How Congress Votes

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Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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93 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    So what else could have the AFL-CIO done to convince Congress people not to vote for the this part of the TPP process? Should they have done anything? Should we only get to vote for politicians and then leave them alone? The Obama admin was pressuring Democrats, why can’t their supporters do the same?

    My guess is that you are for the TPP and wanted Obama to succeed. I’ve been thinking about the elite and wonk GAP on free trade vs. the rest of us and even considering a piece on it.

    The problem is that the arguments that a lot of economists and policy wonks make are in the realms of the hypothetical and conjectural. Most people (including myself) prefer and think with the immediate and the actual.

    There was a poll that showed most Americans believe that TPP will benefit the nation but only around 43 percent felt TPP would benefit themselves personally.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/-tpp-tpa-defeated/395792/

    Here is the rub:

    “The belief that the economic system is rigged in favor of the wealthy and that ordinary people can no longer get ahead run is especially intense. Americans increasingly perceive the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer. Their view of business corporations has turned especially hostile, very nearly as hostile as their view of government.

    Trade is a pro-growth policy. But when the proceeds of growth are not widely shared, and not perceived as widely shared, it becomes difficult to sustain the consensus in favor of pro-growth measures—especially when those measures seem to impose costs on American workers. That’s the warning in today’s congressional action.”

    The problem I see with a lot of free trade advocates like Matt Y at Vox is that they are often super high-up in the business world or in wonky positions that are likely not to be off-shored or loss. No corporation is going off-shore their C-Suite or most of their Middle Management. Media companies like Vox are not going to off-shore their editors. This allows them to go for the wonky argument while totally ignoring the concerns of people, who might actually loose their jobs for TPP. As I said before, it took the Industrial Revolution about 50 years before the original cottage industries were replaced with higher paying jobs. There was a lot of suffering in those 50 years. The first wave of free trade was able to go through because the franchise was much lower. Franchise is nearly universal if not universal now.

    So why should the American public or any public go for the wonky and long-term argument over their own very real concerns about their immediate livelihoods?Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Saul Degraw: So what else could have the AFL-CIO done to convince Congress people not to vote for the this part of the TPP process? Should they have done anything? Should we only get to vote for politicians and then leave them alone? The Obama admin was pressuring Democrats, why can’t their supporters do the same?

      So you are OK with big money in politics?Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        I’m for taxpayer funded elections with severe limits on the amount of spending, when advertisements can appear, and easy access for third parties.

        However, I’m not for unilateral disengagement. Until the game is changed, you play the game, and while the Free Trade Uber Alles faction may in fact may have more money and institutional power, corporations don’t quite get to vote based on their number of stockholders yet.

        Same thing with gerrymandering.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        @oscar-gordon
        So you are OK with big money in politics?

        ‘How dare someone squirt water at the side operating a fire hose?!’

        Yes, let’s pretend that a single large big-money group opposing the singular largest corporatist huge-money law is what we need to worry about.

        I mean, we all know there’s no big money on the *side* of the TPP. Why, that idea is just crazy-pants.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC says:

          @davidtc

          Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually all for publicly funded campaigns, etc, as soon as we figure out a way to deal with the first amendment issue surrounding media companies. As long as the NYT or FoxNews can spend as much money & resources as they have on boosting a candidate or party, then I agree with Jessie above, you play the game as it is.

          I’m just poking Saul.Report

    • Saul Degraw: The Obama admin was pressuring Democrats, why can’t their supporters do the same?

      They can, and they did.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    In addition to offering rides on Air Force One, Obama also brought along some homebrew to the ballgame. Sadly, rolling out the barrel seems to have not helped:

    But while the president might have helped the Democrats’ efforts on the field — they went on to win 5-2 — the goodwill trip to the diamond swayed few when it came to trade.

    “I told the president I’m going to need more than beer to vote for TPA,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., the Democrats’ skipper. Then the Democrats drank the rest of his beer and mostly voted against him.

    But that got me interested — what’s the recipe? Turns out, two of three varieties are now a matter of public record, although one ingredient will be pretty hard to get. And experts say they’re pretty good!Report

  3. Avatar Alan Scott says:

    Gay Marriage and Open Immigration are the two policies I care most about. If I write a letter to my congressman who opposes those stances, telling him to change his mind or I’m going to support opponents who hold different views, am I being evil? Am I being unfair? Or am I just exercising my political rights?

    The AFL-CIO cares about preserving the jobs of its members. And, rightly or wrongly, they think the TPP stands in the way of that. I can’t quite see why they’re suddenly villains or corrupt for threatening to support the election of representatives who hold views they support and oppose those with views they oppose.Report

    • I’m not accusing them specifically of being corrupt or labeling anyone a villain. I’m simply observing that a vote seems to have been made based on factors that are orthogonal to those things we debate about in public. Relative to the Congresspeople involved, even Saul’s post above comes across as wonk-isn because he’s at least concerned about the impact of policy on people.Report

  4. Avatar Stillwater says:

    The threat of spending money to unseat a politician was enough. This is a game that seemingly anyone with a sufficiently large bank account to make a credible threat can play.

    Do you support the Citizens United ruling?Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Stillwater says:

      Can I say yes & no?Report

    • I haven’t read the ruling. I just know what I picked up on the street.

      More broadly speaking, I think there are a category of problems where there is no good solution, and campaign finance seems to be one of them. Either you put draconian limits on political speech or you leave politicians available to the highest bidder.

      For what it’s worth, I think the standard complaint about Citizens’ United that corporations aren’t people is a bit silly. Corporations aren’t people, but they represent groups of people. If people have the right to political speech, then I don’t see why it’s equally problematic to restrict the political speech of groups of people, including when the group is a structure you dislike.

      And as far as I know, the government’s case against Citizen’s United was that they were trying to issue a documentary critical of a political figure in the lead-up to an election. If you’re going to make that kind of political speech illegal, I’m not sure why you should bother with having free speech at all.

      But again, I don’t really know the specifics of the case.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        For what it’s worth, I think the standard complaint about Citizens’ United that corporations aren’t people is a bit silly. Corporations aren’t people, but they represent groups of people. If people have the right to political speech, then I don’t see why it’s equally problematic to restrict the political speech of groups of people, including when the group is a structure you dislike.

        Corporations represent groups of people who have their own individual right to speech. If you work for corporation X, if you’re a share holder of corporation Y, that does not mean you have the rights of speech of three people.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to zic says:

          What does that even mean? Speech isn’t like voting, where each person gets one. The First Amendment doesn’t say that each person gets a fixed ration of free speech. It says that Congress shall make no law restricting freedom of speech or of the press.

          What exactly do you want here? Do you want Congress to have the ability to restrict all political speech? To reserve the privilege of free speech to media corporations (and corporations wealthy enough to acquire subsidiary media outlets)? To reserve the privilege of free speech to those who are wealthy enough to disseminate their speech as individuals?Report

          • Avatar zic in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            Just because you work for a corporation does not mean that you want that corporation to speak for you. If the goals of the corporation are important and align with your political goals, you have the right so speak as an individual; but I hesitate to think that the corporation should have the right to speak on your behalf.

            Corporations are not people; they’re business entities. They can’t speak, only the people who work for them, own them, etc., can speak. Money from corporations as political free speech is, at best, the corporation taking on personhood, and it is not a person, it’s an entity of individuals who have their own personhood. If the corporation is speaking, has a right of a person to speak, and does so via money, then the rights of speech for individuals without money are diluted to being a right in name only.

            I am, most of all, reminded of Neuromancer; where citizenship rights from belonging to a multinational corporation seemed required for a full slate of rights. That’s a logical extreme here.Report

            • Avatar aaron david in reply to zic says:

              “Just because you work for a corporation does not mean that you want that corporation to speak for you. If the goals of the corporation are important and align with your political goals, you have the right so speak as an individual; but I hesitate to think that the corporation should have the right to speak on your behalf.

              The corporation isn’t speaking for its employees, it is speaking for its owners. Or, rather the owners are speaking through the corp. Also, no matter the corps politics, individuals still get to speak on their own. And could try to form a union to speak with greater volume!Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to aaron david says:

                @aaron-david

                How do you feel about management holding sessions on telling employees who to vote for in upcoming elections with strong suggestions that adverse things will happen if Candidate X loses?Report

              • Avatar aaron david in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                @saul-degraw
                I feel exactly the same as when my union does it. And believe me, they made a super hard push in regards to TPP, way more than the company did.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Would you say that it’d be analogous to people talking about how if (candidate) gets elected then (interest group) will be (forced back into the kitchen and made to walk around barefoot and pregnant) as part of the (Republican War On Women)?Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

                @jaybird

                Nice try but nope. I think there is a big difference between Management saying “You can expect a pay-cut and layoff if X wins” vs. War on Women stuff. Walker has actually made it harder for women to get abortions and there are huge culture war points to be gained by preventing access to birth control.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to aaron david says:

                @aaron-david
                The corporation isn’t speaking for its employees, it is speaking for its owners. Or, rather the owners are speaking through the corp.

                Uh, no. Corporations do *not* act for their owners. That is literally the opposite of how limited liability works.Report

              • Avatar aaron david in reply to DavidTC says:

                That makes zero sense.

                Praytell, how do corps do the bidding of their owners? Or are they like savage children, throwing tantrums in crosswalks? Maybe they are like Russians in the Ukraine, “ve don’t knowz vhat is going on over zehr.”

                Limited liability means if the corporation is sued, only the assets of the business are at risk, not the owners’ (shareholders) personal assets, such as their houses or cars. The corporation’s owners must comply with certain corporate formalities, keep up with paperwork requirements, and adequately fund (“capitalize”) their business to maintain this limited liability privilegeReport

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to aaron david says:

                @aaron-david
                Praytell, how do corps do the bidding of their owners?

                You’ve changed the phrasing quite a lot there.

                Here is what you actually said:
                The corporation isn’t speaking for its employees, it is speaking for its owners. Or, rather the owners are speaking through the corp.

                Corporations do what their owners tell them. But they do *not* do actions ‘for’ the owners, but for their own bottom line.

                In fact, the owners that actually operate the corporation (the board) have *duty* not to abuse the corporation as their own personal plaything. Doing that is stealing from the other owners…and ever if there are no other owners, it’s not allowed, because it’s tax fraud.

                If I own a corporation, entirely, I can do all sorts of things with it. You know what I can’t do? Have it buy a house and sell it to me for a dollar…at least, not without having that house be given to me as a salary and count as personal income that I pay taxes on.

                Likewise, I can’t order the corporation I own come out and mow my personal lawn for me. Or get company employees to pick up my dry cleaning for me.

                The corporation, even if it’s entirely *my* corporation, cannot just randomly do things that benefit me…if I want things out it, I have to take out dividends and *buy* stuff, or I can come up with some salary and define some extremely odd benefits for me…but those get taxed.

                So corporations can speak all they want…for their *own* benefit. They cannot speak to advance the goals *of the owners*, at least not if that speech has any value or costs anything. (And basically all political speech costs some sort of goodwill.)

                And, see, the thing is, the idiots pushing ‘free speech’ for corporations *know this*, which is why they have to pretend the *corporation* has political goals, instead of the owners. Because a corporation pushing the *owner’s* political goals is obvious tax fraud…and likely mismanagement, although that only matters if there are other owners that care.Report

              • Avatar aaron david in reply to DavidTC says:

                The corporation isn’t speaking for its employees, it is speaking for its owners. Or, rather the owners are speaking through the corp.

                “Corporations do what their owners tell them. But they do *not* do actions ‘for’ the owners, but for their own bottom line.”

                Po-ta-toe/Po-tah-toe

                Other than that, I have no idea what you are saying at this point, what it has to do with Limited Liability or CU.Report

              • Avatar morat20 in reply to aaron david says:

                Po-ta-toe/Po-tah-toe

                You can say that, but to be honest that’s often the difference between “legal” and “illegal”. There’s some pretty fine hair-splitting in corporate law.

                As, in fact, their should be. Corporations are, of course, legally NOT their owners for very good reasons, and it’d be really weird to create a legally separate entity without building a firm wall there. LLC’s, for instance, get the whole ‘limited liability’ thing — their owners are shielded from several nasty consequences of their own decisions. Obviously they don’t get this for free, however much they’d like to.

                They also don’t get to use the corporate structure to enrich themselves, or otherwise benefit themselves, tax free. A bit of hair splitting that might strike you as Po-ta-toe/Po-tah-toe in theory, but comes down to outright tax fraud in practice.Report

          • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            Nobody’s denying Freedom of the Press, @brandon-berg . We’re just saying that once a news organization incorporates, it no longer has the right of individuals to Free Speech. The degree of deference given to corporations like the New York Times come at the expense of individual (or proprietor-owned) sites like Ordinary Times and Hit Coffee. So really, the anti-NYT position is the Free Speech and Free Press position.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mr. Blue says:

              Presumably, of course, there would be a media exemption. That does get into uncomfortable questions about what qualifies as “media” and the government deciding which.

              It does bring up a kinda-sorta interesting question, though. If incorporating checks the rights of the individual at the door, on what basis do we consider the speech rights of the New York Times as absolute? It seems like you could maybe construct an argument that Pinch has a right on an individual level to print a newsletter, but the New York Times exists because the government allows corporations to exist, and with certain rights come certain responsibilities and so on.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Mr. Blue says:

              @mr-blue That’s an interesting idea. What other constitutional rights do we give up when incorporating? Can the government search corporate property without a warrant? Confiscate property without due process of law? Force a corporation to quarter soldiers during times of peace? Establish a state religion which all corporations must observe? Can owners of corporations be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment without trial for any charges arising from corporate activity? What about employees?

              The possibilities are endless!Report

        • Avatar Mo in reply to zic says:

          @zic Can the government impede the NYTimes Corp’s freedom of press and say that the individuals have the right instead?Report

          • Avatar zic in reply to Mo says:

            This is a nonsensical question.

            As a reporter, I had no more right to information or to print than I do as an individual citizen. None at all. I often encountered public officials who thought otherwise, that they had to answer questions to the press that they don’t to citizens. But that is not how any law is constructed, and it’s most definitely not how freedom of information laws work.

            What the government did do was, back in the day, subsidize the distribution of newspapers with bulk mail rates.Report

            • Avatar Mo in reply to zic says:

              As a reporter, I had no more right to information or to print than I do as an individual citizen.

              The question isn’t whether the NYT has more rights than an individual, but if they have fewer rights. Could/should the Feds or the state be able to legally prevent the Times, the Post or the Stranger from publishing a damaging expose?Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Mo says:

                They do not have rights as a media organization; they have rights as individuals.

                I reporter who exposes classified information or won’t reveal sources is the one who goes to jail, not the editor or publisher of the paper.

                The only rights, legally, that I know of are the rights of the individuals at the paper when it comes to free speech; the paper has those rights because, and only because, the individual reporters hold those rights. You hold those rights.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        For what it’s worth, I think the standard complaint about Citizens’ United that corporations aren’t people is a bit silly.

        The standard complaint about Citizens United is nonsensical and confusing.

        The *actual* horrific decision in that was the idea that donations are allowed, in any form and in any amount, to politicians. If ‘corporations weren’t people’, that literally just means the super-rich can buy pols, and no one else can band together and counter them. The problem is the unlimited money…saying the unlimited money is just restricted to *humans* makes things worse.

        Corporations aren’t people, but they represent groups of people.

        Corporations do not ‘represent’ their owners. The *entire premise* of a corporation is that it is *not* its owners, that it is a distinct entity that its owners are *not* responsible for. (You want someone to represent you, hire a law firm.)

        It is, actually, the exact other way around…corporations, lacking bodies, hire people that represent them.

        And corporations are entities created to do specific functions, and *only* specific functions. There are plenty of regulations of what they can and cannot do under the law.

        Nothing is stopping people from getting together in a non-corporate form and doing whatever they want, or getting together in the corporate form we *explicitly created to do politics*, a 527, aka, a ‘PAC’.

        Having for-profit corporations do politics is outside the scope of what they’re supposed to be doing, and raises all sorts of problems. Here’s the biggies:

        1) All our political spending laws are geared towards actual humans and limits per person. We’ve *deliberately* put ‘caps’ on the amount of influence people can have. So how does this work in a universe where those ‘people’ can be magically created by filing paperwork? (The Supreme court’s answer of ‘We can’t, anyone can now donate any amount they want’ is not the answer most people want.)

        And two questions for for-profits:
        2) Are *all* the owners on board with the money *they* own (Well, the corporation owns the money, but they own the corporation) going towards that political cause, or is this just somewhere the board decided to spend money, or even worse, some pet project of the CEO?

        2) Why exactly are we letting political spending count against their profits and thus against their taxes, when we don’t let *humans* deduct donations towards political spending off their taxes? In fact, assuming this is actually money the *owners* are spending, it should be, as people constantly claim, ‘double taxed’…it should be taxed as corporate profits, and then taxed as income of the owners. Instead, if the corporation spends it, it’s essentially a *business expense*.

        Forget anything else, this should be disallowed just for *tax purposes*. The corporation owners using corporate money to get their favorite person elected is essentially the same as the owners using corporate money to buy a damn house for themselves.

        And one for ‘dark money’ groups like Citizens United:
        4) Political donations are supposed to be *tracable*, because otherwise bribery is trivial. Citizens United was a 501(c)(4), a form of non-profit that does not have to disclose donations. How are we supposed to detect bribery if anyone can set up secret non-profits for that?Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC says:

          @davidtc

          Mostly in agreement here, but my previous sticking point remains – that media companies can editorialize all day long about a candidate or party. The ability to use the (oftentimes) vast reach of the media machine is to me effectively a campaign contribution, and until we can somehow sufficiently account for the value of that contribution and leverage it against the media corporation (as a tax or what not). As long as media companies get to editorialize for little to no cost about candidates or issues during election season, then all corporations must be permitted to speak.

          Also, regarding dark money, it has it’s uses:

          If Arpaio is to be defeated, the business community probably has to conclude that he’s enough of a damaging menace to warrant funding an independent campaign in that range. But the money isn’t the only hurdle.

          With Arpaio, there’s a risk of criminal investigations and bogus criminal charges if you oppose him. That’s part of what makes him a damaging menace. So, any such independent campaign would likely have to be by a dark-money group that didn’t disclose its contributors.

          Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Oscar,
            Just man up and call in the FBI already. Yeah, that takes balls (and some good surveillance equipment), but it’s espionage-light, and that’s something that businesses already got on speed dial.Report

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Asserting we need dark money to clean out Arpaio is nonsense.

            If Arpaio is actually running a *criminal* operation (And I’ve never actually seen any real evidence of lawbreaking) vs. just an insane psychotic dumbass operation, than the way to get rid of it is via the FBI. I have no idea why Federal prosecutors refused to do anything, but that’s not anything that can be solved by dark money.

            If the idea is that Arpaio is going to attempt to harass and arrest political opponents, it seems hard to figure out how dark money is going to help, for the obvious reason that no one is requiring *donors* to live in the county…and meanwhile anyone running certainly is. It seems obvious that the problem there is going to be attacks on the *candidate*, or on people publicly supporting them…not bothering some guy because he *already donated* to the campaign and can’t do anything about that fact now.

            And, frankly, this is one of those made-up things like ‘Streets police officers are afraid to walk down it’…I simply do not believe such a thing exists, because that is literally a *perfect* place to run a sting operation.

            If Arpaio is so crazy as to send police after supporters of his political opponents, openly publishing the names of those people and setting up cameras and waiting for the police seems to be what is called for.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC says:

              True, but if the feds have already declined to take action against the man, can you not see how people would lose trust that they’d be a cooperative partner in bringing him down?Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC says:

              Although…

              If I wanted to unseat a corrupt official who was using law enforcement to go after rivals and their supporters, I’d avoid dark money, since that only invites investigation. Instead I’d swamp the bastard with more targets than they can hope to address. Instead of giving them a dozen or so big contributors to target, I had them a list with 10+K of people who “donated” $X. Sure I wouldn’t be able to take the corporate tax deduction (which we both agree is bad law anyway), but it would be a small price to pay to get rid of a thorn like him.Report

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            And more…

            @oscar-gordon
            Mostly in agreement here, but my previous sticking point remains – that media companies can editorialize all day long about a candidate or party. The ability to use the (oftentimes) vast reach of the media machine is to me effectively a campaign contribution, and until we can somehow sufficiently account for the value of that contribution and leverage it against the media corporation (as a tax or what not). As long as media companies get to editorialize for little to no cost about candidates or issues during election season, then all corporations must be permitted to speak.

            I’m not actually worried about ‘media companies’. In fact, I don’t actually have a problem with the *result* of Citizens United. Attempting to air an hour-long ad to trash Hillary Clinton is a pretty absurd idea anyway…who exactly was going to watch that? (I would, however, support tighter libel laws for things presented as documentaries.) I’ve got no problem with 527s airing ads at any time.

            The problem *I* have is allowing *all* corporate forms to spend money on promoting candidates. And as some sort of constitutional right!

            We already *have* a corporate form for that. It’s a 527. It works fine. Any *other* form of corporation wants to promote candidates, they can set up one of those and ask owners/employees/union members/non-profit member/whatever to donate to it.

            As I’ve said before, just letting corporations *spend money* on that sort of thing opens up all sorts of questions about corporate spending and taxes that the courts just blatantly ignored.

            Now it is possible for a candidate, for example, to set up a business selling things, and have all profits from that business used to run ads *for him*. That not only results in *literally* no taxes for money that should have been taxed both as corporate profit *and* as personal income (Don’t get a tax deduction for political spending on yourself!), but, gee, that seems like a downright easy way to get around campaign donation law…instead of running a campaign, run a business that does the campaign, and have people ‘buy’ overpriced things instead of donating!

            If you’re a real ass, you can presumably do this as a non-profit instead and let people *donate* and take a tax deduction. The IRS won’t like it, but screw them, you’ve got the Supreme Court saying it’s unconstitutional to meddle.

            WE ALREADY HAVE A CORPORATE FORM FOR POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEES. Demanding that other corporations should be able to do the same thing is akin to demanding that non-profits be allowed to distribute profits, or that you should be able to take a tax deduction for dues to the Freemasons, or that unions should be able to sell stock.

            It renders everything into complete gibberish, and it’s *amazing* how little the court seems to care.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC says:

              @davidtc

              Again, we are pretty well aligned here. My thinking about this has come around to the point where the SC deciding that corporations are ‘people’ is wrong, since corporations are more appropriately golems, or legal machinery. They enjoy some rights, because the rule of law must be respected if we are to have a stable business environment, but which rights they are granted is entirely up to us.

              But, you are hand waving the issue of media companies, even though their ability to editorialize with regard to a candidate or issue is precisely the thing you are upset about. If the NYTs publishes an editorial blasting Jeb Bush, how is that not using corporate resources/money to promote a political viewpoint. It’s no different than if GE used corporate resources via it’s PR division to create a pro-Obama advertisement, or if it paid money to a 527 to do the same thing.

              Ideally (per your statements), what should happen is the NYT should establish a 527, and that 527 should solicit private donations, which it would then use to pay the NYT market rate for the space to publish a political editorial.

              Change the law to that & the actual, valid argument with regard to corporate speech vanishes in a puff, because the field just leveled out.Report

              • Oscar,

                Can corporations donate money to charitable causes? Can they donate to politically charged causes, like Planned Parenthood? Can they donate to a Catholic charity? If so, would they have to state this as being a further to their bottom line rather than – as they currently do – their “values.”

                Do we want corporations not to have values at all? Or do we want them not to express these values with money? Or can they have values, just not political values?

                When it comes to charitable causes, corporate sponsorship is a big deal. And the stated reason for these donations are corporate values.

                So… do we really want to say that corporations cannot have the values of their owners (possibly enacted by a board elected and/or appointed by said owners)? And how do we differentiate between values and politics?Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

                Yes, a very BIG deal. A rotten, twisted, hideous deal.
                If we could ban corporations from donating to charities, I’d do it in an instant, and damn the consequences. They wouldn’t be nearly as bad as you think.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Will Truman says:

                Playing with this…

                Does your car have values? Does your house?

                No, at best your car can represent your values in some fashion or another, such as a Prius representing your value toward fuel efficiency.

                If the owners/management of a corporation wishes to express their values through the corporation, they can do so through how they operate their company. Or they can donate their own money to a charitable cause and make sure the press release ties their name & the corporation together.

                Corporations are things, machines, constructs.

                Now sponsorship is, to me, something different, because that is, at it’s root, advertising & branding, key functions of a corporation. Charitable organizations are usually quite happy to show off corporate sponsorship, which supports the advertising & branding. I suppose if politicians were to drive around in vehicles & wear jackets that made them look like NASCAR drivers, we could have a fun discussion.Report

              • A car may not have its own values, but it takes on mine the second I slap a bumper sticker to it. If the car is jointly owned between my wife and I, then it expresses our collective values.

                Corporations are hardly unique in this regard. PACs are nothing more than an expression of the values (or interests) or the stakeholders.

                It seems to me a lot of the discussion about for-profits is that because they’re for-profit, that must be their sole purpose. And that even “good works” done under its banner must be self-serving. I don’t think that’s accurate, and I don’t think that’s what we actually want.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Will Truman says:

                Well, to keep this moving, there is such a thing as a Public Benefit Corporation (not the government chartered kind). I suppose corporations that want to do good works with corporate money could reorganize under that banner.

                Given how much money corporate management has, I’m not sure why it is so important why the money for good works comes from the corporate accounts?Report

              • Most public benefit corporation arrangements (in the US) tend more towards looking like either quasi-government agencies (port authorities, transit authorities, etc) or non-profits. They get favorable tax treatment, but they’re limited in what they can do. Like non-profits. And, I suspect, they’re actually more limited in what they can say than for-profits presently are.

                It’s not going to be an option for Hobby Lobby, or Progressive Insurance. And it’s putting corporations in a box I don’t think we genuinely want to put them in, buying into a mythos (that companies exist solely to make a profit) that is already too commonly believed.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Will Truman says:

                Perhaps, but I think it is where we need to go if we want to remove organizational money from politics. I don’t see a clean way (one that can’t be trivially gamed) to remove organizational money from politics absent removing the ability of organization to donate to causes.

                I’m happy to be proven wrong (as in given a path that allows corporations to donate to good works that can not be trivially gamed as a way to donate to political causes or to support regulatory capture/rent seeking).Report

              • Oscar, even what you’re talking about, if it occurred, would not achieve the aim of removing organizational money from politics. The only thing that would change is from where in the process the money is collected for presentation. Instead of Boeing giving lots of money to its PAC, Boeing will bundle a bunch of money from its executives and employees and present it in order to achieve similar influence. Might make a dent, but even if so a comparatively small one.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Will Truman says:

                Yes, but it isn’t coming from the corporation because a handful of guys decided to raid the corporate accounts in order to further their personal preferences, instead it comes from personal accounts.

                This is, apparently, important to people (although to me it is a distinction without much difference).Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman says:

                Instead of Boeing giving lots of money to its PAC, Boeing will bundle a bunch of money from its executives and employees and present it in order to achieve similar influence.

                Money which a) is profits and income turned over to individuals, which individuals can obviously do anything they want with, b) and is taxed, and c) is entirely voluntary on the part of the person donating, and d) subject to actual disclosure laws.(1)

                People taking their paycheck and donating to PACs is not the problem. People abusing the corporate structure is the problem, along with the courts failing to notice we have different forms of corporations for different things.

                1) While Boeing *itself* running some sort of political ad would have to be disclosed in that everyone would know the law, the complete destruction of this area of law by Citizens United would allow Boeing instead to donate to (or setup and then donate to) a 501(c)(4) which could then run the ads and not disclose Boeing had anything to do with anything.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to DavidTC says:

                The funny thing is, that having looked further into it, what I describe is pretty much how it works at least for some companies. AT&T gives money to its executives and employees, who turn around and give it to the AT&T PAC, who then turn around and give it to candidates and parties.

                That’s how it worked in 2014, how it worked before Citizens United, and how it worked before McCain-Feingold.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman says:

                The funny thing is, that having looked further into it, what I describe is pretty much how it works at least for some companies. AT&T gives money to its executives and employees, who turn around and give it to the AT&T PAC, who then turn around and give it to candidates and parties.

                That;s not the ‘funny thing’, that’s *how it is supposed to work*. Corporations pay individuals and distribute profits to the owners, and those individuals are free to do with that money how they wish.

                I am a little baffled as to what you see wrong with this, or how you think people even *get* money. Why are we talking about this?

                That’s how it worked in 2014, how it worked before Citizens United, and how it worked before McCain-Feingold.

                The problem is, after Citizens United, now *corporations* can distribute the money themselves. At least WRT distributing money to PACs and non-profits and spending it themselves….they still can’t donate to candidates *or* parties…although they can possibly donate to a non-profit that donates to a party.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to DavidTC says:

                I am a little baffled as to what you see wrong with this, or how you think people even *get* money. Why are we talking about this?

                I’m not the one expressing agitation at corporate influence here. My view is that the difference between this and what you’re complaining about are not actually effectively very different. The thing you want to make corporations do? They’re already (and still) doing it.

                The problem is, after Citizens United, now *corporations* can distribute the money themselves.

                Except that, in the case of AT&T, they’re still doing what they’ve always done. If you look at 2008 activity and 2014 activity, it’s pretty indistinguishable. (I didn’t cherry-pick AT&T, but looked at a list of the biggest player and it was the most recognizable one.)Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman says:

                @will-truman
                Can corporations donate money to charitable causes?

                Yes, but until Citizens Unitied, charities couldn’t do political stuff. Well, not supporting candidates, and they weren’t *mostly* supposed to do other political things.

                Can they donate to politically charged causes, like Planned Parenthood?

                Planned Parenthood does not do anything political. It provides healthcare for low-income women.

                Other people may see that as political, but it’s no more political than doing business with Arizona.

                Can they donate to a Catholic charity?

                Yes.

                If so, would they have to state this as being a further to their bottom line rather than – as they currently do – their “values.”

                No, because charitable donations count as getting ‘goodwill’, and, more importantly, *do not incur any benefit back to the owners of the corporation*.

                *That* is the difference. The owner getting someone elected he wants elected is a benefit for *him*, not the corporation. Donating to some charity is a benefit for some random third party.

                It’s the same way the owner of a hotel can say ‘Give that homeless man a room for the night’ and that’s entirely reasonable under tax law. What he *can’t* say is ‘I get to live in the hotel for free’ without paying taxes on that.

                Owners cannot just take things for their personal benefit from corporations, even if they, seemingly paradoxically, can get the corporation to just *give away* things. Because the corporation giving away stuff to third parties is charity that generates goodwill and is legitimately a corporate expense, whereas him just *taking* things is corporate profit on the business end and personal income on his end and needs to be taxed.

                EDIT: This is not to imply that owners *can’t* do that…just that the correct way to do that is *take some profits* and pay taxes and either do the thing themselves, or set up or contribute to a PAC to do it. Doing it with corporate resources is completely wrong and actually *is* illegal so I have no idea how the courts seem to think that’s fine now…Citizens United didn’t magically change tax law.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to DavidTC says:

                On what basis do we say that it benefits the owners, instead of the company? Who but the owner of the company (and/or its appointed or elected representatives) is most likely to know whether it benefits the company? And what if it’s donating to politicians and running ads to pass Right To Work laws that do directly benefit the company? Half or more of the concern about money in politics involves corporations making donations for the corporation’s own benefit (ditto unions). The other half seems to be a fear of corporations making donations that are not to the corporation’s benefit.

                And I’m not sure where you’re getting the notion that using a company’s treasury was generally or completely illegal. I’m pretty sure it was legal prior to McCain-Feingold, and McCain-Feingold itself said it was fine most of the time, except 30/60 days before an election.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman says:

                @will-truman
                On what basis do we say that it benefits the owners, instead of the company?

                Because corporations do not actually have any political goals. At all.

                Or, to put it another way, for-profit and non-profit corporations are not actually supposed to be allowed inside the political process at all.

                And I’m not sure where you’re getting the notion that using a company’s treasury was generally or completely illegal. I’m pretty sure it was legal prior to McCain-Feingold, and McCain-Feingold itself said it was fine most of the time, except 30/60 days before an election.

                McCain-Feingold doesn’t do what you think. McCain-Feingold merely means that, within 30/60 days of an election, merely *mentioning* a candidate counts as urging people to vote for them.

                Corporations and unions cannot contribute to a 527, until after McCain-Feingold, which opened up a soft money loophole for certain 527s, and until Citizens United removed all that.

                Corporations could, *theoretically*, run ads themselves promoting specific issues and candidates before Citizens United…under *election* law. However, my point is that such a thing should be considered illegal under *general corporate law*, if we had regulatory bodies that actually paid attention.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                @oscar-gordon
                But, you are hand waving the issue of media companies, even though their ability to editorialize with regard to a candidate or issue is precisely the thing you are upset about. If the NYTs publishes an editorial blasting Jeb Bush, how is that not using corporate resources/money to promote a political viewpoint. It’s no different than if GE used corporate resources via it’s PR division to create a pro-Obama advertisement, or if it paid money to a 527 to do the same thing.

                I am not entirely sure this problem needs solving, because I don’t actually think we *need* newspapers to *have* paid opinion columns.

                Ideally (per your statements), what should happen is the NYT should establish a 527, and that 527 should solicit private donations, which it would then use to pay the NYT market rate for the space to publish a political editorial.

                This is really trying to solve the problem of ‘People have no way to get their opinions to a mass of people that want to read them’…which is a problem the internet *already solved*. If people want to distribute their political opinions to people, they have a completely obvious platform to do that called the internet.

                Or, alternately, newspapers could just solicit reader letters for free and publish them in some sort of mostly-fair manner. Like newspapers already do. If need be, we can carve out some sort of exception of ‘presenting a forum for various sides to debate’ to make sure we don’t consider that political spending.

                Which is, in a way, the premise of the Fairness Doctrine. See, we used to understand that corporations didn’t *have* political opinions, and were merely presenting the opinions of other people, so, if they *were* going to present a political opinion, we made them give multiple viewpoints.

                Since then, we have devolved into the dumbass idea that corporations *themselves* can have opinions, so now it’s like ‘How dare you force the corporation to say something it doesn’t want to!’. (Which is pure gibberish, as corporations are, in fact, slaves, and are ‘forced’ to do everything they do, as they have no free will.)

                Now, if people want to get *paid* for their political opinions, then they should go work for a PAC or a campaign….or try to get paid for their opinion on the internet, which is, uh, not likely, but good luck with that. But people have no constitutional right to get *paid* for their speech.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to DavidTC says:

                AT&T as an organization doesn’t have any political goal in relation to, say, telecom regulation?

                ‘Investment firms don’t have a goal of operating as a giant pyramid scheme and defrauding all the investors to the benefit of the owner?’

                ‘Defense lawyers don’t have the goal of having their murderous client locked up in prison?’

                No. *Legally*, they cannot have those goals.

                AT&T as a for-profit corporation does not get to have political goals. If the people in control of it wish to operate a corporation with political goals, that is what a PAC is for. They need to create one of those, and nothing is stopping the same people from running it, and nothing is stopping AT&T’s PAC from having political goals that would advance AT&T’s revenue.

                Corporations are not some sort of alter-ego of the owner. There are goals they are not allowed to have, in fact, a better way to explain it would that corporations have specific, fixed goals which vary between types of corporations, and those goals don’t really change.

                Well, evidently, the way around any concerns is to turn it over to the employees to turn it back over to the company’s PAC.

                Corporations do not ‘turn money over’ to employees for employees to put in the PAC. That would be entirely illegal.

                Corporations *pay people a salary*. (And owners a dividend.) The corporation cannot force people to put that salary/dividend into the PAC, nor can the corporation pay people more who do put part of their salary/dividend into the PAC.

                Also, before you ask, the corporation cannot put money into the PAC itself….well, it *couldn’t*. Who the hell knows under Citzens United?Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I just know what I picked up on the street.

        So you know that it gives corporations the right to donate unlimited amounts of money to politicians because of corporate personhood?Report

        • Yes, pretty much just that.

          And that it was regarding a documentary critical of Hillary Clinton in the run up to an election, which the government argued was a no-no.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Vikram Bath says:

            Vikram,

            You oughta check out the Wiki page for CU. It’ll be an education for you!

            There’s a bunch of interesting background about the how-what-&-why of CU’s actions and legal challenges which is interesting in its own right, but the main complaint was based on the FEC prohibiting advertisements (which the lower court viewed as merely attack ads) of a politically focused movie produced by the CU political action committee (PAC!) 30 days in advance of an election. What SCOTUS ruled, however, went way beyond the merits to prohibit effectively any campaign finance restrictions, including prohibiting the naming of PAC donors. (Campaign finance privacy is a constitutional right apparently.)

            Another interesting thing is that CU (a political action committee) brought a case before the SC which effectively eliminated any restrictions contributions to PACs; and currently (as evidence by Jeb!) the incestuous relationship between PACs and candidates not only continues to manifest in anti-democratic ways, but the power of money in politics has not only been allowed to assert itself, it’s dominance was logically entailed by the SC’s decision in that case. Hey, in America, money = speech!!!

            Seems like it’s something you may want to look at more. If you think the money-politics-democracy thing is interesting, anyway.Report

  5. Avatar Damon says:

    This is modern politics.

    Deal with it. “Democracy” biatches.Report

  6. Avatar trizzlor says:

    A fancy dinner can be a way to bribe/coerce someone into a vote, or it can be a way to convince them that the vote is important and good. I think the way I’d react to these stories depends a lot on what perception I have of fancy dinners are used in that country. Replace Obama with Berlusconi and I’d think “here we go again, more corrupt glad-handing” (well, actually I’d think it was pretty conservative since no strippers were involved). This has always the dichotomy of lobbying; a lobbyist is in the perfect position to coerce you as well as to inform you.

    On a related note, there was a recent study ( actually put together by the guys who broke the LaCour scandal: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ajps.12180/abstract ) which found that meeting requests with a Congressman were much more likely to be acknowledged if they purportedly came from a campaign contributor rather than from just a concerned citizen. The direct conclusion is clear: give money to a campaign and you get access to the politician. But the authors acknowledge an alternative explanation: that Congressmen are more inclined to speak with donors – of any sort – because those people have demonstrated the seriousness of their involvement, and are therefore objectively more likely to yield an informative meeting. The former would be a kickback, the latter is effective use of time. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think a Democracy lives or dies because Congressmen get lunches and ballgames, it lives or dies based on what actually happens at those lunches and ballgames.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        @saul-degraw

        The problem of rich jerks is that most members of congress fall into the 1%, so while donors are wealthy & may be jerks, our legislators are sympathetic to the jerkiness.

        Which kinda loops back to the idea of citizen representatives. They may lack the skill & sophistication of the career politicians, but they would not be necessarily as inclined toward jerkitude.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        I looked at the article, and the allegedly most damning evidence, (i.e. the statistical evidence of their political preferences) just told me that rich people are less likely to have bad political beliefs. An alternative explanation is that rich people are on average more educated and better informed about the issues than poor people and it is a good thing that they have outsized political influence: or else public policy would be worse than it currently is.Report

        • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Murali says:

          If we want a system where the more educated and better informed have outsized political influence, we should work for that directly instead of inefficiently allowing wealth to become a proxy. On the other hand, if we want a democracy, then we should be bothered by the idea that wealthy individuals are able to curry outsized political influence.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to trizzlor says:

            Ok, how do we get from democracy to epistocracy, without ending up in fascist land? Give an extra vote to those with a degree? It would never sell in a democracy. But the status quo is better than what would happen if everyone had equal political influence. The status quo is thus the lesser of the two evils.

            I also wonder if anyone has done a survey about how attitudes about gay marriage etc correlate with wealth. I suspect that the rich are more likely to be accepting of gay marriage than the poor. But I may just be prejudiced.

            If I am right, I wonder if egalitarian liberals would take the deal: Both TPP and SSM vs neitherReport

            • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Murali says:

              Support for SSM definitely tracks with income (pg.12 http://www.people-press.org/files/legacy-pdf/3-20-13%20Gay%20Marriage%20Release.pdf) so it’s possible that issue would be delayed in a true democracy (though the trend is obviously for). But still I don’t quite understand your position. You say that an epistocracy would be bad. But isn’t the current situation where wealth is used as a very noisy proxy for knowledge even worse? People who are intelligent but not wealthy get left out, while people who are wealthy but unintelligent get preference. At the same time, unless the general public is completely oblivious, they sense that they’re not living in a true democracy and their leaders are merely pretending. This seems like a low point, not a compromise.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Murali says:

          @murali

          I find it rather curious that you consider rich people to be more educated because it seems curiously coincidental that rich people tend to benefit much much more from policies like TPP. Rich people are probably not going to see their jobs shipped overseas because of TPP. Don’t you think this job security makes it easier to support free trade agreements?

          Economics says that people will do things in their rational self-interest. I think it is perfectly rational for labor to oppose TPP if they feel their jobs will be sent abroad and probably not replaced by anything that is just as well-paying for generations. Because “wonk reason” is not going to assuage them.

          The NY Times Article mentions that rich people in Southern California were angry about their lawns. Their lawns. We are in a significant drought and rich Californians are saying this: “It angers me because people aren’t looking at the overall picture,” Butler said. “What are we supposed to do, just have dirt around our house on four acres?”

          That sounds jerky and self-centered to me. Not educated and well-informed.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            @saul-degraw

            Except I’m pretty sure that free trade does not, on net, ship American jobs overseas, nor does more open borders. If we are to take a survey of what economists agree on regardless of their ideological preferences, I’m sure you’ll find that their economic policy preferences tend to be closer to rich people’s preferences. In fact, education is a far better predictor of economic policy preferences than wealth. Caplan makes the point rather succinctly. Voters with more education are better informed generally and tend to significantly agree with economists more. Even after controlling for income, the effect of education on beliefs about economic policies is substantive.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            @saul-degraw

            how many rich people were surveyed? how many rich people thought that their lawns were more important? Its easy to pull anecdotes about some rich jerks. Sorry to be a douche about it, but the singular of data is not anecdote. That’s why I said that the only evidence worth taking seriously did not demonstrate jerkishness.Report

        • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Murali says:

          I think this is yet another problem to which there is no good solution. If we try to give people who we think are smart and well-meaning more political power, then we are kind of going against what democracy is supposed to be. If we try to give everyone an equal voice, we end up with policies that sound good but aren’t necessarily actually good.

          I don’t know how to fix that problem. One attempt that makes sense and we have attempted is public education. This works somewhat, but it doesn’t make the problem go away.Report

          • Vikram Bath: If we try to give people who we think are smart and well-meaning more political power, then we are kind of going against what democracy is supposed to be.

            Depends on who is doing the “supposing.” Recognition of the possible (and possibly likely) non-equivalence of, on the one hand, “smart and well-meaning,” and, on the other “democratic” is basic to the theory of American self-governance, however much it may serve our occasional purposes, and may even be justifiable in certain contexts, to refer to the American form of government as “democracy.”Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to trizzlor says:

      trizzlor: a lobbyist is in the perfect position to coerce you as well as to inform you.

      Yes to this and your whole comment. I don’t think we have a good way to distinguish between these two things.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to trizzlor says:

      Charles Keating, when asked if he expected anything from his political contributions: “Why do you think I made them?”

      Couldn’t have said it better myself.Report

  7. Avatar zic says:

    Somehow this seems part and parcel of outrage culture. It’s like our national demeanor, now.

    Before Gingrich and his Contract with America, this sort of elbow rubbing, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours was how business got done. We called it corruption and pork and thought it was a budget-busting path to out of control spending.

    What we forgot is that it was also a way for us to help find common ground and to back away, just a bit, from our ideologies and to accomplish things.

    Was it better? I don’t know. But taking away to petty expenditures for local projects and the rides on air force one and just putting congressional noses to the grindstone has ground the art of compromise away to a brittle edge.

    I don’t know enough about TFF to judge it as a policy; I do object to a massive trade treaty being negotiated in secret. And I also know that without secrecy, negotiating anything that complex is probably impossible.

    But rides on Air Force One not wooing the party faithful is only a sign of how far we’ve walked away from the trading of small goodies to grease the wheels of compromise. It’s a habit I regret losing, distasteful as it seemed.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to zic says:

      “And I also know that without secrecy, negotiating anything that complex is probably impossible.”
      no, they’ll just do it piecemeal and a little slower. Money’s not going to stop until this deal gets done, and so it’s happening, come hell or high water.

      (middle/long term, the power of the people against it will dwindle, anyhow. so once it’s done, it’s pretty permanent… just like NAFTA).Report

    • Avatar DavidTC in reply to zic says:

      I do object to a massive trade treaty being negotiated in secret. And I also know that without secrecy, negotiating anything that complex is probably impossible.

      See, the thing is, there’s actually a *middle ground*.

      Haggling over exact details is one thing. I understand that publishing some constantly changing things is not going to help anything.

      But there’s stuff in the TPP that the general public would not like *in general*. Like the idea of companies being able to sue over, in some other jurisdiction, over national laws that ‘harm them’, especially since we’ve already seen tobacco companies doing exactly that.

      When treaties are negotiated, we, as the American people, don’t need to see a street-by-street drawing of the boundaries, or the exact exchange rate, or whatever. We know that. Nothing will get done if those things have to be discussed in the open.

      What we do need to see is what the thing is supposed to be accomplishing and roughly how it’s going to do that. For example, if it’s going to outsource *even more* of our trade regulations.Report

  8. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Read the TPP.

    Pretty funny.Report