The Boss Tweed-ization of national politics


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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91 Responses

  1. Avatar Art Deco says:

    About public financing: examining a history of its use in Italy and Israel and also exploring why it was abolished in the former ca. 1993 would be in order.

    Back in the day, argument in academic political science for a re-invigoration of political parties as aggregators of interests was standard fare. Theodore Lowi was one who promoted this; Dr. Lowi’s caveat was that it ought be conjoined with more intra-party democracy so as not to create party baronies. Vigorous and disciplined political parties are part and parcel of democracy in most affluent constitutional states and Mark Thompson should not dismiss that experience.Report

    • I’m not dismissing the notion of strong political parties at all – hence, “may or may not be a bad thing, depending on your perspective. My argument is against vesting so much power in a relatively unaccountable party boss.Report

  2. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    No hindrances to “free speech!”
    To eradicate the problem of our parasitical Congress we must change the Const. and appt. people via a lottery (House of Reps) and get rid of the 17th Amend. and have the state legislature elect senators. After instituting these changes the punishment for giving money to a congressman/women is death by hanging for both the “contributor” and the congressman.Report

    • Avatar Chad says:

      Beautiful idea, Bob. Don’t forget the part where we have slaves going about with dyed rope to catch and mark anyone who refuses to do their turn in the House.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The fundamental question I deal with is this:

    Can I imagine a tool that could be held by the firm and steady (and trustworthy!!!) hands of Barack Obama that could not be used to do twice as much damage as good in the Vaderesque grip of Darth Cheney?

    I can’t think of anything.

    I do not want the government to have the power to “limit” “propaganda” from “untrustworthy” sources. Aw no. Aw HELL naw.Report

  4. Kain and Mark are right, to a degree. So is Frum, to a degree.

    Any process can be suborned by someone clever and dishonest who wants to think about it for a few minutes. To prevent this in social constructs, typically we establish some sort of audit/oversight process to help us catch some of the nefariousness, enough to provide a decent disincentive.

    As long as we make the penalties high enough, we cut down on enough of the nefariousness (not all of it, certainly) to make the thing move forward.

    Of course, establishing those audit and oversight mechanisms decreases efficiency and increases waste. If everyone were honest, even the concept of having an IRS would be a laughable waste of money.

    One of the inevitable consequences of aggregation (interesting carryover from the last thread) is that you are moving the center of power (in this particular case, money) from one place to another. Sometimes this makes it easier to follow, sometimes it makes it harder. Provided the auditing mechanism has equal access, it’s usually (not always) easier to audit an aggregation than an individual.

    This seems sort of counter-intuitive, but it’s true… because the very act of moving the center of power makes it much more likely that nefarious activities will also move. Criminals (or more generally, those who wish to abuse power) go where the power is.

    So if we went with Frum’s model, you’d probably see a lot fewer cases of selling influence, generally. But when you did see a case, it would be one hell of a whopper.

    Now in our particular case, there’s actually two ways of looking at this problem. Let us first be sure we all agree that the problem exists, and we all agree what the problem is. For the sake of the below, I will assume that we all agree that political activities are dependent upon money, and that it is possible and common today for people to use the power of their money to unduly influence the political process, and that this is a bad thing.

    (If you assume it’s not a bad thing, we have to move the discussion over somewhere else).

    Okay, let’s go with the above. In this case, we ought to immediately challenge our assumptions. Are all political activities dependent upon money? Ought they to be? What if we can remove this as a consideration? This is question that is actually *masked* by the question of public finance. People who support public financing assume that all political activities *are* dependent upon money, and that this is not alterable. I’m sorta with Jaybird here, I’m not convinced that any equitable mechanism can be structured which actually works for public financing.

    Okay, so… can we just get rid of the money? That’s a serious question. Why does it have to take money to run a political campaign? Largely because the venues that we currently use for dissemination are driven by money (print and television advertisements), obviously. Okay, well, does this need to be the case? Ought it to be the case? Will it even *be* the case in another decade, given the speed at which print media is retreating and television consumption is moving towards DVRs that skip commercials?

    Broadcast companies exist because they license public airwaves from us (at a laughably low rate, I might add). Why is it a given that we must pay them to broadcast political messages?

    Why do we allow 30 second spots at all, for campaign messages? I have been watching political advertisements critically for about 22 years (before then I just ignored them), I have never, not once, seen one that had substance to it, from any political party. I would argue that it is literally impossible to convey any sort of reasonable stance on any public policy issue in 30 seconds.

    So why do we even allow it? It’s not *speech*, it’s just horseshit with fancy graphics.

    So, why don’t we take steps to make money not be part of the equation? Is it not feasible?Report

  5. Avatar zic says:

    Regulatory capture is an unintended consequence of democracy, it seems.

    In the early days of this country, a corporation had to serve the ‘public good’ to do business. Now, corporations get free speech in our political process.

    But a corporation is not a citizen, though it has the rights of free speech our constitution gives to people. And there’s no longer a need to justify ‘public good’ to do business. And regulatory capture is the intended consequence.


    We’ve mucked up a beautiful idea beyond recognition.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I see something like the following happening:

      Imagine a police officer given the duty of giving speeding tickets to people who drive too fast… and imagine that it comes out that 60% of the tickets he hands out are to a member of a particular ethnic group that only makes up 20% of the community.

      What would your suspicion be, in that scenario?

      That the government functionary given jurisdiction happened to discover that “those people” just happen to speed more and he’s giving out speeding tickets appropriately or would you suspect that he’s engaging in light profiling?

      Because, I suspect, the government functionary you imagine being in charge of limiting the propaganda produced by corporations will be engaging in some serious profiling.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        actually, I don’t ‘imagine’ a gov’t functionary in charge of anything.

        I imagine a law that says individuals can donate to campaigns, but corporations cannot; they are not citizens.

        How that translates to political advertising, I can’t imagine. And it’s my lack of seeing an alternative that disturbs me.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Imagine a functionary in charge of law enforcement, then.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

            Are you positing that there would be unequal enforcement?

            Most assuredly. There’s unequal enforcement of every codified law. So what?

            The question you’re avoiding is, “is it better than the alternative?”Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              The question you’re avoiding is, “is it better than the alternative?”

              Is saying that the government doesn’t have the power to decide whether the ACLU can run ads better than having a Cheney-appointee decide whether any given ad the ACLU wants to run is inappropriate?

              I’ll be on the ACLU’s side on this one, thanks.

              Should I assume that you’re on Cheney’s?Report

    • Avatar Kyle says:

      I don’t think there’s anything you said that proves that corporate rights and privileges have caused regulatory capture.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Kyle, I’ve sat through too many hearings at our state house as a reporter. Usually, there’s nary a citizen in sight, and a reporter is a surprise and a rarity. But the lawyers and lobbyists for industry are always there. It’s their advice that guides the legislative process; with input from average citizens comments totally lacking, and watch-dog journalists mostly lacking.

        Your comment indicates more of your lack of understanding then anything I have to prove. Go attend a weeks worth of state government hearings, and then decide if there’s a link between regulation capture and corporate free speech.Report

        • Avatar Kyle says:

          You’re asking me to prove your assertion? I’m not saying it exists or doesn’t or that regulatory capture is good or bad. I’m saying you didn’t make your case. You simply asserted to be true and that regulatory was resultant.

          Cum hoc ergo propter hoc, zic. Anecdote is no substitute for a methodical argument.

          Add on to that you lead with saying regulatory capture is an “unintended consequence” then conclude by saying it is an “intended consequence.” Can you blame me for at the very least being confused by your argument but certainly finding it underwhelming in its persuasiveness.

          I don’t intend to insult you and your understanding but I’d like to point out that unlike the 2nd and 4th amendments, the 1st doesn’t “grant” free speech rights to “people,” it prohibits the Congress from restricting it.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

            > I’m not saying it exists or doesn’t or that regulatory
            > capture is good or bad. I’m saying you didn’t make
            > your case.

            Before zic starts trying to hit a moving target: what evidence would you accept as sufficient proof that he’s right?Report

            • Avatar Kyle says:

              Well so far zic seems to be saying that on one hand, there are bad parts to our system and on the other hand, corporations have free speech. Therefore, the bad things are a result of the corporations having free speech.

              There’s no “how” linkage. So that would be a start. How, exactly, does corporate speech translate into the problems he says exists? Second, for proof that corporate speech is responsible, I’d like to see what kind of contrasts and comparisons rule out the likeliest alternative causes. Can individual free speech cause regulatory capture or just corporate? Is regulatory capture a bad thing? Finally but most importantly is the premise that RC is intended or unintended, it’s confused.

              With respect to the anecdotal reply zic gave me, they suggest that lobbyists and lawyers dominate the legislative input scene and that’s negative. Questions for that. Aren’t lawyers and lobbyists citizens? Shouldn’t the obvious solution be to get more journalists and citizens into the process rather than keeping interested parties out? If that’s a bad approach, why? How are state legislative hearings a good proxy for civic engagement and legislative input? Aren’t there other avenues, correspondence or meetings for example?

              In terms of convincing me, I guess I’ll know it when I see it (mushy I know) but answers in good faith would go further than knocks about my lack of understanding.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                That’s a fair assessment, Kyle, and a fair criticism of zic’s post.

                I’m already late on finishing up non-blogging related work, so I’ll have to cut back tomorrow.

                Oh, I’m still dragging you into that last thread 🙂Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Aren’t lawyers and lobbyists citizens?

                You’ve hit upon the central issue — is a corporation a citizen? Is a non-profit a citizen? I would say no, they’re collections of citizens. And as such, while each member of the collective has the rights of a citizens, the collective as a whole does not have the rights of the individuals. So the lobbyist and lawyer, while being citizens themselves, do not have the same rights as a citizen while functioning in their role as a representative of the collective.

                Flip the coin over to legal responsibility. We didn’t try all employees at Enron; we tried top corporate officials. The hundreds of employees who had — knowingly or not — a hand in Enron’s book cooking were not held responsible for the wrongdoing of the collective corporation. As individuals, they were protected from the crimes of the company.

                When free speech, as it applies to politics, is given to individuals, theoretically your voice is as important as the voice of a lobbyist for the insurance industry. When the free speech applies to a corporation, does your voice bear equal weight in proportion?

                I gave the example of state hearings to point out the reality of free political speech, which extends far beyond the election process and into the legislative process. It’s where regulatory capture happens. (Actually, the biggest place where regulatory capture happens is in the rule making process, something most citizens have no notion of at all.) The supreme courts ruling essentially says corporations have the right of free speech, and an unintended consequence of corporate free speech is, from my observation, regulatory capture. Throwing out limits on corporate free speech then turns an unintended consequence into an intended consequence because it’s constitutionally protected free speech.

                All this said, I don’t believe limiting corporate speech is the answer. I’d rather see full disclosure requirements for both business and non-profit; if you have the right, as a collective, to speak and influence political process, than you should fully disclose the objective you’re trying to attain. (Think of car seats. It’s no accident that safety requirements for large car seats also encouraged parents with two or more kids to buy the cars that it was profitable for Detroit to make.)Report

              • “And as such, while each member of the collective has the rights of a citizens, the collective as a whole does not have the rights of the individuals.”

                Freedom of association is also in the First Amendment, at least implicitly according to NAACP v. Alabama. Freedom of association means little if not the right to speak collectively as an association.Report

              • Sure, I’ll agree with that, Mark.

                I disagree that all associations are equal, which you’re tacitly implying. The practical implications of the structure of the association actually means that the “right to speak collectively as an association” can actually infringe upon the rights of the individuals *not to speak* collectively as part of an association, when that association *chooses* to speak outside the bounds under which it was formed.

                Let’s say I’m a model rocket enthusiast. I join a group of fellow enthusiasts, and we’re lobbying the city government to reduce the restrictions on model rocket engines because we think the “ZOMG TERROR!” laws are stupid.

                There are two candidates for office. One supports our cause, and also supports abortion rights. One doesn’t support our cause, and also supports the pro-Life movement. I decide that I have to make an individual decision to opt-out of the association, and contribute to the other candidate, or neither candidate. I can make that decision, because we have a loose association (all political issues theoretical here).

                I cannot make those same determinations in the case of all associations. The barriers to exit are not the same. The consequences are not the same. The *impacts* are not the same. Me leaving the model rocket group is in no way even comparable on any scale to me pulling money out of my retirement fund, exiting a union, or choosing not to pay my taxes.

                If we cannot have some sort of reasonable method of establishing methods for correcting for these problems, we have some fundamental issues with the way we structure our government.Report

              • Ahh, but the prior law failed to distinguish between these different types of associations as well. The ACLU (essentially your model rocket group) was treated as every bit the same type of corporation as Wal-Mart.

                With respect to your other examples, although it may be true that the exit costs vary quite a bit in practice, I don’t see how they’re significantly different from the example of an employee working for your model rocket club.

                Similarly, let’s posit the example of the AARP, which, in addition to being your model rocket club, also provides its members with a variety of services. If you have a problem with the AARP going after a particular politician in order to advance the organization’s stated mission, then in order to leave, you need to forfeit those benefits. And yet, you joined the AARP with the full knowledge that it’s primary purpose was the advancement of its mission, both politically and through its own social programs.Report

              • Avatar Kyle says:

                Sure associations aren’t equal but when it comes down to it neither are all people equal, that is not justification for why we shouldn’t aspire to treat them equally, which is my argument.

                While I strongly believe in one’s right to exit, I don’t think that the right to exit has to be particularly hurtful or meaningful with respect to the association one is exiting. Basically, I agree with your point that the barriers aren’t the same but if anything, I think the solution then is to reduce the barrier and allow individuals who conscientiously object to the advocacy of a union or trade group to individually renegotiate their contracts. All in all though, I think it’s a personal choice and the system should aim to allow as much flexibility in terms of association/individuality and the engagement of speech political or otherwise in as many permutation as possible.

                My guiding principle here is that the system should guarantee you the option of political participation but not parity of influence within the system. Why? I think we want to encourage people (and associations) to throw their weight and energies into the political system. When they are excluded, the passion and energy doesn’t go away, it simply goes towards subverting the system itself. In this case our constitutional democracy.Report

              • Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

                Does freedom of association mean that an “association” of human beings, exclude people based on race, religion, or ethnicity?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Reply to Mark’s londer reply (I think above):

                “Ahh, but the prior law failed to distinguish between these different types of associations as well. The ACLU (essentially your model rocket group) was treated as every bit the same type of corporation as Wal-Mart.”

                It seems like the law could easily in practice make that distinction via a corporation-identity-neutral provision limiting but not banning independent expenditures. Not to say if you view the point of the 1A as to protect any human associative entity’s right to influence the political process to the maximum extent of its power through any actions reasonably arguably to be speech (ie have expressive content), you will say this is acceptible. But if your concern is merely that smaller groups are cut out, then a relatively hight limit (not a ban) on IE’s by any one org. on any one race close to the election will allow any and all incorporated organizations, including for-profit and non-profit social orgs. etc, to speak and not have anything but the quantity restricted. If it’s a high enough limit, the only effect ought to be prevention of total domination of a media market by an interested megacorp, with all others totally free to speak in an unfettered manner. But one would have to admit of a compelling state interest in preventing that hyper-domination that would justify some limited restrictions on the quantity of large corps’ speech in that context, no denial of that is possible. There’s an entirely reasonable reading of the 1A that cannot admit such an interest justifies such a restriction. There’s also an entirely reasonable reading of the 1A that sees the concept of “core political speech” as made up entirely of whole cloth by SCOTUS and admits no distinction between it and yelling “Fire…”Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                UNacceptable, I mean (last word, second sentence, main paragraph).Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Wait, I DID mean acceptable. You get it.Report

              • Avatar Kyle says:

                I’m excited you raised an interesting thought. So far, i’ve been adamantly opposed to the idea of capping expenditures on principle. If you can cap expenditures, you can adjust the cap. It’s the same reasoning why John Marshall said the power to tax is the power to destroy. If you can tax something, you can tax it at 100%, ergo, no more thing.

                However, you just indirectly proposed a solution that would satisfy my objections while also addressing messaging inequality by bringing up market domination.

                Why cap the expenditures when you can cap paid advertisements as a proportion of the market? In fact, that’s much better and more narrowly tailored proposition than a cap, given the disparate cost of media buys.

                Granted, there is the possibility that the proportion could be small, but any sized portion is still a portion and it strikes me as beyond reasonable to cap market dominance at 50% of available airtime. The main counterargument to address, of course, is that it would artificially inflate the price of primetime, but primetime isn’t exactly cheap so I’m not sure it would have the effect of pricing out people who might otherwise have had the ability to advertise.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                You mean, a cap on quantity of speech within a scarce market, measured by time rather than money? There’s no reason this restricts speech any less than a monetary restriction — time of speech is as much an intrinsic quality of any speech as the resources needed to procure control over that time/forum (more intrinsic, I would argue). But if you’re potentially on board with it, fantastic!

                (To be honest, I have to constantly remind myself that the law actually did BAN IE’s, not just limit them. That is obviously overbroad, as indicated by Mark’s main point that non-profit “speech-only” orgs were equally silenced. I suspect one could trace the routes of that decision back to John McCain’s desire to still be allowed to be a member of the Republican Party after passage of the bill…my guess [hope] would be that Feingold realized this problem but got behid it as a way of keeping support for the measure. But being from Wis., I’m biased in Russ’ favor.)Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                In the interest of thoroughness and follow-up, I managed to dig up this tidbit about the provenance of the application of the expenditure ban to non-profit ideological/political groups:


                It seems it originated (or at least proximated) with the late Paul Wellstone of all people. I admit I find that surprising, though he was certainly more of a populist/labor type than Constitutional scholar Feingold.Report

          • Avatar JosephFM says:

            I think the real problem is that most people don’t have time or patience to spend all morning sitting through 5-hour-long committee meetings, or the money to pay other people to do so.

            Campaign donations, if anything, are just a complement.Report

  6. Avatar Kyle says:

    What I don’t understand about the pro-public financing crowd is that it lacks a meaningful exit. Much hay has been made about the Roberts-Kagan questioning about shareholder awareness of political activity and not without reason. However, even if most people don’t know what their investments are and how their corporate holdings are acting politically, they retain the option of being more active in their investing or investing in other markets. If we publicly finance elections, I can’t opt-out of my tax dollars supporting the political advocacy and speech of someone whose election and ideas would be harmful to me. It also makes it harder to include political donors in campaigns for and against propositions.

    Erik, I think you’re right. I think campaign finance reform is a minefield of unintended consequences and with so much distaste and anger at the process of campaigns and legislating, a lot of ideas look good or promising that might have some rather severe drawbacks.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

      I notice that nobody above bothered to address my main point, which was, “Must we assume that the money must exist in the system”. Why does the political system need to be subsidized by your money?

      Airwaves come with a requirement for political access prior to elections. Cities have tons of government owned properties, postings can be allowed there. You used to campaign for office by shouting in public parks.

      E.D. and Jaybird would rather defend the 30 second spot, I suppose.Report

      • Avatar Kyle says:

        I feel like I’m commenting too much but I don’t like to not answer questions.

        For the money and speech issue, did you read the Glenn Greenwald piece? I think a few of us dodged it because Glenn did an excellent job of addressing the issue you raised in his Update II.

        Seizing broadcast communication for political speeches is something Venezuela does, not the United States of America. Besides, the airwaves don’t really exist anymore, thanks to satellite communications, and though we can regulate them via interstate commerce, my understanding is they’re distinctly not publicly owned.

        If you allowed postings on/at government properties for political speech those are just subsidies by another name and still subject to my right of exit concerns.Report

        • As long as you have organizations, you have right of exit concerns. You can’t hold back money from the IRS because you don’t believe in the idea of moral warfare (although the right seems to have jumped all over right to exit concerns with supporting abortion, they sure seem to forget all about right of exit concerns when it comes to blowing stuff up). Also, when you’re talking about right-of-exit, you have to account for the actual barrier to exit. If the barrier is high enough, the kind of barrier is largely irrelevant in practice.

          Yes, the barrier to exit on the government is enforced by potential imprisonment, and that can be really badly abused. But the barrier to exit on unions is that you can’t work, and that can be badly abused. The barrier to exit on corporations is somewhat low (even accounting for all the coupling problems I talk about above) in comparison, but the impact of exit don’t make a monkey’s ass worth of difference to the corporation. Witness the fact that as pissed off as the general populace may be at banking bonuses, I don’t really see sufficient quantities of the citizenry leaving BofA and going to their local credit union to make BofA change much in the way of its policies. Do you?

          Theories are grand, but building our theories off of how we expect people ought to act is just foolishness. Communism should have taught us that, if nothing else. Bob and JB are wishing for an enlightened populace… well, we’re not going to have that, fellas. Tough patootie. We live in the real world, where not everyone is a rational actor, let alone an informed one. If we don’t account for that in our sociopolitical constructions, we’re going to have crap government.

          By itself, barrier to exit is a problem, but how big of a problem it is is relative to the situation you’re trying to exit *from*, the consequence if you do, the impact your exit has in terms of changing organizational goals, etc. None of those things exists in a vacuum.

          You’re talking about right of exit problems at a top-level domain, but ignoring right of exit problems at a different abstraction layer. They’re still there.

          Now, one can argue that *certain* types of right-of-exit problems lead to *certain* types of consequences given *certain* types of organizational structures. I’d agree with that, absolutely. I’d even agree to some extent that these problems might be advisedly avoided at the government level. But (at least, IMO), this leads to the question of why we permit the legal creation of corporations if we can’t prevent these problems, and we won’t allow ourselves to mitigate them by limiting corporate activity in the legal process.

          Sure, corporations grease the economy, and having an active economy is arguably a demonstrable good. Removing the construct of the corporation and forcing people to either form legal partnerships or establish per-investor level investment contracts and throwing out the concept of common stock would solve the right of exit problems without any messy consequences to adjusting political campaign laws. It would remove a lot of the economic externalities that we currently “enjoy” in our economic policy. It would force companies to have real bidirectional relationships with their investors, and it would force investors to participate more actively in their economic activities. All good outcomes, you may argue. I would agree.

          But it also cuts down hugely on liquidity, reducing the size of the economy by a large factor. It makes investment more complicated. The transition costs would be enormous.

          Would it be better, overall? I can’t honestly say.Report

          • Avatar Kyle says:

            With respect to the right of exit and the government, I side with the government though not without reservation. I should point out I meant right of exit in a Thoreau sense, I have no problem with emigration. Right of exit and private organizations, I side with the right of exit.

            Basically, however, I tend to think civil government needs to make a case as to why something should be illegal, rather than why something should be permissible. Frankly, I think people today have lost sight of the difference between ought and can. Just because someone ought not to do a thing doesn’t meant it should be illegal.

            With respect to associations broadly and corporations more specifically, I think they are the least worst evil. People decry the pernicious influence of corporate America on Congress but the two organizations that are routinely mentioned as being the most influential in Washington are the NRA and AARP, citizen groups – one might even call them “public interest” groups. I bring that up because our obsessive focus on economic inequality masks other types of less obvious inequality. First, popularity inequality. Without money, awareness would become the new currency and relative unknowns would have a significantly more difficult time being politically relevant.

            Second, political inequality is well correlated with discrete population inequality. Money offsets numerical advantage. While many view that as undemocratic (it is) it also provides a bulwark against tyranny of the majority. I think we don’t give enough credit to protections for political minorities built into the American system for maintaining stability and social cohesion.

            At this point, I thought it might be helpful to share some of my general thinking on the topic Patrick, but if there’s anything specific you’d like me to address, just let me know.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

              > Frankly, I think people today have lost sight of the
              > difference between ought and can. Just because
              > someone ought not to do a thing doesn’t meant it
              > should be illegal.

              I absolutely agree. I also agree that the law is not necessarily the proper enforcement mechanism for all sorts of problems that both sides of the political spectrum currently drag into the legal arena.

              > With respect to associations broadly and corporations
              > more specifically, I think they are the least worst evil.
              > People decry the pernicious influence of corporate
              > America on Congress but the two organizations that
              > are routinely mentioned as being the most influential
              > in Washington are the NRA and AARP, citizen
              > groups – one might even call them “public interest”
              > groups.

              You must read different publications than I do. The NRA is high up there, of course, but at least in the legal/technology realm the biggest complaints of pernicious influence come down to telecommunications companies and intellectual property organizations.

              Mulling over the rest of your comment, as yet I’m not sure what I think about it…Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

        Pat –

        Which 30 second spots should the government censor? Why shouldn’t I be able to see any 30 second spot I choose? What if a corporation other than a media corporation hosts a blog? What if on that blog the blogger takes a political position? Should he be censored? At what point do we draw the line? Is it a line we can draw without any infringements on our right to free speech?

        I would say that the 30 second spot you so deride is just a way for you to simplify a much more complicated problem. The repurcussions of stripping away the right to free speech are much deeper than merely losing some spots on TV. But even that is too much power for the government to wield over what we can or cannot express. Why can’t I form a corporation with several other people and then use the money we earn legally to sponsor candidates or political causes? Why is my freedom of speech suddenly limited by the state now that I have decided to put my time and money into a business? I’m still the same person with the same political views.

        Why can a corporation spend millions of dollars selling its product but not touting a candidate? There are no good answers to these questions.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

          > I would say that the 30 second spot you so deride
          > is just a way for you to simplify a much more
          > complicated problem.

          That’s a completely fair criticism.

          > The repurcussions of stripping away the right
          > to free speech are much deeper than merely
          > losing some spots on TV.

          Absolutely. But you’re looking at this from only one side. The flip side to this is that free speech doesn’t mean a goddamn thing without access, you can holler all you want if you’re off in the boonies and nobody can hear you. Right now, access is massively disproportionately granted to those who have money. Do you not admit that this is a serious problem?

          > But even that is too much power for the government
          > to wield over what we can or cannot express.

          Also a fair point. But again, you’re aggregating lots of things into that “we”.

          > Why can’t I form a corporation with several other
          > people and then use the money we earn legally to
          > sponsor candidates or political causes?

          Because it’s a corporation, not a partnership. You want to partner up with other people and blow your profits on political campaigning? Be my guest.

          > Why is my freedom of speech suddenly limited
          > by the state now that I have decided to put my
          > time and money into a business?

          It is not, and it’s ridiculous for you to claim that it is. You can still contribute yourself, directly, using your own money.

          Let me pull a bit over from the previous thread, because it is germane to this point and I don’t want to retype it:

          If I wish to donate money to a candidate as an individual, I can do so. If that candidate becomes unpalatable to me for whatever reason, I can cease donating money to that individual. It is a simple bidirectional trust relationship.

          However, once organizations get involved you start to complicate that trust relationship, which makes it much more difficult to audit and much less likely that you can decouple your relationship. A couple of examples:

          If I pay money in union dues to a union, presumably this is to further the aggregate desires of people in my union. However, if I disagree with the union leadership as to what those aggregate desires actually *are*, I cannot simply decouple my payments… I can’t say, “Well, one eighth of our union dues go to political operations, I just won’t pay that one eighth of our dues.” If I raise a stink about the candidates the union supports in an attempt to mitigate that decision, I can suffer all sorts of ancillary consequences. So it’s no longer a simple bidirectional trust relationship like the individual contributor, it’s coupled (in some cases tightly) with lots of other trust relationships. If my boss is also my union leader, disagreeing with the union’s political contributions can limit my upward mobility at my job. All of a sudden, choosing not to support that political activity comes with a much greater set of consequences.

          The same holds true in the case of a corporation; a rather large swath of investment in corporations comes not from individual investors, but aggregations that are themselves aggregations. I pay money into my 403b, and again into a mutual fund, whose leadership invests the aggregated funds into a bunch of corporations. Some of those corporations may take those funds and turn around and lobby against activities that are in my interests. Even were I able to keep track of all of the money and where it goes, revoking my investment is of null consequence to all the players.

          In addition, corporations can accept investment from anywhere. A middle class investor in Germany or China or India doesn’t really care if Southern California Edison lobbies successfully to lower air emission standards in the Los Angeles basin; it’s an externality that is so far removed from the other players it’s ridiculous.

          (edited to add): Why the hell should I let people in China or India or Germany a proxy vote in my government?

          I pay tax money to support the employment of firefighters. They have a pension fund. That pension fund invests in companies. I don’t like what those companies do. I can’t hardly dictate to the fire department how they run their pension fund. Even if I were to provide a completely equitable investment (edited to add: “as an alternative”), there’s no way for me to influence their decision making process.

          Organizations, because of the fact that they must aggregate their goals to a subset of the interests of the members, will always operate in some ways that are not beneficial to all of their members. In many cases, this can be corrected (or compensated for) through a number of different mechanisms. In the case of corporate behavior, most of those correction methods come through the mechanism of regulation.

          Allowing (at least the specific case of) corporations the right to participate in the political process is effectively allowing them the opportunity to change the rules under which they operate by altering their own auditing and oversight mechanisms.

          From a security standpoint, this is always a bad idea. Organizational self-policing does not work.Report

          • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

            Because it’s a corporation, not a partnership.

            What is the difference in terms of freedom of speech? I fail to understand the constitutional position you’re taking.Report

            • I didn’t know this conversation was limited to the bounds of constitutional law.

              Where are corporations mentioned in the Constitution again? Come to think of it, what’s the definition of “free speech” in the Constitution?

              If you’re going to turn this thread into a question of Constitutional law, we ought to just dump it altogether and go over to a blog dedicated to Constitutional law. I’ll note that this is hardly a question that is settled by legal scholars. I’m actually less interested in the SCOTUS decision as a question of legal interpretation of the Constitution and more interested in it as a practical question of what it means vis-a-vis the current incarnation of American sociopolitical entities.

              From the point of just Constitutional law… creating a legal entity does not make it a person, an adult, or a citizen. SCOTUS has already recognized that there is not an unabridged right to free speech, there are many cases where this right can be limited by the legislature. McCain-Feingold clearly was a case of the legislature codifying what they believed the proper role of a corporation is in American society, and since the legal creation “a corporation” is something that is governed by the legislative branch, I fail to see how SCOTUS overturning M-F doesn’t qualify as breaching the legislative branch’s prerogative in governing commerce, since a corporation exists solely as a commercial entity.

              A partnership is quantitatively and qualitatively different from a corporation… there’s a reason why they are two different legal constructs. As to how they are different in terms of freedom of speech, well, I thought I framed that out pretty well right above.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “Come to think of it, what’s the definition of “free speech” in the Constitution?”

                All I can see is an Amendment that says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

                Or, broken down, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech”

                So I’d guess that this means that congress shouldn’t make laws limiting what people can say (and, of course, via the Incorporation Doctrine, the States can’t either).

                On a Constitutional level, I’d think that this means that one could look at the law and ask “does it abridge the freedom of speech?”

                It seems to me that if we have a government official saying “you can’t say that”, it is… and we’re not even talking about someone dropping an F-bomb (either as intensifier or, heaven forbid, a verb) but someone saying “vote for/against this candidate because he loves/eats The Children!”Report

              • Then you can cry “FIRE” in a crowded movie theater.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Funny you bring that up.

                Schenck v. United States was the case you were alluding to, there. What was that case about, I hear you ask?

                Charles Schenck distributed leaflets to young men telling them to resist the draft.

                By a 9-0 ruling, the Supreme Court determined that he was, effectively, shouting fire in a crowded theater and thus, of course, the state had every responsibility to throw him in the clink.

                So your viewpoint has a lot of precedent, it’s got that going for it.Report

              • I’m not so sure you understand my viewpoint, Jaybird.

                Here’s where I’m coming from:

                If we allow certain types of social constructs, which abstract responsibility and accountability (among other things), we allow a severe possibility of abuse of that power (generally, it’s mostly about the money). Moreover, we know that this possibility is more than theoretical, because we see cases of it happening, all the time. This is bad.

                I assume that everyone agrees with me that this is a proper analysis of the current situation, you may not. If you do…

                We essentially have three ways forward. One, do nothing. Right now I’m not convinced that populism vs. corporatism is going the way of the populists… I would argue that the dynamic equilibrium is catastrophically out of whack. If we have another economic crisis soon (personally, I think this is likely, but that’s just me) and there’s another round of bailouts, I would not be surprised to see actual violence in the streets. If we don’t have another round of bailouts, I see the economy cratering. I don’t find either of those to be a cheerful destination.

                Two, dissolve the economic entity that is the corporation, to eliminate this abuse, which I believe is pervasive at this point (and I believe that there is sufficient empirical evidence to support this point). Aside from the obvious difficulty of enacting this as a strategy (I don’t think we can garner the political will to do this), this will have a severe and immediate impact upon our entire economy. Which, one might argue, in the long run is a good thing since our economy is largely way too dependent upon abstraction and correcting it might be a damn good idea. I can see this as a defensible position.

                Three, recognize that the least-impacting way to address this problem is in limiting the ability of corporate entities to impact the political process. Yes, this means we need to codify this restriction in law. Yes, there are going to be unintended consequences. Yes, some of them might be ugly. I think one can argue that the impacts are preferable to either two cases.

                So I’m not really sure if #2 or #3 is the right idea. I’m fairly convinced that #1 is not the right idea.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                See, when I think of “abuse of power”, I think of governments throwing people in jail for expressing certain opinions either spoken or in print.

                Indeed, the Supreme Court case you referenced was one in which someone was thrown in prison for handing out pamphlets.

                When we’re talking about “freedom of speech” and you reference a court case in which the government threw people in prison for handing out pamphlets, it’s hard for me to see the real issue as being the corporate entities.

                It’s an abuse of power to throw people in prison for expressing opinions, either in speech or in print.

                This is my fundamental assumption.

                Additionally, if you want to give the government additional power to start throwing people in jail for saying distasteful things, you’re going to have to demonstrate to me that this won’t end up hurting “the people” more than “the corporations”.

                It seems to me that this hammer will come down hardest on the little guy while the companies big enough to donate $2000 (the limit!) to Congressman Bob’s re-election campaign, and hires Congressman Bob’s Brother as a VP of Thumb Twiddling and hires his idiot nephew in the mailroom will somehow find their excesses overlooked by those in charge of law enforcement.

                You *STILL* have not done this.

                You have merely misquoted a supreme court case in which a private citizen was thrown in prison for distributing pamphlets as if you were demonstrating something other than faith in the government to determine what is and what is not a “clear and present danger”.Report

              • > See, when I think of “abuse of power”, I think
                > of governments throwing people in jail for
                > expressing certain opinions either spoken or
                > in print.

                Yes, that’s abuse of power all right.

                > When we’re talking about “freedom of speech”
                > and you reference a court case in which the
                > government threw people in prison for
                > handing out pamphlets, it’s hard for me
                > to see the real issue as being the corporate
                > entities.

                That’s part of my point, Jaybird.

                > It’s an abuse of power to throw people in
                > prison for expressing opinions, either in
                > speech or in print.

                > This is my fundamental assumption.

                But you must admit that there are other types of abuse of power. Well, maybe you must not, I dunno.

                You’re reading my very long post, deftly removing a very small part of it with a scalpel, and then responding to that with an absolutist framework. Where’s the rest of the response?

                Do you disagree with *the rest* of what I wrote? Do you not think that abstraction of power represents a failure case that we are trying to avoid, whether we’re talking about the government or *any* other type of sociopolitical construct? Maybe you don’t, but if you don’t, why don’t you just come out and say it?

                > You have merely misquoted a supreme court case

                Paraphrased for effect… the point was that there *are* standards for what you can and cannot say and when and where. Yes, throwing someone into jail for distributing pamphlets isn’t like shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theater, that was a stupid decision.

                At the same time, my question to you is “do you support allowing people to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater?” If not, then you have qualifiers on what constitutes “free speech”, and pretending you don’t is disingenuous. Maybe you do.

                If you don’t, then what do *you* mean by free speech? Do you actually mean that everyone has an unqualified right to say whatever they want to say, whenever they want to say it, period? If you do, say that. If you don’t, tell me what your standard is. I can’t engage in dialogue with you if I don’t know what the terms you are using actually mean.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                My standards of “what constitutes free speech” does not, in any way, shape, or form, exclude people talking about why you should/should not vote for a particular candidate.

                My standards of “what constitutes free speech” does not, in any way, shape, or form, exclude people criticizing the government.

                My standards of “what constitutes free speech” does not, in any way, shape, or form, exclude people criticizing public officials.

                You can try to put the nose of your camel in my tent but I will say now and again if pressed:

                The government ought not censor criticism in any way, shape, or form.

                It gives me chills to think that there are people out there who are seriously entertaining the thought that it should.

                And quoting Oliver Wendell Fucking Holmes as they do so.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                Okay, that’s not precisely a definition of free speech, but it will do for the sake of what we’re talking about here today.

                You’re still focusing on a small part of the post and ignoring the rest.

                Copy/paste again:

                Do you disagree with *the rest* of what I wrote? Do you not think that abstraction of power represents a failure case that we are trying to avoid, whether we’re talking about the government or *any* other type of sociopolitical construct? Maybe you don’t, but if you don’t, why don’t you just come out and say it?

                You keep coming back to “I believe that unfettered access to free speech (in the case of “criticism of the political machine”) beats the alternative.” Okay, you know what? I’ll grant you that without argument.

                So, the inevitable consequence of that, *taken together with the legal construct of corporations*, is that we have several undesirable outcomes. I argue that they’re undesirable enough to warrant *some* sort of adjustment.

                So what do you propose we do to address these undesirable outcomes? Nothing? Abolish the corporation? A third alternative? Do you disagree with me that there are fundamental problems?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Additionally: Oliver Wendell Holmes??? PTOOEY!!!Report

              • Now you’ve got Arguing from Anecdote. I should start a bingo board.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                My man, you were the one who quoted his supreme court ruling.

                I find OWH to be one of the most odious supreme court justices we’ve had in the last 100 years.

                When people quote the eugenicist bastard, I like to point out that I saw it, and caught the reference.

                So plant your dauber on “guilt by association” and leave it off of “Anecdote”.

                For now.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                Your association of, “Fire in a crowded theater” with OWH is, ah, a little strong. That phrase has entered the vernacular and has been used by all sorts of people for all sorts of illustrative purposes that have nothing to do with Holmes or the particular case in question.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:


          “Why can a corporation spend millions of dollars selling its product but not touting a candidate? There are no good answers to these questions.”

          A corporation can do either of those now, and even before the decision could do so under all but very specific circumstances. In any case that really is not a question addressed by the law. The First Amendment is a very absolute document: it forbids any abridgement by congress of the right to free speech. We patently don’t abide by it in all sorts of ways, because it simply cannot be put into practice in an absolute way. We have had to, have, and have to consider all sorts of ways in which we might make provisions for reality while professing fealty to the sentiment behind it. That is what the history of federal First Amendment jurisprudence has shown. So the answer to the question you pose above really can’t be found in the First Amendment itself; rather your (my, Congress’) answer will eventually be considered as. So you are entirely free (I would argue, obligated) to consider for yourself whether there might be good reason a corporation should perhaps be restricted in applying its economic influence to political outcomes, even via speech. You should use al your moral faculties in so doing. If you come through that truly believing there is no such reason, then congrats, there you are. But this is the mirror image of much of Glenn Greenwald’s argumentation you linked to: merely because we know that on its face, the First Amendment wouldn’t allow any such restriction (and indeed might not even under the current, or even a reasonable, interpretation thereof), doesn’t mean you yourself are compelled to the conclusion that there might not indeed be good cause for such a law, or certainly that there isn’t good cause in making that consideration, wherever you might come down on it. The founders sought in my view to limit the legislative results (or failing that, the result) of reasonable political/policy sentiment in the public, not to direct, or even (I would argue) necessarily guide it. It’s entirely part of their conception to have parts of the polity be legitimately in favor of legislative action that they neverthess sought to limit.

          As to a company starting a blog, that is an interesting hypothetical (nay, a certainty) that is woth addressing. First, as I mentioned, any restrictions themselves were always very restricted, as they would have to have been ever to have passed muster. Now, to fall under the law that was just nullified as I understand it (and I’ll obviously accept correction), a coporation would have to be spending money on the blog in a way that actually transfered some monies to another organization. I can’t imagine the IE’s provision could have been invoked merely as a result of paying an internal. Internal salaries are not expenditures as far as I can determine; if you or Mark can provide some language in the bill or a case brough for a company making an expenditure to one of its employees. I guess I can envision a scenario in which a company spends money to purchase space on a blog, and to the extent that would ever actually have been regulated I concede that would be a problem with the law.

          This all points to what I think is a reasonable compromise here: a high limit IE’s, not a ban. It’s hard to think how a company could spend enough on a blog (internal or external) to rise to dominating the market; the internet really can’t be dominated by pure expenditure alone because it lacks scarcity the way television advertisements do. I can’t see anyone ever arguing payments to bloggers implicating a compelling state interest in regulating payments to bloggers the way some argue the billions paid to television stations could be argued to. But if the media environment changed such that that was the argument, then the question of compelling state interest will always be a live question.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            “…[our answers to the question] will be eventually be…” subjected to a [judicially concocted] test of whether they conform to the First Amendment. The answer to the question lies in our own values; the Constitution is merely an arbitrary standard that we use to limit what the results of our collective answers to such questions will be.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I would rather be stuck defending the 30 second spot than defending the government censor.

        As I said back a million years ago in one of the “Glenn Beck is awful, awful, awful” threads, I would rather one thousand Glenn Becks than one government censor. One hundred thousand.Report

  7. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    These comments really are teeming with unbridled censorious, speech-regulating, anti-liberty, anti-Constitutional, big-government-loving, wanna-be tyrants. It’s Rampant, even. You guys really need to do something about it.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Perhaps we could institute some sort of comment watchdog who could remove such comments.

      For the good of the webpage.Report

      • Avatar JosephFM says:

        Don’t we have one of those already?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Taking into account that the league is, effectively, private property and we are guests who are here because we were invited, I’d say that the question is moot (I’m a libertarian but that doesn’t mean you can sleep on my couch, for example).

          But the quality of the comments have much to do with the knowledge that we are given much free reign, but not absolute free reign. Excessively abusive posts, when excessively poorly written, are not countenanced.

          Everything else is, as far as I can tell, allowed. This results in some freakin’ awesome threads… and the fact that is one is inclined to be abusive, one must know that one must clean up one’s grammar first (and, ideally, make it amusing for the unbiased reader) makes even the fights freakin’ awesome.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      All that can be done, quite honestly, is to live up to the ideals of the enlightenment. Engage arguments, explain why, and when folks give spittle-flecked rants about how evil first amendment absolutists are, deep down, we explain it again.

      The alternative is people censoring with the best of intentions followed by people being sent to gulags for the best of intentions followed by people explaining how the pile of bodies was created with the best of intentions.

      Liberty sucks, but it beats tyranny. And, sometimes, you have to explain that again and again and again.Report

      • Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

        The Enlightenment sucks!Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          But it beats darkness.Report

          • Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

            The deformation goes back centuries, fortunately we can go back for millennia to restore the damage of the Enlightenment.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              I agree Bob, let’s go back pre-monotheism, chuck the whole organized religion bit and go back to Aristotle in his barrel. Those philosophers were poor at hygiene I hear but damn good at math. Hmm now that I think about modern mathematicians I know perhaps things haven’t changed so much.Report

              • Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

                Northie, dude you are funny! Glad to see you back and missed your slightly left wing insight!
                I’m just trying to analyze the contemporary deculturation and deformed reason and the league is so helpful in my inquiries.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Happy to be “back” I’ve not been gone per say just quiet. When I don’t have much to add I try to not say much.Report

  8. Avatar golf ball central says:

    Better quality debate, please.

    Transparency is the only thing I can think of that can really even begin to break the stranglehold corporate interests have over Washington.

    Ha ha ha ha! You must be joking. We knew who the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are. We know who donates to FreedomWorks. We are extremely familiar with George Soros’ name. It doesn’t change a thing, It doesn’t diminish their power to shape the message, to lie indiscriminately in the name of their pet causes – one iota. Transparency is *useless* when there’s no way to get the technically available information out to people who aren’t listening and can’t be reached – because they get their information from information gate-keepers (such as blogs) who are bribed to make sure they never hear about it. How many people out there know the publicly available info about, to take a favorite issue here, the misconduct done to US security detainees? 1%? 0.1% 0.0000001?

    The fact is that decisions on the public good are made via bribery, legal, illegal and quasi-legal, all the time in this country. The problem with this is that this is supposed to be a democracy, where public decisions are made as if each citizen’s interests are equally important, and not a caste system where people with more money get to have what they want from public bodies. That’s the whole idea of voting systems in general.

    Money is NOT the equivalent of speech, even if it’s used for speech, for the simple reason that every human being has a roughly equivalent ability to use their voice, but media communication costs LOTS of money. Limits on corporate spending functioned as limits on the extent to which one human being can purchase a *limited* *resource* – that is, media space – and by doing so *exclude everyone else from having it* – because it is finite.

    Your blind ideological ignorance is perfectly content to throw that all away. Well, we already know what it’s like in high-bribery systems. You can stroll over to the third world anytime you like and look for yourself. Thanks for your support for throwing your fellow systems into the jaws of that kind of machine.

    Every single human being within those corporations was free to purchase as much ‘speech’ as they wanted with their own salaries before we this decision. They just werent allowed to use the resources of the collective.

    So now here we are. I’ve got $10,000 in my bank account. It’s about a decade worth of savings. I can buy one 30-second ad slot with it for one week on one side of an issue. In other words, I get to “speak” for 30 seconds to perhaps 0.01% of the public. The giant corporation who is my opponent has $50,000,000,000 in their advertising budget and can buy enough media to speak for 150 hours through media channels reaching 50% of the population.

    I’d like to speak just as much as Evil Corporation, but, gee whiz! I’m short the $50 billion! Must be my fault, right? But hey, my fucking *rights* are un-fucking-limited!

    What a pile of crap. My speech is muzzled by the lack of payola in my wallet, and you don’t have a problem with that, do you? You fucking hypocrites.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Golf Ball –

      You’re allowed to say stupid things on this blog. As stupid as you can think up. But you’re not allowed to hurl around blanket insults like “you fucking hypocrites.”

      So how much money is too much, by the way? What are the monetary limits we should place on free speech? Should it vary by region? Should it only apply to corporations or should it also apply to rich people? Who should decide? And should it only be applied to political stuff? Should we limit the amount media corporations can spend on ‘electioneering’?Report

      • These are good questions, E.D., but you’re avoiding all the hard points that don’t favor your position (you still haven’t really talked about the weaknesses I point out above, or even acknowledged them), so throwing a bunch of hard questions at an opposing viewpoint seems to be pretty weak sauce.

        “Look, your side has inevitable wicked problems and consequences! You must be wrong!”

        “Uh, your side has inevitable wicked problems and consequences, too. Which you’re completely ignoring. Who says the consequences of my position are worse?”

        Optimally, the question of fair access is a hard problem, whether or not you believe in trying to fix this from the top down or the bottom up. You’re probably not going to find a blanket solution; rich people will always have some measure of greater influence than poor people.

        Limiting corporate access to the political process isn’t a panacea, in any way, because there are no silver bullets here. We’re not going to create a utopia today.

        What *I* am trying to get anybody to address is that the particular construct of a corporation (and, for that matter, a union… although not a partnership and only to a lesser extent a non-profit have these same problems) there are abstraction layers that aggregate power towards a particular goal: making money for the individual corporation. This means that the goal of the organization does not match the goals of all of the participants, and indeed (as I pointed out above) not all of the stakeholders need to be citizens.

        There are severe power imbalance problems here, and the result is similar to the same “right of exit” problems Kyle is worried about.

        Perhaps the right answer is there ought not to be a legal structure like a corporation. But then we get into the seriously murky waters of how we get *there* from *here*.Report

      • Avatar golf ball central says:


        I wasn’t particularly nice. I can admit that. However, the only thing wrong with that statement that I can see was the plural. “Fucking” is a contentless intensifier that accurately displays my anger and disgust.
        “Hypocrite” is not an ‘insult’, which is classically a type of accusation with no relation to the issue at hand, or based on an unreasonable, destructive, and speculative insinuation (“cocksucker”).

        It was, however, a specific accusation – but it was plainly supported by evidence and germane to the topic. You care when the powerful people behind corporations have their ‘rights’ limited by being allowed to only use some pools of money and not others on media communication. But you have no interest at all in the limiting of my right to communicate by my lack of the astronomical money required to do it. The real-world requirement of the system you endorse is a form of forced-collectivisation; it takes hundreds or thousands or more poor people to collect the money needed to speak in as many times and places as one rich CEO or board of directors can authorize.

        If you’re not a hypocrite for this, explain how you are not. (i.e., engage the content of my argument). It seems pretty black and white to me.

        I don’t have answers to your questions. There may be no perfect answer, and an okay answer might be kind of arbitrary. Many rules that keep society functional and kind of more fair are equally messy and quasi arbitrary. You have chosen to endorse a clean abstraction that perpetuates a much more deeply unjust, skewed, and biased reality than the hoops that very wealthy corporations once had to jump through.

        There is no free speech. Speech costs money. A lot of it. That’s true before this decision and it’s true after it. Your kind are very big on promoting free speech as a slogan, but you are either blind to how expensive speech is, or you just don’t give a damn. It’s a problem you have no interest in solving.

        So I consider you a hypocrite.Report

      • Avatar golf ball central says:

        To be clear, I’m not neccessarily against following the ‘rules’ here, whatever they are. You’ll have to specify if ‘accusations’ are also not allowed here before I make up my mind on that. There were several other ways to formulate the basic accusation of your hypocrisy that would have looked less like insults and more like conversation (“I think that this stance is inconsistent with blah blah blah”)

        I didn’t feel like doing that. I was angry. I still am. And my anger is legitimate. I’ll consider doing differently next time, but I’m on the fence, especially given the lack of clarity and coherency of the ‘rules’, whatever they are. (“Be nice”?)Report

    • I’d like to speak my mind just as much as Curt Schilling, but, gee whiz! I’m short the Bloody Sock! Must be my fault, right?

      Perhaps we should put a limit on how much and when celebrities get to speak as well?

      Freedom of speech or, to be more precise, a prohibition against infringement of freedom of speech, does not guarantee everyone an equal voice in the process, nor could it – otherwise, speech would be severely restricted. That may very well suck, but it’s better than the alternative. As for me, I’d much rather have a reclusive millionaire getting a loud voice in the process to go along with Curt Schilling’s loud voice than just getting Curt Schilling’s loud voice. It’s not about whose fault it is for the disproportionate influence, it’s about the nature of free speech, full stop.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

        > Freedom of speech or, to be more precise, a
        > prohibition against infringement of freedom
        > of speech, does not guarantee everyone an equal
        > voice in the process

        I agree, it certainly does not, which you’ll note I acknowledge above.

        You’re masking. We’re not talking about rich individuals. Well, Golf Ball is, but that’s a separate issue.

        > nor could it – otherwise, speech would be severely
        > restricted.

        This is another tautology, Mark. For you, it is, by definition. But increasing access for the under-funded does not directly impact the ability of those who do have funding to talk. It does create exit problems, but you can’t argue that freedom of speech is actually a negative right in one case and a positive right in another. It’s either. Well, it *can* be both, but if it’s both, then arguments can’t be dismissed as being the one you’re not currently using.

        If I spend tax money allowing people with something to say access to a public forum, that is not *infringing upon* anyone’s right to speech. It *does* create implementation problems. It does create exit problems. You don’t have an enshrined freedom to exit in this country.

        FWIW, I agree with E.D.’s summary of problems below, where by implication he’s stating that it’s way more trouble than its worth. But it’s certainly *not* a freedom infringement issue (well, unless it’s an attempt at establishment, which would be one reason why it would be way more trouble than it’s worth), because of the very reason you state here: you don’t have a positive right to free speech, the government has a negative right to prevent you from speaking. If the government wants to give a hundred billion dollars to your political opponent, that’s not infringing upon your free speech rights. It is all kinds of a bad thing, though, right? So maybe you *do* have a positive right to free speech, and it’s not just a negative right preventing the government from infringing upon your speech.

        But if you have both a positive and a negative right to something, and two opposing viewpoints come into conflict over that thing, you have to acknowledge the fact that what you’re arguing about is a specific case. You don’t get to bust out only half of the rights structure to defend your position.

        The access of an individual to the public commons is still a problem, of course, but IMO it is considerably less than the issue of aggregation access to the public commons, for all the reasons I’ve spelled out already… and in any event it would be extremely difficult to come up with an equitable solution that does not severely impact the rights of someone else, I agree with that, too.

        I still don’t think, in any way, that permitting the leader of an organization that is decoupled from all of the investors (again, some of whom aren’t citizens!) by several layers of abstraction is a worthy or necessary societal function. I do not think prohibiting this represents any sort of imposition on the individuals who may wish to contribute to any cause they so desire. I do not believe that corporations need to be regarded as having this Constitutional protection any more than children do or foreign nationals do. I do not believe that it would seriously be difficult to differentiate between types of organizations, we do this *all the time*, for all sorts of different reasons. Yes, I acknowledge that this could lead to misuse, but *any* legal construct could lead to misuse (and has, in the past). Arguing that we ought not to do something because someone in the past has misused that authority is a simple argument for anarchy and nothing else.

        I really don’t find it compelling, either from a greater sociopolitical construct standpoint, or from a Constitutional law standpoint.Report

        • Pat – the above was a direct response to golf ball, not you.

          As for the positive/negative rights issue, I think you’re missing the boat. The example you give of government contributing to a political campaign is an infringement of your negative right of free speech. It’s problematic not because it gives someone a louder voice, but because it’s coerced speech – you, as taxpayer, are being forced to endorse a candidate that you don’t endorse.

          The second freedom of speech is defined as a positive right, actual freedom of speech – the negative liberty portion, if you will – is infringed.Report

          • I should add that just because a freedom is infringed doesn’t make it unconstitutional or impermissible per se – strict scrutiny and all that. If an infringement can survive strict scrutiny, then I’m willing to go along with it. But in order to survive strict scrutiny, you need to prove the existence of a compelling government interest. It is not necessary to affirmatively show social utility to defeat an infringement of speech; it is, however, necessary to show a compelling government interest to justify an infringement of speech (and the infringement must also be narrowly tailored). The lack of success of these infringements would seem to ensure a finding that there is no compelling government interest for them. That these infringements also must necessarily impact particularly important speech (ie, your model rocket group) demonstrates that they cannot be narrowly tailored, either.Report

  9. Avatar golf ball central says:

    What does meaningful public financing of campaigns mean?

    It means that for every dollar of negative advertising that mentions you or your party or positive advertising for the other guy or or his party, or for every dollar donated to your campaign, your party’s campaign, etc etc etc etc etc, the other guy is given a dollar of public money, immediately, to match it.

    That took about 50 words.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Who gets the money? Anyone who asks? How many signatures would this require? Would you have to win the primary first – or would primaries be covered by this as well? Would all independent candidates get as much money as the Dems and Repubs? Even the Crazy Party (with only 20 members)? The Green Party too? What about the White Nationalist Party? Who decides?Report