organized for political or social issue advocacy are entitled to both.

If you're a private individual, you can spend your money like a drunken sailor, up to some reasonable limit, which will probably be a significant multiple of what it is now.

Will it solve everything? No.

Will money find it's way through the cracks? Yes, but folks will have to work a little harder to make it do so.

Will it be better than what we have now? Yes.

And it will do so without compromising 1st Amendment protections, as McCain-Feingold does.

"I agree that Brett makes sense. I share his pessimism that much of substance will ever be done. There's too much money on the table."

No, there's too much power on the table. Look, you don't bribe the powerless, and the powerless can't commit extortion against you: The whole problem is a function of excess government power.

Money? Unless you want us all reduced to paupers, we WANT lots of money to be on the table. What we want is for less of it to be used to buy government favors, including as 'favors' refraining from attacks. The only way you're going to get that, is for the government to have less ability to grant favors, and threaten damage.

The locus of the problem is in government.

I can understand why 'liberals' are highly averse to admitting this. You've gotten so hung up on government as the solution of preference to all problems, that you identify with it. You see it as a tool, YOUR tool, so you want it as powerful as possible.

And you never seem to stop to think that maybe, just maybe, it's possible for a government to be too strong, and that some of the things that bother you about the US today are a result of the government getting too much stronger than the private sector.

You really ought to consider that it IS possible to solve problems through the private sector, and while you can't threaten to shoot people who won't 'contribute' to paying for your solutions if you go that route, it does have advantages.

"No, there's too much power on the table."

That's actually a pretty interesting point. I'll give it some thought, and that's not a brush off.

"What we want is for less of it to be used to buy government favors"

We agree.

I have no problem with people getting wealthy, I have a problem with people distorting public policy by means of their wealth.

"You see it as a tool, YOUR tool, so you want it as powerful as possible."

I'm not sure that's actually my position.

I don't think government is the solution to everything. And I don't want it to be as powerful as possible.

I want it to be exactly powerful enough to do what the people who are subject to it want it to do. To me, that's what "consent of the governed" means.

I have no problem with private sector solutions to problems. The only issue I have with the private sector is when it doesn't actually solve the problem. Or even worse, when it creates problems.

But what I'm really, really after here is preventing people and institutions that control great big buckets of lovely money from having their interests trump those of everybody else.

They can do whatever they want in their personal and private lives. Public life, different story. And public life cuts a pretty broad swath.

Government power isn't the only power to worry about. And quite often government is far easier to bring to account than private actors.

That's where I'm coming from.

For the record, I needed a bathroom sink fixed last week, and I didn't even think of calling "the government" once. Which should be sufficient to disprove whatever point Brett imagines he's making about people whose minds he's pretending to read.

You really ought to consider that it IS possible to solve problems through the private sector, and while you can't threaten to shoot people who won't 'contribute' to paying for your solutions if you go that route, it does have advantages.

Counterpoint.

Also.

Brett: One problem.

If you take power away from the government, that doesn't mean that power ceases to exist. It may, or that power vacuum may be taken over by private businesses. Or outright criminals. Or the resulting anarchy may be worse than the government having the power. In any of those cases, the problem isn't solved by taking power away from the government, it's shifted from a group that's at least nominally responsible to EVERY citizen, to a group that's, at best, responsible only for the profits of its shareholders.

If you really want to reduce the power on the table, you have to attack ALL the concentrations of power, not just government. And the only way individual people are going to be able to oppose concentrated power is to band together and cooperate in some group that's powerful enough to do so, and has claws that can actually hurt them.

Which is how government's supposed to work. And if government's going to be able to oppose other concentrations of power, it has to be as powerful as them, at least.

"Some of those people might agree with the position the corporation is advocating, and some not. Some might be aware the company is advocating the position, and some not. Some might be aware that they even own a piece of the corporation whose money is advocating the position in question, but I can guarantee you that many do not.

In a nutshell, in the area of political advocacy, there's no meaningful connection between the decision to spend resources to advance one point of view and another, and the will or intent of the folks whose resources are being spent.

Because it ain't the board's money, or the executive management's money. It's the corporation's money. It might be plausible to say it's the shareholder's money, but they're really not involved in the decision making."

Interestingly, this is the easiest money to track. Every business is impacted by policy decisions and each tries to have input on those decisions as much as possible. For public companies those dollars are reported both under campaign laws and securities laws.

It is not correct to assume the Board is spending money incorrectly if it tries to effect legislation that would not be in the fiduciary interest of shareholders. The Board has a FIDUCIARY responsibility, not a responsibility to represent the "point of view" of the shareholders.

Whether we want those dollars in politics or not, the Board has a clearly defined set of responsibilities that are not the same responsibilities as the shareholders Congressmen or Senators.

"The Board has a FIDUCIARY responsibility, not a responsibility to represent the "point of view" of the shareholders."

That's a good point.

Bottom line, I have two reasons that I want for-profit corporate money out of the political process, full stop:

1. They bring resources to the table that nearly all (not all, but nearly all) natural human persons can't even imagine having at their command.

2. They aren't people.

The fact that corporate officers are legally bound to represent the fiduciary interest of the corporation and their shareholders only makes the point stronger, to me.

Brett: "And you never seem to stop to think that maybe, just maybe, it's possible for a government to be too strong, and that some of the things that bother you about the US today are a result of the government getting too much stronger than the private sector."

Nonsense. I think about it quite a lot. It's just that most of the time I draw the line in a different place than you do.

I can point to examples of over-strong governments all around the world, and I can point to examples both in our history and contemporarily where I think government shouldn't be involved, or is over-involved (local business permits, for instance, tend to be far too complicated to get, to give just one example).

To say that we disagree in many places over where to draw the line is not at all to say that I, or many other liberals, don't strongly consider where the line should be drawn. Your accusation is, at best, vastly over-strong.

Russell: "I don't think government is the solution to everything. And I don't want it to be as powerful as possible."

This should be perfectly obvious, but since it isn't to Brett and similar thinking people, I'll emphatically agree that this is, of course, nonsense.

I also agree, as usual, with the rest of russell's July 27, 2009 at 09:08 AM. Also Nate's July 27, 2009 at 09:40 AM.

I have been known to quote Teddy Roosevelt at length on these themes.

Some relevant words from Hendrik Hertzberg:

[...] In other free countries, legislation, social and otherwise, gets made in a fairly straightforward manner. There is an election, in which the voters, having paid attention to the issues for six weeks or so, choose a government. The governing party or coalition then enacts its program, and the voters get a chance to render a verdict on it the next time they go to the polls. Through one or another variation of this process, the people of every other wealthy democracy on earth have obtained for themselves some form of guaranteed health insurance or universal health care.

The way we do it is, shall we say, more exciting. For us, an election is only the opening broadside in a series of protracted political battles of heavy artillery and hand-to-hand fighting. A President may fancy that he has a mandate (and, morally, he may well have one), but the two separately elected, differently constituted, independent legislatures whose acquiescence he needs are under no compulsion to agree. Within those legislatures, a system of overlapping committees dominated by powerful chairmen creates a plethora of veto points where well-organized special interests can smother or distort a bill meant to benefit a large but amorphous public. In the smaller of the two legislatures—which is even more heavily weighted toward conservative rural interests than is the larger one, and where one member may represent as little as one-seventieth as many people as the member in the next seat—an arcane and patently unconstitutional rule, the filibuster, allows a minority of members to block almost any action. The process that results is less like the Roman Senate than like the Roman Games: a sanguinary legislative Colosseum where at any moment some two-bit emperor is apt to signal the thumbs-down.

[...]

Pretty much everybody who believes that health care should be a human right, not a commercial commodity, and who makes a serious study of the abstract substance of the matter, concludes that the best solution would be (to borrow Obama’s words at the press conference) “what’s called a single-payer system, in which everybody is automatically covered.” But, by the same token, pretty much everybody who believes the same thing, and who makes a serious study of the concrete politics of the matter, concludes that a change so sudden and so wrenching—and so threatening to so many powerful interests—is beyond the capacities of our ramshackle political mechanisms. The American health-care system is bloated, wasteful, and cruel. Under the health-insurance-reform package now being bludgeoned into misshapen shape on Capitol Hill, it will still be bloated, wasteful, and cruel—but markedly less so. The House bill, for example, would make basic coverage available to tens of millions who now have none. It would curb the practice of denying insurance to persons with “preëxisting conditions.” (We’re all born with a preëxisting condition: mortality.) It would make insurance coverage portable, which would be a boon for both individual careers and the wider economy. Even one of these things would be a colossal improvement on the status quo.

The most consequential opposition to the reforms now under consideration is coming from a small group of Blue Dog Democrats, who protest that the plan does too little to control costs. To the extent that their concern is genuine, and not just a reflexive deference to wealth (they vociferously oppose a modest surtax on the top one per cent, whose effective tax rates have dropped by fifteen per cent since 1979, while their after-tax incomes have more than tripled), they have a point. But it’s a minor point. The prospective reform has more cost-containment provisions than past attempts, and, thanks in part to those same Blue Dogs, it is acquiring more such elements by the day—for example, the proposal for an independent commission able to set Medicare payment rates, which Obama has also embraced.

But the Blue Dogs are playing a dangerous game of chicken. Even if they’re right that reform would do too little about costs, the alternative—which, as the President has repeatedly pointed out, is the status quo—would do nothing. Ultimately, real cost control will require a strong push away from fee-for-service medicine. In Massachusetts, which three years ago enacted its own version of near-universal health insurance, the cost of expanded coverage has created pressure for just such a push. That state’s experience suggests that the cost problem, too, will be easier to solve under a reformed system, with all its other benefits, than under the one we have now.

As for the Republican opposition to reform, most of it has been, in a word, nihilistic. William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, last week offered the same advice he did sixteen years ago, when he masterminded the death of the Clinton reform effort: “Go for the kill.” Senator Jim DeMint, of South Carolina, elaborated on the theme. “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo,” DeMint said. “It will break him.” Obama’s Presidency would survive the murder of health-care reform. But he would be greatly weakened, with dire consequences for his ability to meet many other urgent challenges. Whoever needs to be punished for morbidity, it’s not him. And not the rest of us, either.

So, no comments on ObWi for over four hours? Sure is quiet in these here parts.

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