Campaign Finance, Ideology, and Doubt

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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  1. Avatar ThatPirateGuy
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    says:

    What is the difference between a million dollar campaign contribution/ad buy and a million dollar bribe?

    I am genuinely perplexed how one could stop corruption and keep free speech. I’d like to see the debate at least try to define corruption and differentiate it from free speech. So if you could point me to a pro-anonymous donor source that does so I’d love to read it.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to ThatPirateGuy
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      says:

      I would wonder if the corruption/free speech connection actually exists.

      Thought experiment: We put you, ThatPirateGuy, in charge of Speech for the next 10 years. You alone are in charge of what is and what is not acceptable to be broadcast.

      The question for the end of this thought experiment is this: Is there a discernible difference in the amount of corruption? If so, is the discernible difference that there is less corruption?

      The stuff I’m running through in my head leads me to the conclusion that the answer to the first question is “no” (and, even if it were yes, the answer to the second question is “no”) and, as such, I don’t see Free Speech as one of the variables that needs tweaking in order to fight corruption.

      Corruption, to be fought, needs some other avenue of attack.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        But isn’t disclosure a compromise in this case? I’m pretty uncomfortable with the idea that it’s free speech for me to support Ross Perot, but not for Pepsi to support Ross Perot, but doesn’t disclosure allow for both to exist?Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F.
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          says:

          Okay, so anonymity is supposed to protect the individual. So would I be able to make a large contribution and lie about who I am. Say, for instance, the KKK wants to contribute $1 million in Skoal coupons to Dennis Kucinich, but they prefer to claim it came from the ACLU- would that be a problem, or would it just be in the interest of remaining anonymous?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rufus F.
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          says:

          I am 100% down with disclosure but I also worry that disclosure rules IN PRACTICE result in regulatory capture by the very corporations we’re terrified of running things in the first place.

          You either have to be a product of the political machine *OR* you have to be independently wealthy to run for office if you’re running for anything bigger than dogcatcher.

          We have more and more and more rules than we did in the past and it seems to me that the same folks that we didn’t want running things are still running things.

          In theory I’m down, 100%.Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        I sympathize with your perspective Jay and I really want to make sure that my position on this issue doesn’t lead to censorship of political speech. A type which I consider to be among the most important.

        On the other hand the idea of money as speech skeeves me out. So I’m naturally going to be doubting that the money isn’t corrupt bribery, even in the case when it isn’t. I’m not saying this is correct just acknowledging my own weakness.

        I’d like to run this by you as a compromise. Candidates and parties are barred from raising money through donations instead each candidate and party that reaches X number of registered voters receives the same Y government dollars to run their campaigns.

        If you do this and allow named donations for outside groups would we see anything different? Would this violate the spirit of the first amendment? I don’t know. I’d love to hear some smart people tell me their thoughts on it though.Report

        • Avatar Trumwill in reply to ThatPirateGuy
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          says:

          I’m confused by your plan. In Paragraph 3 you’re banning donation, but in 4 you’re allowing named donations.

          My main ideological problem with CFR is what to do about independent ads. The notion that Pepsi or Koch or Soros shouldn’t be able to run an ad 28 days before the election saying “Vote for Our Guy” strikes at the heart of Free Speech for me. Getting in the way of these people doing at least some coordination with the campaign strikes me as a Free Association problem, though slightly less of one. And if you let Koch do it, you need to let a bunch of people who pool their money do the same lest you leave all independent advertising to the bigwigs.

          My main practical problem with CFR is that it doesn’t work. At all. Not if you can’t clamp down on actual speech-speech (instead of just money-speech).Report

          • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Trumwill
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            says:

            “My main ideological problem with CFR is what to do about independent ads. The notion that Pepsi or Koch or Soros shouldn’t be able to run an ad 28 days before the election saying “Vote for Our Guy” strikes at the heart of Free Speech for me. Getting in the way of these people doing at least some coordination with the campaign strikes me as a Free Association problem, though slightly less of one.”

            This was the named donations, you can do it but not directly to the candidate or their party. Only other people who want to run the add on their own.’

            I added in mostly because I can’t really call a country free if one can’t even run a television ad to support or hate on a political candidate.Report

      • Avatar 62across in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        “Corruption, to be fought, needs some other avenue of attack.”

        This is the rub, isn’t it? Any ideas on some other avenue of attack?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to 62across
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          says:

          “More Speech”.Report

          • Avatar 62across in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            As long as money=speech, I just don’t see how that works.

            As you state elsewhere here, more and more rules have been applied, yet the independently wealthy and the machine backed are the only candidates allowed to play.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to 62across
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              says:

              Well, my preferred solution would be to repeal the 17th Amendment and, with the same stroke of the pen, repeal the Reapportionment Act of 1929. We’d also have to dismantle much of theory behind the Unitary Executive.

              Doing that would do more to reduce corruption than any amount of legislation limiting campaign spending.Report

              • Avatar dexter45 in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                I can see why repealing the R Act of 1929 might help. Gerrymandering is a serious malfunction, but I fail to see how killing the 17th would help. Could you say why you are in favor of repealing it?Report

              • Avatar North in reply to dexter45
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                says:

                Hi Dex, the short form is that supporters of a repeal of the 17th believe that doing so would devolve and decentralize power out of DC and back to the states. Senators who can currently be influenced directly (due to their need to fundraise for re-election campaigns) would instead be appointed by state legislatures. So instead of buying a Senator directly would be influencers of government would have to try and buy an entire state legislature to be able to effectively influence Senators since that would be the body the Senator would be paying close mind to.

                There are a lot of other arguments that are issued in favor of the repeal of the 17th but this one is one of the bigger ones.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to dexter45
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                says:

                It would help insofar as it would change the way that Senators would be elected which would change the way that Senators would have to pander… and since they’d all have to pander in more or less the same way, they’d cancel each other out.

                A corporation would have to spread money around an entire State Government which would be presumably a lot more local and therefore a lot more accountable to “the people”… or, at least, less accountable to “the corporations”.Report

              • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Couldn’t our evil corrupter simply corrupt the political party machine? Or simply target the most prominent of the state officials.

                Heck local elections cost less to run and have huge name recognition advantages they could buy local offices for a fraction of the cost of national ones. In fact they frequently do.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to ThatPirateGuy
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                says:

                It’s still a lot harder and more complicated then just bribing the Senator directly, Pirate.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Since the 16th amendment is right next to it, repeal that one too.Report

  2. Avatar Boegiboe
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    says:

    I’m a very strong believer in a wide latitude for free speech, but I just don’t see why the right to free speech grants the right to anonymous speech. We widely recognize that some speech (e.g. shouting “Fire!” in a crowded building) is so irresponsible and damaging that it can be punished. Much, much more speech than that is held to be so despicable that we hold it against the speaker’s reputation for a long time. Doesn’t it follow from these principles that the public that hears speech has the right to know who is speaking?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Boegiboe
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      says:

      It dates back to the days of the Revolution. Anonymous pamphleteers were part of the movement to “overthrow” “tyranny”.

      Plus there’s the whole “whistleblowers” thing. Let’s say that you are employed by employer X (let’s say that “employer X” is “the government”) and you find that they’re doing something unsavory. Enhanced interrogation, maybe. Indefinite detention without trial. Something crazy like that. (Extraordinary rendition!)

      You have two choices. Talk about it anonymously or talk about it nonymously.

      Which would you pick?

      If the employer responded to anonymous charges by saying “we insist that we do not respond to this slander/libel without being given the name of the person bringing these charges”, how would you feel about that?

      And, let’s *REALLY* get crazy, let’s say that you’re someone else in the company who, next year, will stumble across something wacky (a John Yoo memo, perhaps).

      What will you do with what you find, given what you saw happen to the poor schmuck who blew the whistle last time?Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        Yes Jay but we’re talking about financial contributions to political campaigns here, not individual free speech. Do you really feel that people should have a right to contribute vast sums to individuals running for public office and be able to do so with complete anonymity? Personally I don’t consider disclosure requirements to be onerous and the idea of chilling effects seems pretty laughable to me. Like when Maggie Gallagher goes off on one of her screeds about how much systematic persecution the donors to the no on gay marriage campaigns have suffered and then skitters off the stage without giving any examples or sources.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North
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          says:

          There are dozens of ways to contribute. Money is the crudest.

          The media and their choice of stories to cover is a *HUGE* donation to whichever candidate is sending tingles up the legs of the talking heads (the Bush AWOL story that came out in 2004? Dude.) and it is not considered a contribution by The Law. Editorials pushing for this or that are not considered contributions. McCain-Feingold was supposed, in theory, to fix this but, in practice, it resulted in out-and-out censorship.

          I like the *IDEA*, mind.

          I just think that the practice is subject to regulatory capture and will result in raised barriers for little guys leaving office something that will only be achievable by the very rich or the machine.Report

    • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Boegiboe
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      says:

      The bigger point is that you have no right to know.Report

  3. Avatar MFarmer
    Ignored
    says:

    I cannot tink of a single good reason to limit anyone’s ability to support any candidate they choose or spend their money on any ads they choose, whether a corporation or an individual.Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to MFarmer
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      says:

      So if someone gave the democratic and the republican party 70 million dollars anonymously while saying I’d love for you to spend 700 billion building a train network your fine with no one knowing why the donation happened nor knowing that it just so happened to be a train route construction company?

      Is that a donation or is it corruption?Report

      • Avatar North in reply to ThatPirateGuy
        Ignored
        says:

        I imagine his answer would be “Governments have no place in the business of building roads, train tracks or anything else. So there’d be no expectation from a donor to be able to get a quid pro for their quos and thus the corruption wouldn’t happen.”Report

        • Avatar MFarmer in reply to North
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          says:

          Yes, North, yes, yes, yesReport

          • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to MFarmer
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            says:

            What about defense contracts?

            Governments have a lot of business in building tanks, air craft carriers, and guns.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer in reply to ThatPirateGuy
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              says:

              Yes, they purchase a lot of private goods, because they don’t produce anything. But you are saying that corporate campaign advertising has something to do with defense contracts — what? In a limted government, there could be a system devised which prevents contracts going to cronies – it would be an easy problem to solve, especially in defense, since there are only a few companies which can provide the goods — as long as the quality and price are equal, a fair system can be devised. Part of the whole concept of a limited government is having control over politicians who now hide and provide their crony donors with favors, sweet contracts and protection — that’s what needs to end. Banning ads won’t change anything.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to MFarmer
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      says:

      > whether a corporation or an individual.

      I can think of a couple, here. A corporation is limited liability entity (not a person), created for the purpose of making money, which can have non-citizen investors, just to name a few.

      I really can’t see any logical reason to allow a corporation to make political contributions at all. If the individual members of the corporation want to make political contributions, have at it. If the uber-rich (or even just moderately well off) CEO wants to contribute some of his hard-earned lucre making it easier for him to make more money by filling the pockets of his local representative with soft bribes, well, that’s an exception scenario but it’s probably tolerable in the grand scheme of things and certainly not worth many of the possible consequences of most of the mitigation methods.

      I don’t see very many of those possible consequences being a big deal if you stop corporations from contributing to political campaigns. Now, Jaybird might say, “How do you differentiate between a political contribution and any other commercial?” Fair enough, but if Chrysler wants to make a pro-Senator Foo commercial themselves, that’s not necessarily a major problem, let them sign on the dotted line and put their corporate logo on it. This is different from what we have now, which is clearly a case of corporations spending money through anonymous channels so that nobody knows they’re spending this money. A corporation is a public entity, it can’t reasonably claim that it ought to have an expectation of privacy here.

      Put another way; there’s obvious potential problems with allowing corporations to contribute to political campaigns; moral hazard if nothing else. What is the advantage to allowing corporations to contribute to political campaigns? What do we get out of it?Report

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Pat Cahalan
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        says:

        It’s the freedom to spend your money in the way you want to spend it, and he freedom to express a message. You seem to want to restrict freedom if there’s a good reason, in your opinion, to do so. Being able to express your opinion is something that shouldn’t be restricted. The ad companies sell ads, and it’s a violation of freedom to say that a company can’t buy an ad to express their opinion.

        As stated above, the problem is that we need a limited government which is prohibited from selling favors — as long as politicians can sell favors, someone will find a way to buy the favors. Selling and buying ads is ok, selling and buying government favors is not ok.

        Rather than dealing with the symptomatic problem with a symptomatc solution, we should solve the fundamental problem with a fundamental solution.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to MFarmer
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          says:

          But Mr. Farmer, when discussing a corporation there’s a fundamental difference to discussing an individual citizen.

          I can spend my money the way I like, more or less. It’s my money, more or less. I have no fiduciary responsibility to anyone other than myself, really (well, my household, but that’s neither here or there).

          A corporation has a rather rigid set of responsibilities.

          A company doesn’t have an opinion. Board members have an opinion. A CEO has an opinion. A line worker has an opinion. A corporation *isn’t a sapient being*.

          “Being able to express your opinion is something that shouldn’t be restricted” – I agree, but we have obvious differences of opinion over what constitutes a “you”.

          Now, I’ll agree that limiting government has the advantage that there’s less governmental favors to sell if government is limited, but it’s not going to eliminate the selling and buying of governmental favors. As long as the government has the ability to tax and spend, somebody somewhere is going to leverage their relationship with someone in the government to encourage the “spending” part to go their way.

          So, it’s a fundamental problem, sure, but I don’t think you can have a fundamental solution… and more to the point, you’re still going to have symptomatic problems anyway. I fail to see how this symptomatic solution causes any problems with liberty or freedom.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Pat Cahalan
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            says:

            There are rules for making decisions in corporation which everyone agrees on, and a process for those who have a grievance — if someone in the corporation has the ok to buy ads then that’s the corporation’s business, not government’s business.All the people within the corporation are free citizens — it’s a private enterprise, so government has no business interfering with the operation of the corporation and its decision making process, or how it spends its money.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer
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              says:

              It boggles my mind that you think government telling private citizens within a corporation how they can spend the company’s money and express their collective corporate opinons doesn’t cause any problems with freedom.

              It’s simply none of government’s business how these corporate actors involve themselves promoting political candidates or political ideas. It’s a free country, remember?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to MFarmer
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                says:

                > It boggles my mind that you think government telling private
                > citizens within a corporation how they can spend the company’s
                > money and express their collective corporate opinons doesn’t
                > cause any problems with freedom.

                They have the ability to spend their own money. They have the ability to authorize disbursement of the company equity in the form of dividends to the stockholders, and the stockholders have the ability to spend that money however they wish.

                How is this a terrible hurdle for freedom? Doesn’t it make me, the individual investor, MORE free? I can invest the money, they can pay me a dividend, and I can decide to re-invest it, or give it to a political action committee, or put it in a pile and roll around naked on it, for that matter?

                Now I know have the ability to invest in the organization without having to tacitly or explicitly agree with the political views of its Board… who are, after all, supposed to be making me money, not engaging in political activism that may or may not be tied, in any way, to their official capacity?Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                So, you are saying the government should control corporate decisions?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to MFarmer
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                says:

                Doesn’t the government already control some corporate decisions? That is, after all, U.S. GAAP. The Securities and Exchange commission. The franchise tax board. OSHA. The FCC.

                You can argue that some of them are unnecessary or at least over-reaching to a degree, but are you positing that they’re all unnecessary?

                So if they already control some corporate decisions (and, given that for quite some time this particular set of corporate decision was impaired without a collapse of liberty)… why is this a particularly egregious or onerous (or even marginally annoying) control of a set of corporate decisions?Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                says:

                If they can control this particular corporate decision, and others, then why not all corporate decisions? Now, tell me, where does freedom play into this?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                says:

                So you’re saying that they ought not to control any corporate decisions?

                I’m not going to play dueling reducto with you any more, m’friend. If you agree that there is some place for government intervention in *some* things, than explain to me why it doesn’t apply in *this particular case*. If you don’t agree that there is ever a place for government intervention in any thing, then I guess we’re done here.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                says:

                There is no place for intervention unless laws have been violated. If a company is violating someone’s rights, then the government can intervene — otherwise, they have no business intervening. But what I’m talking about is rights protection, not goverment guidance and control of industry, which is what you are talking about.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to MFarmer
              Ignored
              says:

              > There are rules for making decisions in corporation which
              > everyone agrees on

              And you believe this adequately serves the purpose of correcting misuse of decision-making power? You do not see historical examples of these rules being subject to organizational capture?

              And honestly, you believe everyone agrees on these rules?

              > and a process for those who have a grievance

              And you believe that this process both adequately serves the purpose of correcting for grievance, and that free-riding is not a problem? I read my 403b disclosures, how many investors do? If not many investors do, my reading it has zero audit power. If all investors do, but I represent 0.000001% of the corporation’s equity and the National Bank of Finland represents 5%, you believe I will have adequate and fair address of my grievance?

              > if someone in the corporation has the ok to buy ads then
              > that’s the corporation’s business, not government’s
              > business.

              The corporation is a *public* entity, it is not “private enterprise”. A business partnership is “private enterprise”. A sole proprietorship is “private enterprise”.

              More to the point, how is this line of argument not generalizable to “anything a corporation does is the corporation’s business, not the government’s business”?

              > All the people within the corporation are free citizens

              I take it you believe this adequately summarizes the position of the corporation, as a legal entity, inside the U.S. sociopolitical system? May I ask why?

              Because, quite frankly, I know dozens and dozens of counterexamples. While I freely admit my experience certainly may not be generalizable to the U.S. population as a whole, I find this assertion to be lacking in credibility without some sort of supporting evidence.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                “More to the point, how is this line of argument not generalizable to “anything a corporation does is the corporation’s business, not the government’s business”? ”

                No, they can’t break the law. They can’t murder, committ fraud, rape, enslave their employees, blow up other companies, make raids on banks and take what they need, that sort of stuff.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                “The corporation is a *public* entity, it is not “private enterprise”. A business partnership is “private enterprise”. A sole proprietorship is “private enterprise”.”

                You know what I meant — when I say “private”, I mean not government owned.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer
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                says:

                Plus, you can be incorporated and not be publically traded.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                says:

                You’re only answering about a quarter of my questions.

                You believe this adequately serves the purpose of correcting misuse of decision-making power?

                You do not see historical examples of these rules being subject to organizational capture?

                And honestly, you believe everyone agrees on these rules?

                And you believe that this process both adequately serves the purpose of correcting for grievance, and that free-riding is not a problem?

                If all investors do, but I represent 0.000001% of the corporation’s equity and the National Bank of Finland represents 5%, you believe I will have adequate and fair address of my grievance?

                Here’s a broad overview of my point: it doesn’t matter what sort of organization you’re talking about; for-profit, not-for-profit, corporate, partnership, pick-up basketball team, government, bureaucratic, volunteer, whatever.

                Every organization requires you to give up some flexibility and some autonomy (and some liberty) in return for economies of some sort or another.

                It is not terribly difficult to suborn organizations for other purposes. You must agree with this, because it’s primarily your motivating factor for wanting limited government, yes?

                So conceptually, why is limiting any other organization not okay? Granted, in any given particular cases, those limitations could have unwelcome consequences (depending upon the limitation and the activity you’re trying to limit), so approaching this with a careful intent is probably a good idear.

                That said, why does the abstraction of power inherent in a corporation have any need for its own political voice, at all? Again, all of the individuals in the organization have free rein to do whatever the pontookas they want. They can donate money. They could even form a political non-profit PAC in their spare time and all join up if they wanted to.

                So why is it necessary or advisable to allow the corporation itself to engage in political activity? How is the for-profit organization immune to the same organizational capture that you abhor in governmental organizations?Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                “You believe this adequately serves the purpose of correcting misuse of decision-making power? ”

                Whether it does ot not, it’s up to the corporation and stockholders to settle it. If there are contractual violations it can be taken to court. No is coerced to deal with the corporation, and it’s not the government’s place to intervene unless laws have been broken.

                “You do not see historical examples of these rules being subject to organizational capture?”

                perhaps you can provide me with an example we can discuss.

                “And honestly, you believe everyone agrees on these rules?”

                I don’t know, but it’s beside the point of government intervention — if some in the corporation disagree with other rules, should the government intervent?

                “And you believe that this process both adequately serves the purpose of correcting for grievance, and that free-riding is not a problem?”

                Again it’s a problem for the company to deal with.

                “If all investors do, but I represent 0.000001% of the corporation’s equity and the National Bank of Finland represents 5%, you believe I will have adequate and fair address of my grievance?”

                I’m still not sure how this justifies government intervention.

                You are confusing free enterprise with government — we’ve given government a monopoly on coercion so it has to be limited. Corporations cannot coerce customers, employees, shareholders — they have the freedom to quit the job, not do business the corporation, not invest in its stocks, etc. What you are suggesting is hardcore statism — fascism, actually.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to MFarmer
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                says:

                > What you are suggesting is hardcore statism — fascism, actually.

                And you’ve now Godwin’d the thread. Ridiculously, I might add, given that campaign finance laws have been around since… oh, well prior to fascism existing as a political philosophy.

                No, what I’m suggesting is role-based capabilities. The corporation, as an entity, has no independent sapient existence. It has no opinion, of itself. There is no practical reason for it to have a venue for political expression, as it (itself), isn’t a citizen and has no political agenda. It has no purpose for existence, other than profit (not that there’s anything wrong with profit).

                Limiting how a corporation can directly fund political campaigns has absolutely *zero* effect on the ability of the individuals who make up the corporation to fund political campaigns. It infringes on no *person*’s liberty. Indeed, it helps protect individual persons’ liberty, since it makes it more difficult for that person to be an unwilling participant in part of the political process with which they may object.

                And clearly, it’s overly optimistic (to phrase it as charitably as possible) to expect that “my Board just authorized a million dollar contribution to Senator Hatch’s re-election campaign. I’LL SUE!” is a viable answer to the question of what avenues of reconciliation an individual investor can have should they choose to disagree with the corporation’s executives.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                says:

                “So conceptually, why is limiting any other organization not okay? Granted, in any given particular cases, those limitations could have unwelcome consequences (depending upon the limitation and the activity you’re trying to limit), so approaching this with a careful intent is probably a good idear.”

                This is what I was comparing to the true definition of fascism. You are not limiting corporations, which are made up of people — you are limiting those people with rights who make up the corporation. They have a right to be left alone and make decsisions within their organizations, and to deal with their own problems and disagreements, as long as they are within their constitutional rights to do so. Government has no constitutional persmssion to intervene.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                > you are limiting those people with rights who make
                > up the corporation

                You keep saying this. I find this a fantastical characterization.

                How are these people truly “limited”, given that they can still donate their own funds however they wish? They could still establish a PAC and fund it. They could still organize as a group.

                How is, “keep your mitts off the company coffers for this purpose” overreach? Why should they have the capability of accessing funds to do this? They have no substantive measure or requirement to report to the stockholder how, or why, they are making these contributions. They have very little legitimate rationale to explain how political contributions increase shareholder value. Where would this go, the MD&A? Consolidated financial reports?

                Are you suggesting that GAAP is also government overreach? Why should universal accounting principles be required in the foundation of a public corporation? Should every corporation have complete latitude to incorporate entirely under its own terms?

                Now, one could posit that there ought to be a variety of corporation that *had* political capabilities, I suppose. I see no reason why a general corporation should have this capability.Report

            • Avatar Boegiboe in reply to MFarmer
              Ignored
              says:

              Those rules for making decisions require knowledge of corporate activity to get to the shareholders. All a corporation tells its shareholders directly about political donations is the bottom line of how much was spent on donations, if it’s even broken out in that much detail. They don’t tell their shareholders who they supported. At least not in any materials I’ve seen as a stockholder.

              By making the donations anonymously, the corporations are denying the knowledge of who they’re supporting politically to the shareholders. Now, if you want to say that shareholders should insist on knowing who the corporation is supporting, that’s consistent, but it’s not realistic. The little guy shareholders are never going to be able to get the bigger shareholders, who want to direct the shared funds of the corporation in order to avoid having to spend their own money on politics, to reveal that information. The only shot lesser shareholders have is disclosure requirements enforced by the government. If you want to apply those requirements only to public corporations, and not private citizens, that’s more reasonable than saying pools of public (yes, public, not private–this is what stocks are) money held in trust by corporations can be directed to political campaigns without the knowledge of the members owning the pool of public money.Report

  4. Avatar NoPublic
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ve said this before on this blog, and no doubt will again.

    If you posit that Free Speech and Freedom of the Press are the core values you’re attempting to uphold that’s one issue. If, however, you are attempting to address the issue of creating and supporting a baseline of well-informed people who can vote intelligently that’s an entirely different issue.

    Compare (in Colonial terms to now)

    Literacy rates among the general public
    Time constant of the news cycle over distance
    Newspaper TV / Radio
    Soapbox in the town square TV / Radio / Blogs
    Broadsheets Blogs

    and I think you see that TV and radio have a penetration and consumption potential that there was no equivalent for in the time of the Founders.

    There is, therefore, an argument to be made in correlation to certain 2nd amendment arguments.

    I personally would argue that a strict reading of the 2nd allows me to own artillery and weapons of mass destruction (up to and including nuclear weapons). My limit on this is my personal ingenuity and wealth. Others argue that the detrimental effects of this on my neighbours has a limiting input on my rights in this regard.

    In the case of TV and radio ads in particular, money is volume and penetration and this is simply the latest in a long line of “might makes right” situations. I therefore submit that arguing this on Free Speech grounds is non-productive and we should instead be arguing on General Welfare grounds.

    Of course that might lead us straight back to discussing the Fairness Doctrine and the Tragedy of the Common Airwaves.Report

  5. Avatar Simon K
    Ignored
    says:

    Isn’t a lot of corporate political speech a recipe for shareholder lawsuits? Most limited liability corporations are created to make money for their shareholders, not to get Republicans elected to national office, and there’s only a tenuous connection between spending and election results on the one hand, and funding and influence on policy on the other.

    I’m torn about anonymous speech in general – I see arguments for and against – but shouldn’t public companies be required to declare their political donations in their returns and specify what value exactly they expect them to return to their shareholders?Report

  6. Avatar ppnl
    Ignored
    says:

    So what do people here think of this essay by Milton Friedman:

    http://www.colorado.edu/studentgroups/libertarians/issues/friedman-soc-resp-business.html

    It seems on one hand we are absolving corporations of all moral responsibility and on the other hand we are granting them the full power of free speech. Does this seem like a good idea?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to ppnl
      Ignored
      says:

      I’m not sure it speaks to campaign finance all that well. Friedman wrote that essay at a time when wage and price controls seemed like they might be a really good idea, and these seem the real target of his ire. The following sentence seems to suggest that campaign finance disclosure for business is not such an outrageous idea after all:

      A corporation is an artificial person and in this sense may have artificial responsibilities, but “business” as a whole cannot be said to have responsibilities, even in this vague sense.

      “Business” here being, I take it, the class of businesses considered as a whole.Report

      • Avatar ppnl in reply to Jason Kuznicki
        Ignored
        says:

        It does not address campaign finance directly but I think the implication is clear. If a corporation is not a moral entity at all then it is not capable of free speech. When they give money to a political cause it should be seen as commerce not speech. As such regulating political contributions seems to be one of the few legitimate uses of the commerce clause.

        How effective such attempts at regulation can be is a different matter. Reforming the electoral system itself seems more likely to be effective. Yet granting human rights to a pile of legal documents seems a very bad step in the wrong direction.Report

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