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YYW on Campaign Finance Reform

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8/24/2015 2:26:46 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
I think any discussion of Campaign Finance Reform (hereinafter "CFR") really has to begin with a discussion of what the impact of certain supreme court holdings is: anyone can contribute as much of whatever they have to any politician or cause. Granted, there are laws still on the books that do technically limit certain kinds of individual contributions, but as the court exists now I don't think it would be likely that they would survive judicial challenge. (It is possible, but it's not likely.) So, the world in which we live now is one in which people, acting to advance their corporate interests, can use their financial power to buy national political influence. More or less, anything less than outright bribery enjoys constitutional protection.

(I should note that Supreme Court jurisprudence is more complicated than that, and there are more issues involved than what I just said, but the "gist" of it all is summed up pretty nicely above, and that's all I think I need for this conversation's purposes.)

Basically what that means is that the Koch brothers could, if they wanted too, be kingmakers just because they can use their money to donate to various entities and politicians directly and indirectly, which can be used for: (1) funding specific pundits on 24 hour news cycles, (2) influencing popular perception by controlling how certain media outlets report on various politicians, (3) dump their money into advertisements, especially expensive TV advertisements, to manipulate the American public, and (4) do other things of that same general sort.

There were -once- limits on the extent to which any one individual could use the media for their own political purposes, but the fact that those limits existed is why Kennedy thought that they infringed on free speech, and they do. They do so, I think, in service of Democratic ends, but this is inconsistent with the nearly carte blanche ideal of freedom of speech that many in the United States have held (including, among others, Kennedy).

So, what we're doing here is balancing two competing interests: "one-man-one-vote" with "free speech" construed in the most liberal manner possible, all while on the fault line of "influence" ...or at least that's how the debate is generally framed by those who "know."

Yet, quantifying "influence" is the kind of thing that while political scientists think they can do pretty precisely, they in reality can not, and even if they could, the concept is "one man one vote" not "man may have no more influence in the electoral process than the vote that he casts." Notice the difference, there. The former does not address what can or can not be done with respect to campaign related activity beyond doing to the polls, whereas the latter necessarily constrains what a man can do to all and only casting his vote. Liberals, though, don't really want the latter option, it's just that that's the "alternate construction" that many do try -and fail- to suggest should be the way of things in electoral politics.

My view is that money is not speech, and corporations are not people, and the legal fiction of corporate personhood is as stupid as it is dangerous; it's also relatively novel, and came into existence only in the latter half of the 20th century (which means that it's not conservative, in the traditional sense of the word, to be an advocate of corporate personhood.)

In the past, like before the 60s, there was a sort of shared understanding that corporations had a responsibility to serve the public good, which was the basis of their right to exists's legitimacy. Doing good was something that was seen as socially necessary, and even something that took precedence over something like "meeting your fiduciary responsibility to share-holders by achieving quarterly profit markers."

Really, I think Goldman Sachs illustrates this point beautifully. When Goldman Sachs was not publicly traded, shareholders were concerned with long term goals just on the nature of the institutional demands. But, now that GS is publicly traded, their goals are to pursue quarterly returns, which changes their strategies for making money from "stable long-term growth" to mercurial short-term growth, without regard for long term consequences, because people will move onto something else before, as such presidents as Jimmy Carter would say, "the chickens came home to roost." Said less colloquially, the idea is that publicly traded financial houses go after short term garbage at the expense of long-term stability because they are measured on short-term time-frames, and not lifetime achievement.

Here's how this matters to electoral politics: when you've got a corporation that is looking to get politicians in office, they are looking for guys who will do their bidding for them, and if they (the politicians) won't play ball (read: create the kinds of conditions where corporations can pursue mercurial short term gains to impress their share-holders and make huge amounts of money in short time periods), the corporation will fund a rival (directly through contributions, indirectly through super-pacs, for example) to get someone in who will, and Citizens United made that entire process of getting politicians to do *exactly* what corporations want tremendously easier.

Now, is this good for free speech? Sure. Is this good for democracy? Well, to the extent that it is advancing free speech (which is necessary for democracy), but there are other competing interests in play. Free speech matters, but the integrity of our democratic system is jeopardized by not curtailing one very limited segment of the population's free speech rights in a way that is philosophically consistent with the additional principal of "one man one vote." So it's a choice... and it comes down to what you value. I think that the idea that corporations have rights unique to them because of the legal fiction of corporate personhood is ostentatious, but I am also not a corporation.

I want to be clear, though, about what the real problem is: publicly traded corporation's pursuit of short-term financial gain over long-term stability. Not all companies do that, but almost all do, and it translates into tremendously bad social outcomes. It also makes corporations as corporations more volatile entities, meaning that they are more likely to over-reach and then go under, than pursue stable growth over the long-term, meaning that the people who work for such a place are in less stable employment now than a commensurate job, say, before the 1980s and 1990s. Campaign finance is just one avenue in which the kinds of serious problems with corporations translates into seriously nasty stuff.

I might elaborate on voters later on, and the extent to which they are easily manipulated.

Disclaimer: I have in no way edited this. if it doesn't make sense, I'm happy to clarify though.
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8/24/2015 2:51:49 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
My god man, that was a very clear explanation of the long term societal harm from corporate political influence. Whereas consumers or shareholders could force a company to change quickly if they so chose to, the political policies influenced would remain far far longer to the detriment of all.

Well done sir. (as usual)