> He launched Mayday PAC to much fanfare in the spring of 2014, billing it as the "super PAC to end super PACs." But it failed to play a decisive role in any race that year.
As Lessig found out, money by itself cannot buy power. Money is a means for magnifying the impact of forces that are already in play.
Consider, for example, climate change. During the last debate of the last Presidential election, Barak Obama was falling over himself to be more pro-coal than Mitt Romney. Was it because he hoped to court the coal-industry lobbyists and turn their firehose of political spending in his direction? There wasn't a chance in hell of that happening, and he knew it. He did it to court the voters in central and southern Illinois whose livelihoods are dependent on the coal industry there. We're a sprawling suburban nation addicted to cheap gasoline. Energy companies would have tremendous power even if they didn't spend a penny lobbying.
The same is true for banking and finance. People complain about fancy financial instruments, but at the end of the day main street businesses are utterly dependent on payroll loans, consumers are dependent on credit cards, and everyone wants to get a fat adjustable-rate mortgage so they can buy a big suburban house. Do you think banks need to spend any money lobbying to sway politicians in their favor?
And I'll also go out on a limb and suggest that money being a factor in politics isn't as bad as it seems. At least when money can influence politics, the noveau-riche can upset the old guard. Consider the auto industry. Traditional carmakers don't need to spend money to buy political power--the fact that they employ hundreds of thousands of middle-class workers guarantees that. But as traditional cars decline, and the Teslas and Googles of the world remake the industry, it's probably a good thing that those companies can use money to overcome the inertia and political mindshare of existing car companies.
What does that money buy? Well first there are media buys, and it doesn't matter of it's broadcast TV or Facebook ads — that all costs money to just get some name recognition. And then old school tools like direct mail also cost quite a bit. Even polling costs money, so you'll spend a chunk of money just to figure out if you should even run. And then feet on the ground, or get out the vote costs money too. You want someone to ring doorbells or make calls? That costs money.
So a normal middle class person can't run for a federal office unless they are well connected. But connections come with a price. That price may not be legislation that has anything to do with Wall Street, but that price can be local pork or maybe a bill that's in the interest of the public that never comes up for a vote.
By the way car makers spend a ton of money in Washington. the Detroit bailout was all about that, but they do a great deal of work on smaller issues like emissions standards and the like. And if you look at the walls that an Uber is running into across the world it's hard to go up against existing interests.
However, if I had a super PAC with $5 million in the bank "trying to figure out what to spend it on" I bet I could get a lot of politicians trying to meet with me. Let's even say I said I was going to spend $1 million on each of the next 5 elections in my local district. So the first meeting we talk about some "ideas" I have and they just nod their head. If they don't think that would help in the next election, maybe they just ignore me, but if maybe they didn't have strong opinions on my important policy points to begin with, or are even against them but "have other things they want to prioritize first" then maybe I'll tilt the odds in my favor. Let's say they even want to pass their pet project, but need votes from other congresspeople they know that they can influence their colleagues if they can "sell" access to me as a "donor".
None of this is hard corruption, but it's access and influence all indirectly acquired through money.
Also, failed campaigns often just end up paying out the candidate indirectly by buying a book written by the candidate and giving it to donors as a "gift". While it might be hard for a politician to sell 1 million copies of their book, if they can buy it with campaign funds it's a lot easier.
This was the example I can remember.
There is also this side benefit that whatever influence the money buys evaporates to some extent.
But seriously, the idea that the poor politicians are just TOO EXHAUSTED FROM FUNDRAISING to give us the good government that they desperately want to provide us seems, at best, under-argued to me. What evidence is there that this is the case?
Here's a quote illustrating how much time fundrasing takes away from their normal job...
How many fundraisers do you typically go to in a given week, do you think?
A lot. Yeah. Either on the phone or attending events. But I think they've said
this year I attended almost 400 fundraisers in nearly 40 cities.
That's 400 for the year 2011. That's more than one a day, every day of the
year, Saturdays and Sundays included.
EDIT: And here's in fact the bit right before the part you quoted:
"This is Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House. She's also the Democratic Party's number one fundraiser. Pelosi has raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. Close to $40 million in this election alone."
To wit: she's not representative, she's in fact the very extreme.
In case it's not clear, he was a supporter of this person (their families were long-time friends), so he wasn't saying it as a derogatory thing or speaking from a negatively-biased place.
Do you have any evidence that politicians spend 80% of their time fundraising?
What is the big list of bills that just couldn't get drafted because the politicians were too busy fundraising?
And my worry isn't about not being able to draft bills. It's about being able to review already-drafted bills. Isn't the TPP several thousand pages?
The biggest issue with all this fundraising isn't that it's just taking away from time to legislate. The biggest issue that amount of time fundraising can makes it difficult for an honest politician (spare me the jokes) to not be influenced by the people he's asking for money.
As a legislator, you only have enough time and attention to research and care about a handful of issues. The remainder of those issues, you have to trust the expertise of fellow legislators and lobbyists. Lobbyists are experts in their fields and apart from being able to write checks, they know how to explain policy to a legislator so the legislator believes they're doing the right thing.
I realize asking people to have pity on congressmen is a tall order, but don't delude yourself into believing they have free-will that translates into power or influence without sucking on the fundraising teet.
Not really. A bit like saying "if I don't let my kid watch football they will have more time to study!".
If they didn't spend time fundraising they would spend time on some equally worthless (for the public) activity. Like marching in parades and kissing babies, or giving out stupid medals, or attending events so that they can get more votes in the next election or attending events that will get others elected that will then owe them a favor.
Obama after he was elected made a point of visiting his kids school (iirc the week after he was in office or close to that) in order to show that a father should be interested in his kid's education presumably or something like that. What is ironic is that with a father like the former President (not to mention a mother in attendance who went to Harvard as well and is quite educated) Obama's kids are the least likely to have to ever worry about their education and school studies.
I would imagine that half the things that Obama or any President does in White House events involves some favor or another for a politician that helped them in the past in some way. (In addition to donors of course) Otherwise hard to justify why such an important guy should take the time from his important work for so many photo ops.
Question for anyone running a business startup or otherwise. Do you spend your time doing silly stuff like that w/o a clear business purpose? Of course not.
With vastly more money available, politicians would have to spend far less, both in time and favors, to finance their campaigns.
You can't quid pro quo if you don't know about the quid.
Donor makes a donation to a politician, which is anonymized. That money is then temporarily escrowed, along with all other recent donations, and the money trickles into the account held by the politician over a certain period of time. That way, donor can't say to the politician "$3mil coming your way, it's from me." On top of that, all donations are refundable so the politician can't trust that the donor actually gave them money and didn't revoke it.
The point of the concept is to limit the information flow between the donor and the politician. The politician can't find out who donated the money, or how much came from a single source, and they can't trust outside information about who their supporters are.
I see a massive exploit available on that clause.
And yeah, section 2:
"The First Amendment shall not be construed to limit legislation enacted pursuant to this article, save to assure content and viewpoint neutrality. Neither shall the First Amendment be construed to limit the equivalent power of state or local legislation enacted to regulate elections of state or local officers. Nor shall the First Amendment be construed to vest in any non-natural person any unalienable constitutional rights."
Like, under this Amendment, Congress passed a law saying "specifically the Democratic National Committee does not get to engage in any speech of any kind -- it may send no correspondence, buy no advertising, write no editorials," that'd be okay because the DNC is a non-natural person and as such has no rights under the First Amendment.
The extent to which people on the left have let the very words "corporate personhood," utterly divorced from any actual implications thereof, becomes a bugaboo that drives them to silly positions is really amazing.
Under this amendment, Congress could restrict the speech of natural persons according to article 1 of the amendment (that is: it could limit the expenditures of natural persons in support of a candidate within 90 days of an election). But it could not do so in ways that were non-neutral (so it could not say "Josiah Bartlett may not speak within 90 days of an election").
Similarly, state and local governments could also restrict speech of natural persons in this way.
But also: the First Amendment would just straight-up not apply at all to "non-natural persons." Not within the restrictions of article 1, but at all. Entirely.
This isn't quite as crazy as, for example, completely abolishing corporate personhood (which would pretty much upend civic life in America), but even if you think that Citizens United caused a watershed change in American politics (and, seriously: can anyone tell me they see a practical change in politics post-Citizens United?), removing ALL free speech protections for people who are channeling their speech through any kind of resource aggregation is an insane overreaction.
It doesn't say that. It doesn't say that the First Amendment does not provide Constitutional rights to non-natural persons, only that if it is construed to provide such rights, those rights cannot be construed as unalienable.
This is sort of odd language; and its not really clear what it means. The most likely interpretation I see is that it reduces potential intrusions on First Amendment rights of non-natural persons from the kinds of things judged under strict scrutiny (usually referred to as "fundamental" rather than "unalienable", though the terms are closely related in their general meaning and this seems to the most natural mechanism of giving effect to the language in the proposed amendment), even when the restrictions are not content-neutral; this would probably leave both content-specific and content-neutral regulation of speech that impacted only the rights of non-natural persons subject to intermediate scrutiny, but that's not entirely clear (and it would certainly lead to natural persons asserting that their rights were impinged by the restriction on the non-natural person that they control.)
> removing ALL free speech protections for people who are channeling their speech through any kind of resource aggregation is an insane overreaction.
But it certainly doesn't do that. If a natural person has a free speech interested affected by a law, the fact that they are channeling their speech through some mechanism of "resource aggregation" wouldn't prevent them from asserting their own First Amendment right, even if the amendment (as it does not) stripped all First Amendment protection from non-natural persons.
But a few points:
1. I would continue to not be very happy with language abridging the First Amendment if it wasn't very clear what that language meant.
2. If indeed the intended purpose of that part of the proposed Amendment was to lower the level of scrutiny given to laws abridging the speech of non-natural persons, I guess I'd like someone to make the case that that's the reform that we need -- that the scrutiny level of such laws is the big deal in our political system.
3. And, look, all non-natural persons are ultimately owned by one or more natural persons. If natural persons continue to have free speech rights through corporations even if the corporations per se do not have free speech rights, I'd again like to hear someone make the argument that this is a positive change. My immediate takeaway is that this would create an incredibly complicated legal situation for the courts to adjudicate with uncertain results.
How much you believe them is probably a good proxy for how important you think campaign finance issues are.
Except I've never once seen such a claim actually made by any politician. So at the very least it seems likely to stand out.
And as for how to believe them: "I intentionally have no access to the donor list, I have never seen the donor list, and if you tell me you've donated to my campaign I will have no particular reason to believe you, so don't bother".
I've seen it made by almost every politician I've seen questioned about the impact of particular donations, and most people defending campaign donations against proposals to regulate them more closely; and as a lifelong political junkie and Political Science major, those are things I've seen quite a lot of.
Marco Rubio made a claim like that on Meet The Press two days ago.
> I intentionally have no access to the donor list
That would require doing away with the $50,000 per plate fundraising dinners.
As an opportunity to talk to me about an issue? There'd be far better channels for that.
> Or figures out what sports game you're going to, and pays to rent out the entire row of seats next to you. Or pays to do the same for your staff - who advise you?
Then I'd be very interested in how they managed to break my security and privacy, particularly to figure out what seat; that just seems more creepy than anything else. And it seems more like something you'd do to a candidate you don't want to see elected, considering the PR image it would project.
(Also, do you mean "rent out and leave empty" or "rent out to fill with people who want to bug me/them"? Either one seems obnoxious; the first is wasteful and creates an awkward situation, and the second seems decidedly creepy.)
If you want to talk about strange things people with money can do to campaigns, there's the whole "third-party campaign ad" thing to talk about. Whether you're doing it to support a candidate or to attack one.
Even if you have enough money to buy a hourly running TV ad in Ohio, what if your opponent (who spends less time "working" and more time fundraising) is able to buy an ad that runs every ten minutes? So you shirk your duties to get enough money for a ten-minutely TV ad, but now your opponent is shirking even more and getting huge, well placed Billboards...
Not to mention that if the amount of money in politics increases, couldn't advertisers just increase the price of political ads to compensate?
Why not completely ban political advertising, requiring information on the parties to be released via their own website plus a master list. As well as equal airtime on news channels if coverage is actually that important to have.
That'd also provide a slight chance of breaking this terrible 2 party system the US is stuck in, which seems to prevent any possibility of actual change.
The research shows that a campaign needs enough money to get the message out to the voters. Once that is done, more money does not accomplish much.
¹ from memory
If campaign spending was reduced, and this increased the effect of public opinion on the government, it is likely that government would be worse.
One possible solution is only individuals (no companies, PACs, organizations) can contribute up to $100 per candidate. And the money comes from federal taxes rather than people spending from their wallets directly. You could argue that whoever gets the most money in this system will also win the election because people are essentially voting with their wallets. And even poor people can participate which is the reason for the federal taxes.
As far as governing, if something like that was the system then politicians would hopefully feel more free to do what they think is right rather than what they think will appease their donors. Even if that doesn't turn out to be true, I still think it is a good thing to make campaign finance more egalitarian because it eliminates one potential source of corruption.
Your last point is interesting because you seem to prioritize elimination of donor influence. I on the other hand, am ambivalent when it comes to the prevalence of donor influence, and would only be inclined to minimize donor influence if it had a negative impact on governance. Caplan makes the point that political 'shirking', and non-voting both improve governmental results. Do you prioritize involvement of the citizenry in poltics over governmental outcomes (i.e. the good of the people)?
What are you talking about? The second paragraph has no feelings whatsoever. I guess the first does, but I was responding to your "do you believe" questions. Belief is sort of a feeling. I am happy to debate, but please stop the personal attacks.
My reason for asking about your beliefs was to ascertain whether your preference for a more economically egalitarian system was positive or normative; your response made it clear that it is the latter.
In addition, I have made no "personal attacks"; I never impuned your motives or insulted you.
1. Throw your hands up and remove the imperfect solution.
2. Leave it alone because solution B partially fixes the problem.
3. Find solution C which completely solves the problem.
I hope you would pick #3 like all great engineers would.
No government has ever had the command over its subjects that a programmer has over the components of a computer. Human societies are extremely nonlinear and resistant to arbitrary commands. Thus seemingly simple laws, like an alcohol prohibition, lead to wildly flawed results. Political advertising is even more closely coupled with other aspects of the system than is drinking alcohol. It's not a surprise that attempts to control political advertising of the naive, "we'll make a law against it" variety have failed to achieve their goals. They already tried using your analogy, and it didn't work.
Instead, I'd suggest the process of A/B testing as a potentially insightful analogy. It's a bit of a dark art, but in general we can say that after injecting orange into the color scheme on the site, and finding that CTR drops 30% as a result, the next step is not to make the color scheme completely orange.
Lessig needs to go back to the drawing board. He wants to fight corruption, and on that point I agree with him. He fixates on overturning Citizens United, which had precisely nothing to do with corruption, and on that point I think he suffers a failure of imagination.
I dont understand the reference. Can you elaborate?
As Andrew Koenig says in C Traps and Pitfalls, "Fiddling with a program until it appears to work is a reliable way of obtaining a program that almost works." Campaign finance reform strikes me very much as a collection of ill-considered patches on top of other ill-considered patches.
As someone who grew up in southern Illinois, I find the idea that we were an important demographic in a presidential election humorous and improbable. The state votes the way Chicago votes. I'd be interested to hear more about what makes you think winning central and southern Illinoisan votes was deemed important right then.
> everyone wants to get a fat adjustable-rate mortgage so they can buy a big suburban house.
I think yes and no. I have seen data suggesting that the "millennial" generation thinks this way far less than those prior to it, likely because the great recession affected their prospects disproportionately. I think a lot of the people complaining about fancy financial instruments are different than the people who still think adjustable-rate mortgages for houses they can't afford (further encouraged by tax incentives!) are a good thing.
But mostly, your point stands.
* Carbondale represent.
Yeah, it does make sense that a Presidential debate is a major platform for affecting state and House elections. I just didn't see how it could possibly affect the Presidential election itself.
We're sprawling and addicted to cheap gasoline because of the lobbying energy companies have done up to this point. It was not by accident that, for example, Los Angeles became totally dependent on cars.
The political power of the fossil fuel industry over the last century shaped the world we live in to a large extent, and now that we all have to live in that world, that power is magnified.