I read the following article by CNN columnist LZ Granderson: http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/15/opinion/granderson-campaign-finances/index.html?hpt=hp_c1
I found it to be quite interesting, so I wanted to open up a debate about it. Many people talk about "money in politics" and campaign finance as a major problem, but, I'm not sure anyone knows how to "fix" it. I'm also not sure anyone understands what the "problem" really is. With regards to Granderson's write-up, I don't think I've read an article in recent memory that had me go from full agreement to complete disagreement and everywhere in between in one piece.
He starts off by highlighting the Obama/Clooney campaign dinner:
- "Just last week, Obama -- with George Clooney -- raised $15 million in one night. This makes me wonder how in the hell our political process became so distorted that Obama needs this much money to run for re-election. I thought we were broke? And yet, at the end of March, Obama and his presumed general election opponent, Mitt Romney, had raised nearly a combined $300 million, almost enough to fund Planned Parenthood's annual budget by themselves."
I found myself thinking, "YES! Exactly." Sometimes, the sheer amount of money raised and spent seem ludicrous.
He then goes on to talk about the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizen's United Case*:
- "This is why the worst thing to happen to our process was the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows corporations (and unions) to spend unlimited funds to promote a candidate. This is akin to handing the keys of a bakery to the Cookie Monster. These big spenders are not just involved in shaping dialogue. They get involved with shaping policy, which inevitably makes the good of the people secondary to the good of the deepest pockets."
This is where my agreement with LZ started to fade. First, it seems that so many people talk about the CU case with little knowledge about it. I often hear the argument that it granted "personhood" to corporations. This is 100% untrue. Additionally, it did not favor one group over another. Anyone and everyone has the right under the law (people seem to forget that THIS is the purpose of the Supreme Court: to weigh the constitutionality of laws, NOT the economic or political effect of them) to raise, spend, solicit, campaign, produce ads, etc. It did not say, "republicans have limits, but democrats do not," and visa versa. This is why I support the Supreme Court's ruling: it evens the playing field among all candidates and parties.
If campaign finance and corporate donations are a "problem", obviously it would need to be fixed. Whenever a problem arises, however, we cannot trample the Constitution to solve it. Maybe people argue that this is what we did with the Patriot Act. Supporters of this controversial law saw it is needed in an ever-evolving time to ensure our freedom and security. It would solve the "problem" of living in fear of terrorist attacks. Opponents say that regardless of that fear or the potential damage of those attacks, we simple cannot sidestep the Constitution with the Patriot Act. To me, this is one of the key reasons I support the Supreme Court's CU ruling. The ruling, in layman's terms, says that under free speech protections, people, corporations (groups of people), unions (groups of people), etc., can spend their money and express themselves how they see fit. If this wasn't the case, then what stops the government from stifling an ad agency from making anti-government ads? What stops a the government from creating legislation stopping other forms of private individuals or groups from spending its money or expressing itself freely? We cannot fix a problem by trampling the Constitution, and CU ruling, in my opinion, was correct.
Many opponents say, "well, corporate influence in politics is harmful to our elections and our political process." I think this is misguided. The CU ruling does not favor any one group (it may seem redundant, but I cannot express this enough); it's an equal opportunity freedom protector. It's not as if the ruling says that big banks and big oil can contribute its private money while teacher's and public employee unions can't. It protects the rights of all citizens whether they are individuals or grouped together. There are additional gripes against the CU ruling, but I rarely ever see them laid out clearly. It seems there are many protests to it, but I don't really see the argument against it. Many claim this is bribery, but few seem to prove it. Bribing politicians is illegal and, of course, should be punished and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but again, I don't see how the CU ruling ties in to this. Making television ads is not illegal, so again, I'm not sure what the problem is there. I'm always looking (I would just love to ask some OWS protesters) for the case against the CU ruling. It seems may people use it as a scapegoat without having the facts behind it. But that's one of the reasons I wrote about this.
So... what's the solution? LZ Granderson gives his take:
- "Let the Supreme Court keep its ridiculous ruling, but set a limit on the amount of money candidates can raise and spend on their campaigns. Require all ads and debates to be aired on public television, and then cap the number of hours each party is allowed to use during the general election.
By putting it on public television, we stop large media conglomerates from profiting from the process. So, ideally Obama and Romney would both get $10 million and 40 hours of advertisement to state their case.
Let's take away the $200 million war chests that Obama has been able to amass in both 2008 and 2012, and force him and future candidates to find a way to persuade the country to vote for them without relying on their ability to outspend their opponent."
I completely disagree with this solution. No matter how much we dislike or disagree with something or a situation, we should not be limiting constitutionally-granted freedoms to remedy the situation. I've talked about this when referring to progressive-rate taxes. See it here: http://loudmouthelephant.blogspot.com/2012/04/why-us-shouldnt-have-progressive-tax.html
Of course, people will say, "well, corporations are not protected by the Constitution." I think this isn't a strong counter-position. If I owned a corporation (say I owned Microsoft) by myself, which is entirely possible and does exist in many cases, what stops me from increasing my personal salary from the corporation and then giving a massive donation to a campaign or using my "personal" funds to bankroll a SuperPAC? The money would still be spent. Are people upset at the money being spent, or the fact that it came from a .inc rather than me? If there are laws against corporations bankrolling campaigns, individuals will do it anyway. If a group of actors can hold donation dinners and raise $15 million (which will then go towards campaign ads, billboards, etc), why can't a group of people (a union or a corporation) do the same thing directly? The solution described by LZ Granderson, in my opinion, is silly. Think about it: $10 million and 40 hours? Who regulates that? Does the government stand on the sidelines with a time log? Where does the $10 million come from? And if he is against "big money" in politics, why did he choose $10 million? It's still BIG MONEY. Is it just redefined as "not as big" in Granderson's mind? Additionally, he wants to air these on debates and such on PUBLIC television? Does anyone else find it Orwellian to have a government sponsored T.V. network fund and air ads that promote who will be the leaders of our country? Propaganda potential? And forget the increased power he again, for some reason, wants to put into the government's hands. This solution would undoubtedly need more government regulatory agencies using new government powers. Going further, it also would set a very dangerous precedent. It would basically say, "if we disagree with your speech, and perceive that you have a lot of money, we can then use this excuse to limit your freedom to express yourself." Again, we should not make complex, tailored legislation that discriminates against certain, specialized individuals or groups simply because we perceive them as being a "problem."
I could go on, but, as the CU ruling seems to be a hot topic for many people I simply ask, "how would YOU fix this 'problem'?" What would you do differently? What laws or regulations would you put in place (if any)? Or would you leave it as it is now? Thank you for your opinions.
*For the Wikipedia article about the Citizen's United case, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._Federal_Election_Commission