To No One’s Surprise

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Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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117 Responses

  1. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I was sort of hoping this news might just slip by unnoticed here, as we’ve been down this road and I think surveyed the territory pretty exhaustively (for us anyway) in the not-so-distant past. I have a hard time imagining what useful new debates are in store that will be valuable enough to outweigh the psychic toll of the inevitable trading of charges of abetting oligopolists with charges of indifference to the Founding Values of The Republic.

    But I think it’s likely that a number of current frequent commenters and contributors were not as frequent at that time, so by all means they deserve a chance to hash this out. And – perhaps there is indeed new ground to cover. So, here we go. As Burt says, play nice.

    But given that this is well-trod territory for some of us, maybe it would make sense for those of us for whom it is to step back and let the conversation at least start out as one among people who are considering these questions in a somewhat more first-blush kind of way, or who at least haven’t let their views be known quite as much at this precise website. That’s not an instruction as I’m not in the position to issue them), nor is it even a request. People should say what they want to say. It’s just an idea that some of us more familiar types might consider.Report

  2. Avatar Michelle says:

    To nobody’s surprise is right although your interpretation of the ruling doesn’t make it sound as ominous as the interpretation I saw on TPM. Just more of the same. I haven’t had a chance to glance over it myself. But it’s not like the process hasn’t already been corrupted by lots of money. The Koch brothers are having a field day running various levels of deceptive ads against Kay Hagan here in North Carolina.Report

  3. Avatar Stillwater says:

    At first glance, though, he seems to score the most direct hit at point points where he accuses the plurality of simply disregarding the factual findings of the district court, findings about which the Supreme Court normally considers itself bound to respect.

    I haven’t read anything about it yet, but this seems to me the crux of the issue and reveals the tension between principle and practice. I’m on the side of practice more than not, so I look at a ruling upholding a principle without adequate attention to paid to how that principle materializes in practice as being being insufficiently argued. It just strikes me as relatively obvious that ramping down constraints on the role of money in politics leads to entirely predictable outcomes regarding the rise of a permanent campaign culture, accompanied by all the disinformation those things entail. In practice, I just don’t think that’s good for the electorate nor good for governance.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    My cynical side suspects that the decision came down today rather than June because of the upcomign elections in November.Report

  5. Avatar Zane says:

    I once had a professor who was fond of the idea of “cultural traps” that societies have great difficulty addressing. (Not that it really matters, but he was an immigrant from India who was very fond of the US and who extolled the benefits of capitalism.)

    One of these cultural traps for the US, in his view, was our gun culture and the 2nd Amendment. The trap isn’t necessarily that we have a lot of guns. It’s that we are unable to speak and make policy rationally about guns. (“Rational policy” need not mean “gun control”, of course.) Everything becomes tied to ideologically powerful tropes and it is almost impossible to have calm discussion between opposing sides.

    I wonder if the concept of “free speech” is another cultural trap in terms of political campaigns. It is as if we have one side, painted by opponents as “money = speech”, that fervently believes that any attempt to curb the potentially corrosive effect of unlimited campaign spending is a direct attack on the First Amendment. And we have another side, for which I have no catchy label, who believes that anything short of public financing with no other legal spending on campaigns is a return to the days of the “Copper Kings” ruling Montana as their own private fiefdom. (BTW, I strongly encourage people unfamiliar with copper’s history in Montana to read up a bit. It’s pretty fascinating.)Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Zane says:

      Zane,
      they aren’t too far off it in WV…

      I disagree on gun policy, for what it’s worth.
      It’s a problem where the scale of problem (“urban areas”) is different
      than the scale of solution (“places where poor folks smuggle guns”).
      And there are very real harms done if we actually put a decent solution in place.
      [Yes, we may be irrational, but… still! Hard problem!]Report

      • Avatar Zane in reply to Kim says:

        I suspect that my professor would say that the reason that guns are a cultural trap for the US is that other democratic nations seem to be able to have conversation, develop policies, take political action, *and* live with fewer negative consequences than we do on this issue. I think he would say that short of some kind of catastrophic event, the US will never be able to develop broadly-supported solutions (however those were structured) and see fewer gun deaths. That catastrophic event could go either way, btw. If Obama does use FEMA to develop the death camps to cull the US population, support for unrestricted gun ownership would likely go up, for example.

        Keep in mind, he argued that this is nothing unique to the US. Other societies have their own cultural traps. These are seemingly intractable problems that the society can never seem to get a grip on, but that other societies seem to deal with adequately.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        Zane,
        I still see a ton of trafficking in Australia:
        http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/cp/australia
        (and I see AmericanGunManufacturer’s hand in banning making local guns. Follow the money).

        Australia, for what it’s worth, is about the only other first world country that has analogous to the US in terms of structure (Well, okay, Canada too) — lots of open spaces with no police force worth mentioning, and some small concentrated cities.

        So canada:http://blogs.windsorstar.com/2013/12/17/gunrunners-a-grim-gateway/Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Zane says:

      Not so much a direct attack on the First Amendment as an undermining of its foundations. This can be characterized as a slippery slope argument, but the response would be that some slopes are indeed slippery.

      Or put another way, if support for free speech weren’t uncomfortably low (imo) and I was confident that the effort to limit campaign contributions wasn’t both a) an attempt by incumbents to protect themselves from effective challenge, and b) supported by liberals primarily because of the viewpoints of those with money (Kochs! But we’re not really upset by Soros.), then I’d be less resistant to campaign finance limits.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        I’d prefer individual limits to these “overall spending limits”, honestly. It makes sense to me that you can put part of your paycheck in, but not overwhelm other people’s speech. Overall spending limits are just… upsetting.

        And I think it’s more that liberals are saying “we’ve got this small donor stuff down pat, how can we make this work for us?”

        This is not to say that liberals aren’t pretty decent at getting free press… (do we really want more repeats of “The Kiss”?, or some somewhat sensible spending limits? — I can promise you we will have more ex-Marines getting assaulted by campaign staffers (and other stunts!).)Report

      • Avatar Zane in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        Of course, even someone who believes that people should be able to spend as much money as they want on political campaigns might also argue that corporations don’t fall under the rubric of “people” for this purpose.

        Another issue is that historically those with money who wished to sway politicians didn’t just spend on advertising, they often just bought the means of disseminating information. Copper and Montana come to mind again. The vast majority of the newspapers in Montana were owned by copper companies or copper company owners in the early 1900s. By 1930 there was only one major paper in the state not owned by Anaconda Copper. And the papers were subsidized with company profits to prevent the development of local competition. This sort of monopolization of the media may be less possible today, though I’m not sure that will remain true. Freedom of speech becomes less meaningful if those with money have the ability to “crowd out” or prevent access to those with less money.Report

      • Avatar Zane in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        @jm3z-aitch Oh, I forgot. I did go look at the survey you linked to. The numbers aren’t as good I would wish, but I have to say they were better (more supportive of the first amendment principle of freedom of speech) than I actually expected.Report

      • To further @zane ‘s comment, Montana (despite being a red state, for the most part) is still gangbusters on campaign finance. They are among the ones who went to court trying to effectively nullify CU. Tester made it one of his big campaign issues, and it appears as though (again, despite red state) Republicans bet on drilling and lost due perhaps in part to the history there.

        For anyone interested, I recommend watching “Butte, America”… which is free on Amazon Prime. It focuses specifically on that town, but still gives a good idea on the relationship between Montana and the copper industry (and Anaconda in particular).Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        @jm3z-aitch

        The whole proposition system in California was implemented as a way for the people to have a voice against Southern Pacific. The legislature did whatever Southern Pacific wanted them to. So I think the Anaconda and Southern Pacific situation is not far fetched.Report

      • @will-truman
        I might suggest that Montana, like much of the rural West, has a certain amount of residual distrust of large corporations. With some historical justification.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to Zane says:

      Anaconda and Burton Wheeler!

      I like the idea of cultural traps. It explains a lot. I think this exists for numerous issues in the United States. We seem to be reaching maximum polarization.Report

  6. Avatar j r says:

    I notice that these discussions almost never focus on the relevant facts of these cases and rather turn into an argument over whether money is speech. That argument is fairly absurd. Of course money is not speech, hence the fact that they are two words not generally accepted as synonyms. However, ink isn’t speech either, but if the government put in place restrictions on access to newspaper ink we would recognize this as an implicit restriction on the press.

    Campaign finance laws are quite plainly a restriction on political participation and political speech. That, in itself, doesn’t make campaign finance laws bad. There are lots of campaign restrictions that we uphold. It is illegal for instance to campaign in a polling place or overtly bribe voters. Those restrictions exist, because we can see a direct harm flowing from those actions. So, I always ask those who don’t like these types of rulings the same question: where is the evidence, empirical or otherwise, that more money flowing into elections is actually a corrupting factor? It seems more likely that politics is already mostly corrupt and all more money does is raise the price of doing business.

    In my humble opinion, spending money on politics is about the daftest thing that you can do, from an investment perspective. The Kochs and Adelstein and whoever else would get a much better return on their money if they drastically cut their campaign contributions and instead focused on lobbying. The fact that they do not is pretty good evidence that most of this is about sincere ideological beliefs and/or a vanity project.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to j r says:

      If getting nuclear power plants for pennies on the dollar doesn’t change your mind, you aren’t reacting very well to the evidence at hand. (I’m not exactly sure what the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy thought he was getting out of Vince Foster et alia…).

      The worst corruption in America is that of blackmail, in that it is far more powerful at the high stakes end of the table. If a man pays you money to diminish your electoral prospects by a great deal, most pols would tell him to take a hike. It’s not so, though, if he’s threatening to remove your good status in your community.

      More money doesn’t really change the cost of doing business, or at least it hasn’t empirically over the last few elections. Pols depend on a revenue stream, and corps (okay, CEOs) promise that it will continue. That Pols may need more corps than before, doesn’t change how easy it is to get some gravy for some money. Only in the event that multiple corps want the same gravy is it likely for the price to go up.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to j r says:

      Well, for all your certainty about this j r, apparently 4 outa 9 disagreed with you. Maybe even 5 outa 9 depending on Thomas’ views.

      As for your call for “evidence” and what you call a disregard of “the facts of the case”, I think you should start with Breyer’s dissent. Here’s how he starts:

      Today a majority of the Court overrules this holding. It is wrong to do so. Its conclusion rests upon its own, not a record-based, view of the facts. Its legal analysis is faulty: It misconstrues the nature of the competing constitutional interests at stake. It under states the importance of pro­
      tecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign. Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. 310 (2010), today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.

      Apparently he disagrees with you about “the facts”.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Stillwater says:

        I stated my opinion and you stated another opinion, from someone who happens to be the author of the minority opinion on this and Citizens United. I believe the appropriate term for that is “appeal to authority.”

        My questions still stands: where is the evidence? I am somewhat familiar with the literature and it generally finds that money doesn’t negatively affect elections the way that we tend to think it does. If you have evidence to the contrary, I would love to consider it. I might even change my mind.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        I believe the appropriate term for that is “appeal to authority.”

        No. It’s not an appeal to authority. It’s an example of someone who disagrees with your categorical assertion that these rulings fail to consider the relevant facts where you’ve determined in advance what the relevant facts are. Breyer thinks the facts he cites are relevant. You discount that they are. Based on what reasoning? Brute assertion?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Stillwater says:

        I haven’t read the decision yet, and don’t have time to until later, but does the District Court have actual data, or just an assemblage of anecdotes? Just because judges call something “factual findings” does not really indicate that it is reliable evidence.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Stillwater says:

        Like Burt said, the dissenting opinion is longwinded, and its opening assertions about corruption (and its criticisms of the majority’s definition of corruption) are incoherent. It talks about how more money will buy undue influence of not just individual office holders, but also political parties. But really, if some rich schmuck donates only 25,000 instead of 2.5 million to the Republican party, will the Republican party (or any Republican) be any less in favor of tax cuts for the rich?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        James,

        I haven’t read it either – I just skimmed the first few pages – but one thing Breyer does cite is a study linking campaign contributions to “corruption” in policy formation. Plus, I think part of his conception of “the facts” includes the legal argument employed by the majority in rejecting precedent from earlier rulings.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        K,

        Heh. Tax cuts for the rich is the one thing apparently everyone in the party agrees on, so you’re probably right about that.Report

      • Avatar Dave in reply to Stillwater says:

        @j-r

        My questions still stands: where is the evidence?

        If not for Citizens United, I doubt we would have seen as much money go to Mitt Romney’s successful presidential campaign than if the court ruled the other way.Report

      • Avatar Dave in reply to Stillwater says:

        @stillwater

        Its conclusion rests upon its own, not a record-based, view of the facts. Its legal analysis is faulty: It misconstrues the nature of the competing constitutional interests at stake.

        Wait a second. He lifted this from my review of his books!!!Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to j r says:

      The Kochs and Adelstein and whoever else would get a much better return on their money if they drastically cut their campaign contributions and instead focused on lobbying.

      Aren’t the two, campaign contributions and lobbying, intimately connected? With the contribution reinforcing the message of the party doing the lobbying.

      There’s a possible return on investment dimension, but some things just don’t have a classic return on investment dimension and they’re significant. One example, how much, if at all, should US foreign policy support Israel? There can be a ROI dimension, defense contractors. But also, there’s the issue of values, how prominent a place the issue is in the political discussion. Where it goes on the agenda.

      Also, consider the balance of what issues get what amount of attention given a dynamic where a few hundred people can write the $3 million plus check to give sweeping donations to members of congress, state committees, etc. The concerns of that group is going to be (even more) overrepresented in US politics.

      It seems more likely that politics is already mostly corrupt and all more money does is raise the price of doing business.

      I don’t buy that argument because the highest net worth individuals have an opportunity to more assertively outbid other groups. It does make a difference who even has a chance of getting a look-in when the orders of magnitude shift from $50k to low millions, to tens of millions, to hundreds of millions. A $20 donation means a lot more in a context of more limits, more caps, and fewer avenues for the mega-rich to speak with their wallets.Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to j r says:

      where is the evidence, empirical or otherwise, that more money flowing into elections is actually a corrupting factor?

      (Kim, here’s a pay to play example where a mere $1000 won’t get a donor very far.) The selection of US ambassadors to a number of diplomatic posts: the UK, France, Ireland, Germany, Italy… For several decades career foreign service officers don’t stand a chance. And it isn’t a knock on diversity of perspectives, sometimes a businessperson can be an ambassador point of view. Yes, recruiting for skills from many fields is good and career foreign service officers don’t necessarily have a monopoly on skills for the top US envoy job. But consistently, the ambassadors to several countries are hundreds of thousands of dollar range (if not more) bundler-donor-operative types. Sometimes to the embarrassment of the administration doing the nominating (e.g. not speaking the language of the country, never having visited the country, getting basic facts about the country wrong). Here,

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obama-ambassador-nominees-prompt-an-uproar-with-bungled-answers-lack-of-ties/2014/02/14/20fb0fe4-94b2-11e3-83b9-1f024193bb84_story.htmlReport

      • Avatar j r in reply to Creon Critic says:

        I believe that we have talked about this here before. The kinds of posts that get political ambassadors are the kinds of posts where the Ambassador is not expected to do much of the diplomatic heavy lifting (that gets done by the DCM and the staff).

        In most of these high profile posts, the Ambassador is expected to do lots of schmoozing and entertaining, which these guys do with their own money as opposed to tax payer money. It’s pretty much a win-win for the American people. The career senior foreign service officers get reserved for the posts where the most substantive work is done and tax money doesn’t get spent on fancy receptions.

        So, I’m not sure how this counts as corruption.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Yeah, those are in limited supply, and that drives the price up.
        Rooney went to Ireland as an Ambassador under Obama — and though
        that may be counted as a political appointee (he certainly endorsed Obama),
        Rooney had solid ties beforehand to Ireland.Report

      • Avatar Zane in reply to Creon Critic says:

        To play devil’s advocate here: Is there an indication that non-foreign-service ambassadors affect the direction of US foreign policy or harm our relations with those countries where they are posted? Or somehow can influence policy or foreign relationships to their own private advantage?

        The link you posted would be an example of potentially harming our relationships with other nations (or at least making us look even more stupid), so that part is probably answered already. Not all of those “bad” appointments were of major donors, though. Max Baucus was certainly a political appointee, but not a donor. And those political appointees can be important in some countries. I have read that when Clinton appointed Walter Mondale ambassador to Japan that this was seen as a sign of high respect–a former Vice President as Ambassador. But Baucus doesn’t seem to be on the path to a well-respected ambassadorship the same way his fellow Montana Senator Mike Mansfield was in Japan.

        I do think that rewarding big donors with these appointments is not good. Why wouldn’t we post people who are actually trained for this work? But are these sorts of ambassadors mostly figureheads for their foreign-service staff? I don’t know the answer to that. Whatever the answer, I could certainly get behind the idea that this kind of donor appointment should end.Report

      • Avatar Zane in reply to Creon Critic says:

        I was typing as you posted, so I didn’t see your comment, @j-r . Thanks for the additional information!Report

      • @j-r
        Really win-win! Essentially selling ambassadorships and self-financing ambassadors strike me as extremely unmeritocratic and anti-meritocratic. Look over the linked Post piece. Calling a party in government extremist, never having visited the country, getting basic facts very publicly wrong. This is not stuff you want your senior diplomat to do – starting off on the wrong foot in the respectives countries’ press even before being appointed. In a country of 300 million we couldn’t find someone who speaks Spanish to be ambassador to Argentina?

        I also disagree that ambassador-level work can just be delegated to other staff. The think tank speeches, active media engagement, and unsexy (no canapes) public diplomacy stuff really can use a competent diplomat. And these relationships aren’t just reliably strong, dust ups do happen. Merkel’s phone being tapped, Iraq war 2 and France, the US-UK extradition arrangements… a strong ambassador isn’t just make these things go away, but it certainly helps.

        What other developed country treats its ambassadorships as baubles to be sold? If the US is to have patronage appointments, let them be in some innocuous place, a First Lady’s Commission for the Advancement of Farragut Square. Ambassadors do serious work, even in allied countries.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to j r says:

      @j-r this is a good and fair question. I have no direct answer for you, and I certainly can’t prove it.

      I do think it’s easier to get someone to do something detrimental to his or her community by bribing him with $1,000 than it is $10. And easier still with $100,000, and again with $1,000,000.

      But even if not, I fall back to the risk management rule of conflict-of-interest, which states that in order to prevent long-term damage to an organization it isn’t enough to prevent actual malfeasance, you need to also prevent the overt appearance of malfeasance.

      Even if politicians don’t behave any differently than they would have by accepting millions of dollars from special interests on an ongoing basis, I think the damage is still done. How many people in this country are losing faith in the very concept of liberal democracy, and is that number growing?

      That seems a pretty hefty price in and of itself.Report

    • Avatar DavidTC in reply to j r says:

      @j-r
      In my humble opinion, spending money on politics is about the daftest thing that you can do, from an investment perspective. The Kochs and Adelstein and whoever else would get a much better return on their money if they drastically cut their campaign contributions and instead focused on lobbying. The fact that they do not is pretty good evidence that most of this is about sincere ideological beliefs and/or a vanity project.

      I find myself somewhat agreeing with you. The reason have all this money in elections all the sudden is partially because people who want to do insane things in government are trying to force their people in.

      This has…barely succeeded, and caused a hell of a lot of blowback, and has, at this point, crippled the political party they’re using for that. Sure, if they keep pouring money into it, it will *keep* barely succeeding, but there is an immunity that builds up, especially since the other side has started calling out specific entities by name. (Which is one of the reasons I think it is very important to get rid of *dark* money.)

      The problem with money in politics, in normal politics not the crazy stuff, is the lobbying, where large corporations stand there day and night telling politicians certain things, and there is no counter.

      If we want to fix things, *that* is probably where we need to look first: The sheer volume of misinformation and nonsense that goes directly from corporations and industries into the ears of already-elected politicians.

      So, I always ask those who don’t like these types of rulings the same question: where is the evidence, empirical or otherwise, that more money flowing into elections is actually a corrupting factor?

      I think there’s very little evidence that the money now allowed in *this* decision corrupted anything. Maximum total donations were never very justifiable.

      However, I do think campaign money causes corruption, and in an ideal world candidate’s access to money would be, in some way, *directly* proportional to how supported they are, which is something that donation limits are *trying* to mimic, but doing it very poorly. Instead of having people donate $5-$5000, we could instead have them sign a petition, and for each new signature they get $100. Or we put a cap on each donation of $1, and have a $99 dollar matching donation from the government.

      That has obvious problems, but it would much more be in tune with the idea in this country that everyone should have an equal voice in politics.

      Of course, with these complete end-runs around the campaigns, my ideas can’t possibly work. What we need to do there is remove dark money and see what *next* needs fixing.Report

  7. Avatar Damon says:

    Politicians already sell themselves too cheaply. This ruling, might, just might, allow pols to finally get the prices they deserve for their votes!Report

  8. Avatar LWA says:

    When asked for comment, the 2016 Republican candidates looked up from kissing Sheldon Adelson’s….ring…and shrugged.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to LWA says:

      That’s one way to look at the situation: that Sheldon Adelson is using his money to buy politicians that he keeps in his pockets “like so many nickels and dimes.”

      Another way to see it is that Republican politicians are more than willing to give Adelstein lots of face time and flatter his self-perception as a king maker then take his support and not give him much more than they would give the average bundler.

      Which is the more accurate depiction?

      By the way, Sheldon Adelson is a guy who spent over $90 million dollars in 2012 backing losing candidates. Why should we be so afraid of this guy?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to j r says:

        How many of the people he was backing were “economic Terrorists” (that’s O’neil’s term, not mine).Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to j r says:

        Or as one of my grad school profs put it, is it bribery by rich folks or is it extortion by politicians.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to j r says:

        My guess is that it’s somewhere in between. Politicians need money and, while they don’t quite extort it, they’re happy to let donors think all sorts of things. For donors, a lot of these seems like a vanity project. When someone makes a lot of money, he or she is expected to start caring about the public interest, so that person starts buying art and going to charity events and political fundraisers.

        Donors probably get more from the company of other donors than they do from their relationship with politicians. The donation is just the price of admission. Lobbying is where the real influence is peddled.Report

  9. Avatar Kim says:

    comment in Mod.
    I blame Canada.Report

  10. Avatar I Love Libertarians says:

    Well, there goes the republic.

    Are you libertarians proud of yourselves for now selling us off to the highest bidder in the plutocracy?Report

    • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to Burt Likko says:

      @burt-likko

      I’m curious to see if potential transparency benefit Silver notes plays out. As I was reading the coverage today, that struck me as a potential silver lining in this decision. The growth in dark money in the Super PACs has been the most discomfiting consequence of Citizens United, so anything that might draw some of that purchasing power out into the light would be a positive thing to my mind.Report

  11. Avatar Barry says:

    On the other hand, voting is not free speech, and states are free to regulate the heck out of it.Report

  12. My views on CFR is (a) how extremely difficult it is to get money out of politics and (b) that middle-measures are spectacularly unsuccessful. There are some things where you say “Well, we can’t accomplish x, but we can accomplish .5x which will at least reduce the scope of the problem by half.”

    That doesn’t work with campaign finance reform. Restricting campaign contributions to single candidates gives rise to PACs. Preventing PACs can give rise to something else. There is so much at stake, it’s extremely difficult to imagine how you can even modestly succeed without ultimately abridging, significantly, the First Amendment. It’s not that I am actively opposed to measures that fall short of touching the First. Sometimes I do, but oftentimes I don’t really care. I oppose them when I see them doing harm – such as giving inordinate influence to news outlets, incumbents, or wealthy candidates – and I don’t really care when I see them doing virtually no good.

    None of this is because I’m not concerned about money in politics. It’s just that I don’t see a viable solution for it that doesn’t, quite extremely, infringe on first amendment rights or otherwise isn’t a whole lot further than I am willing to go.

    And that’s all I have to say on the subject.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Will Truman says:

      It’s often said that money in politics is like water flowing downhill. No matter how you try to dam it up, it’s going to find a path to flow.Report

      • Avatar Barry in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        “It’s often said that money in politics is like water flowing downhill. No matter how you try to dam it up, it’s going to find a path to flow.”

        OTOH, to extend your analogy, it’s rather important how the water flows, and humanity has spent thousands of years altering the natural flow of water.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Will Truman says:

      It’s not like there’s been ZERO thinking on the subject…self-promotion aside, it seems nuts to me how little attention is given to muscular public financing. Hopefully some friendly billionaires can turn it around.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Of course there’s also this.

        I’m rather torn on the issue. As my old prof used to say, elections are the public’s business, so the public ought to pay for them. On the other hand, it’s not easy to set up restrictions that keep the money out of the hands of whackadoodles while not creating yet one more prop for the two part system.

        It may be a better system, but it’s not a magic bullet for much of anything, I don’t think.Report

      • I am skeptical of the efficacy and suspect that such an initiative would primarily push the money away from the campaigns but since money is still seen as zero-sum without diminishing returns, the end-result would be that things would remain in-tact on the demand side and the supply side would still meet that demand. The probable result is a further skewing of campaigns away from the candidates themselves and towards independent groups. Which is kind of a mixed bag.

        I’d be interested to see it tried, though. Particularly in a big state like California or Texas. (Or New York, where Soros is trying it.)

        (Yeah. Two links gets you in moderation. Fortunately, the system lets us know when there is a comment put in moderation so it doesn’t take forever to release them.)Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Dan Miller says:

        @jm3z-aitch A system that relies heavily on the wealthy can also tend towards the extreme in some (differing) ways. The wealthy have systematically different political views than the general populace, and far more political influence than the average person.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Will Truman says:

      Two links is two too many, apparently? Comment in moderation queue–thanks!Report

  13. Avatar North says:

    Out of curiosity what about laws that require all politicians to disclose the time, amounts and identity of the donor constantly? Are the okay? Do we have those on the books already? It is anti-free speech to require all political donations to be public? Then again I suppose one could just circumvent such a rule by bundling the donations into a company or PAC.Report

    • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to North says:

      @north – I’ve advocated in the past for politicians to wear decals along the lines of NASCAR. The size of the logo would increase with the amount of contribution the pol receives from respective donors. Sunshine laws are a modest help, but IMO they don’t do enough to connect the dots.Report

  14. Avatar zic says:

    This is one of those days when I wish that instead of a fixed 435 members of the House, there were say 1 for every 10,000 to maybe 20,000 people.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to zic says:

      We’d need a bigger capital. (I know just where to put it!)Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic says:

      And repeal the 17th!

      And repeal the 18th again, more seriously this time.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

        Like, make drinking mandatory?

        Also fix the commas in the 2nd so it’s clear what the hell it means.Report

      • Avatar Barry in reply to Jaybird says:

        “And repeal the 17th!”

        I don’t mean to be harsh, but that’s a ridiculous idea. It would make state governors far more powerful (assuming that they’re nominating).

        By now, it’s a useful tool for figuring out whether somebody is credible.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Jaybird says:

        Although I think that repealing the 17th would rather change the dynamic, I’m not sure it would be for the worse. Governors on the whole tend to have more practical sense than the average Senator.Report

      • Avatar Zane in reply to Jaybird says:

        @patrick “Governors on the whole tend to have more practical sense than the average Senator.”

        I’d agree generally, but they may not have much practical sense when it comes to *selecting* a Senator. It’s only anecdotal, but there are lots of examples of foolish or selfish senatorial selection among governors (to replace one who’s retired or died, typically).Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        Patrick,
        that’s because most governors have next to no power.
        (Texas is the exception of course).Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jaybird says:

        As a point of formal authority, the Texas governorship is unusually weak.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        Will,
        I’d like to know more, if you’ve got the time.
        Texas’ legislature is even weaker than the governor, as they aren’t even in town most of the time. So, in practice, the governor gets to make more decisions.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:

        Also, it wouldn’t give power to Governor’s, it would give powers to state legislatures. Ya’ know, all the people who just aren’t smart or talented enough to make their way into Congress.

        Plus, the main reason the 17th amendment was passed, beyond the democracy reasons, was that state legislatures were getting paid off to install whomever the powerful people in each state wanted as their personal Senator. Now, I mean, there’s no way powerful people would be able to effect the decisions of state legislators, who usually only need $50,000 or $100,000 in funding for a race instead of millions, of course. I mean, there’s no way we’d end up, for example, with Art Pope as a Senator from North Carolina.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        The Texas governorship is famously weak, perhaps the weakest of the states.

        Rick Perry has been in office so long that he’s been able to become more powerful than most Texas governors by basically appointing his people to every single position in the state, but as the longest-serving governor in the state’s history, he’s an unusual case.

        The legislature in Texas is not at all weak, but it is part-time, so a great deal of the policy-setting is done by appointees and other bureaucrats within frameworks set by the legislature.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jaybird says:

        @kim The executive in Texas is split several ways from Sunday. Moreso than most states. Not only with other executives (Comptroller, AG, Land Commissioner, Agriculture Commissioner) but also in terms of commissions (for energy, education, etc) that are independently elected. Even appointment powers are limited as governors have to work with the appointees of previous governors (they can’t just clean house, at least not with as many positions). The Lt. Governor is especially powerful (with control of the state senate) and not elected on a ticket. The governor was also stripped of the power to unilaterally pardon, for example, which most governors can.

        The reasons go back to reconstruction and then later on concern over gubernatorial corruption.

        Now, if the governor is extremely popular (Bush) or has been there long enough to have made all of the appointments (Perry) then they can become powerful over time with soft power and longevity. But it’s generally considered a weak governorship.

        Here’s a short primer: http://texaspolitics.laits.utexas.edu/1_1_0.htmlReport

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Ya’ know, all the people who just aren’t smart or talented enough to make their way into Congress.

        You know, if there is a congressperson for every 10,000 citizens, the barrier to entry to becoming a congressman will get a *LOT* lower.

        As such, I suspect that State Legislatures might become a lot more appealing to people who aspire to State Legislation rather than have aspirations to Federal.Report

  15. Avatar Neil Obstat says:

    Yes, the heavily-moneyed class will shower gold upon the pols while giving the rest of us golden showers.Report

  16. Avatar This Space Intentionally Left Blank says:

    [A name-shifting commenter logged in thrice,
    And didn’t once take the OP’s advice.
    When asked to show some humanity,
    He gave insults and profanity,
    Though all he ever had to do was play nice.

    — edit by @burt-likko]
    Report

  17. Avatar Kazzy says:

    What evidence is there that limits on funding lessens corruption? I understand that is probably very hard to measure, but it seems reasonable to ask rather than just say, “Well, isn’t it obvious???”Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Kazzy says:

      I asked that question towards the beginning of the thread, but it doesn’t seem like one that people are interested in addressing.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Kazzy says:

      Well, there is the Arizona example that @jm3z-aitch cited above, which definitely had an impact in terms of allowing people access to the ballot who otherwise wouldn’t have made it in (of course, he’s right that public financing isn’t a panacea, but it clearly has an impact on the political system).Report

  18. Avatar Libby McLibtard says:

    Hi, I’m a stupid moron libtard who wants to have a different opinion here. I should just go kill myself.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Libby McLibtard says:

      Is this like an annual thing? Are you sitting around thinking, “It’s Spring, time to go over to OT and write some pointless comments about how they persecute anyone who doesn’t think like they do? Look out, libertarian fascists, it’s M.A. time!” Or did something prompt you to come back? A link you caught on a less fascist libertarian blog, maybe?

      And what motivates you to keep coming back, and to stay here, if you really feel like this place is so bad? Do you feel it is your duty to warn the unsuspecting idiots who have yet to recognize OT’s evil plan to control their thoughts and rewrite their comments, or something like that?Report

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