Wednesday Blognado: Talk is cheap, except when it’s very expensive

James K

James is a government policy analyst, and lives in Wellington, New Zealand. His interests including wargaming, computer gaming (especially RPGs and strategy games), Dungeons & Dragons and scepticism. No part of any of his posts or comments should be construed as the position of any part of the New Zealand government, or indeed any agency he may be associated with.

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24 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    Well yeah the primary system is screwy. If elections take a year or more, of course every contender is going to need a mega ton of money.

    What sort of institution would do the stripping of the identity of who contributed money? A political party? For that to work the conduit for the money would have to be out of the political process or they would end with the power of the knowledge of who gave what to who. I can’t see people really trusting the DNC or RNC or group like them to really pass on money without keeping track of who gave.Report

    • James K in reply to greginak says:

      Definitely not a political party.  A bank should do the job nicely.  After all, this is similar to a blind trust, which is already a thing that exists, so institutionally I don’t think it’s a stretch.Report

      • greginak in reply to James K says:

        Wouldn’t this lead to most rich folk and corporations not donating through this route. People with serious money donate for influence and access. I don’t think this would be a bad result by the way. It would seem people who wanted influence with a candidate would just decide to run their own commercials for the candidate of their choice with a wink a nod. If they needed to find a real person to sign on to be the face of the group they could since that is what PAC’s already do.Report

    • karl in reply to greginak says:

      The stripping institution (what a phrase) would be quasi-governmental, non-partisan organization developed solely for that purpose.  Of course, nothing would prevent me from showing my canceled check to whichever campaign I chose to support — me and the rest of us large donors with our ostentatiously visible canceled checks.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to karl says:

        Presumably, since your check would be written to “National Political Candidacy Bank,” you’d be on your honor to indicate to whom you had directed the payments to go. “National Political Candidacy Bank” would probably have to have a rule rejecting any checks with memo lines so that your cancelled check couldn’t indicate “Re-Elect Robert Ramirez!” on its face.

        The other issue would be the Rubber Chicken Fundraiser. Robert Ramirez hosts a $1,000-a-plate dinner, and to get your ticket to the dinner, you have to direct $1,000 to the NPCB. In exchange, you get face time at the dinner with Officeholder Ramirez, who knows by virtue of seeing you there that you at least claimed to pay $1,000 to his campaign. Does the Re-Elect Robert Ramirez committee get some way to ensure that you’ve steered that $1,000 to Ramirez and not to some other candidate?

        All the same, it’s still an intriguing idea.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Burt Likko says:

          Wouldn’t people who wanted to prove that they contributed something just sponsor their own independent ads, or donate to PACs, who would presumably still be at libertiy to reveal their funding?Report

        • karl in reply to Burt Likko says:

          Intriguing, yes — but I came around several years ago to accepting the complete impossibility of regulating campaign donations in any meaningful way (that is to say, my way).  At this point there seems to no middle way between total public financing, a la the U.K. (unconstitutional, alas), and unlimited spending with, at best, absolute transparency.

          As things stand, I sometimes imagine progressive, issue-oriented, small-donor PACs becoming a major political force.  But then I wake up.Report

          • James K in reply to karl says:

            The trouble with campaign finance is collateral damage.  You can’t restrict influence peddling totally without doing severe harm to freedom of expression, and no one can be trusted with that sort of power.

            So no, I don’t think there’s a complete solution, though you can chip away at the problem on the edges.Report

          • Matty in reply to karl says:

            there seems to no middle way between total public financing, a la the U.K.

            The UK does not have total public financing, there is some but there are also private donations.

            You can get a lot of data on this here. I won’t try and summarise all of it but in 2011 the highest amount of public funding was £7,336,068 paid to the Labour Party, in that same year they declared £11,957,097 in donations. That’s a hefty chunk of public money (I make it around 38%) but a long way from total.

            One thing not covered is party political broadcasts. Political campaigns cannot buy airtime but are given ten minute slots, I think the party pays production costs for whatever they show in their slot. Looking at what the value of that time would have been might change the picture though it would be tricky given the BBC carries party political broadcasts but doesn’t sell on air advertising.Report

            • karl in reply to Matty says:

              Thanks for the link.  My misconceptions about UK funding have been set straight; forget about labour — the Conservatives/Unionists received £14,144,827 in donations but only £832,492 in public funds.  Still, the limited airtime and short campaigns help keep political spending much lower than here.Report

  2. Dan Miller says:

    “If you turn the funding decision over to the popular vote in some way (like letting people donate some of their tax money to a particular party or candidate) you also reinforce existing structures by making artificially difficult for new ideas to propagate into the political system”

    Doesn’t the same problem exist–and even become worse–without public financing? After all, new ideas and new parties under the current system still need to attract support.  I don’t see how putting a bunch of additional money into the system would make this harder than it currently is, and it might make it easier.Report

    • James K in reply to Dan Miller says:

      Because little-to-none of that money will end up in the hands of people with new ideas.  Nothing driven by popular sentiment is going to materially challenge popular sentiment.

      New ideas come from eccentrics who fall outside conventional wisdom, and hold ideas that are considered bizarre or even offensive by most people.  These are the very last people a democratic system will support.Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to James K says:

        What about a representative lot-based system?

        You have a pool of public money.  You have registered political parties, let’s say a dozen of them.

        So you have two rounds of financing.  One for a primary, and one for the national election.  In the first round of public financing, you have a short duration wherein each political party is granted a certain number of candidates based upon their representative sample, say 5 democrats, 5 republicans, 1 libertarian, 1 green, 1 socialist (I have to admit I have no idea what a fair breakdown is, parties could always choose not to run a full slate of candidates).  Primary season lasts 30-60 days.  So you’ll maybe get 5 nuts on the airwaves for a month or two, but what the hell we have reality tv now, and maybe they say something that actually is a good idea.

        At the primary, each citizen votes for a party and a candidate (doesn’t have to be both for the same thing, so you can pick R over D for the party, but vote for the actual libertarian candidate if you want, or you could vote for the libertarian party, but cast your actual primary vote for Mitt, too, if you wanted to).  Then you get candidates with vote tallies, and parties with vote tallies.  The parties are ranked by numbers of votes, and the candidates are ranked by numbers of votes.  You pick the top 3 of each, drop the overlap, and let the guys and gals who are left campaign for 6 months.

        I’m waving my hands a lot at the numbers and proportions, but I suspect in practice this would give you a reasonable advantage in representation to what would now be the established parties and their usual suspects of candidates, you’d pretty much always have a D and an R.  But you might wind up with as many as four alternative candidates (this would be pretty rare, granted), and in the marketplace of ideas everyone would have to campaign both for and against a much wider variety of viewpoints.

        Just spitballing, here.Report

  3. Matty says:

    In the first round of public financing, you have a short duration wherein each political party is granted a certain number of candidates based upon their representative sample, say 5 democrats, 5 republicans, 1 libertarian, 1 green, 1 socialist

    But this is exactly the problem James identified with entrenching existing structures. Maybe the Brand New Party would have swept to power given a chance to get their message out but without pre-existing support they wouldn’t get that chance under this system.Report

  4. Robert Cheeks says:

    This is why every ten years or so, every bureaucrat should be summarily dismissed.

    “Morality and the Social Contract are about defeating the remorseless logic of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.  The idea is to get everyone to choose co-operate even though they would benefit from defecting.”



    • James Hanley in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      This is why every ten years or so, every bureaucrat should be summarily dismissed.

      Since we’re talking about elected politicians, and not bureaucrats, this is quite the non-sequitur.Report

  5. BlaiseP says:

    Money will always have influence in politics.   No getting around that troublesome fact.   But it has less influence than you might think.  From Judge Stevens’ dissent to Citizens United

    So let us be clear: Neither Austin nor McConnell held or implied that corporations may be silenced; the FEC is not a “censor”; and in the years since these cases were decided, corporations have continued to play a major role in the national dialogue. Laws such as §203 target a class of communications that is especially likely to corrupt the political process, that is at least one degree removed from the views of individual citizens, and that may not even reflect the views of those who pay for it. Such laws burden political speech, and that is always a serious matter, demanding careful scrutiny. But the majority’s incessant talk of a “ban” aims at a straw man.

    You gets what you pays for with a donation to your candidate.   The same cannot be said for a PAC.   Corruption begins with a simple protection racket, often entered into willingly, by those who wish to make changes outside the political process.    The Super PAC is just such a protection racket:  once you’ve paid your dues for entry, there’s no guarantee that PAC will reflect your views.Report

  6. Ian M. says:

    The stripping donations via governmental institution idea should be so self evidently stupid that I would be surprised it was even suggested, except that it’s attributed to McArdle. There is a moment when the donation happens, that cannot be anonymized – you could record the transaction. Get a bunch of buddies to vouch for you. Give $5 million one month, tell the candidate it’s coming, and then nothing the next month to prove your point. I’m not going to go into more detail, because this idea doesn’t deserve it.Report

    • James K in reply to Ian M. says:

      Obviously you would make an attempt to create a paper trail for the transaction illegal, I thought that went without saying.

      And the donate then wait a month thing doesn’t work unless you’re the only donor,otherwise how do you pick out one donation from everyone else’s.Report

      • Ian M. in reply to James K says:

        I would counter that the donators will find a way to inform the candidate regardless of illegality. I won’t belabor the point, this is dumb and never happening.Report