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In order to keep up with the nature of free, spirited debate, I wanted to place the chat feature at the top of the homepage. This ensures people can come here and share their views on anything they wish and not have it be related to any specific discussion. Here, people can share ideas, links, and views "unmoderated" and an their own pace. To me, this makes The Elephant in the Room blog truly a place for debate.

Friday, May 18, 2012

An Interesting Take on Campaign Finance

I read the following article by CNN columnist LZ Granderson:

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:

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:


  1. So after reading what you posted i went lookin around the internet.

    I found this write up on the topic

    Found it interesting:

    1. the article i posted really makes me think more about the topic and how i feel about it.

      With that said mabee there is not a good solution for limiting money in politics.

      But even if we can't limit money in politics i think we should at least know who is giving that money so we can re-act accordingly.

      Right now you could be shopping with or supporting a company that supports a party or policy you do not agree with.

      In theory you could be funding political action on an issue like...... abortion, you could be helping to support a party or group promoting abortion with your money and not even know it.

      So mabee the only thing we can really do is just make a situation were we know who donated what and if someone donates or is apart of a form of "free speach" you dont agree with you can stop supporting them....

      my 2 cents

  2. Loyal Watcher - Good afternoon, and Happy Friday to you!

    I actually read the whole article you posted; thank you for providing that. I am not sure exactly it's point. It's nothing against you or the article, but it, to me, didn't exactly help me clear the air on opinions for or against it.

    For me, the main thing I do understand is that yes, people should not be permitted to use the government to their advantage. I actually agree with this. My problem: I don't see how limiting the spending habits of a US citizen (or a group of citizens) prevents this. If it is a problem, how can it be fair, legal, or ethical to limit how someone(s) spends their time and money (the article mentions that "factions" should not be able to use the government, but, if you think about it, using different tax rates against different people is a way the government does this to people - either way, it's not fair)? I don't think the First Amendment had an asterisk next to it that said free speech shall be protected *unless you are part of an organization and have so much wealth that you can choose to spend it how you wish, especially if that "how you wish" part is to make books or banners or videos telling people how much you don't like a candidate running for a political position in the government. The Supreme Court just protected (rightfully, in my opinion) the despicable (again, my opinion) speech of the Westboro Baptist church (a group with money, albeit, not a lot, that can spread it's chants, posters, agenda, signs, etc. as it sees fit). Should it have limited their rights to spend money on campaigns, too?

    Additionally, you said the article makes you think more about the topic and how you feel about it. Totally great! That's what political expression (this blog is an example)... I'm just wondering (I have an idea) how YOU, Loyal Watcher does feel about it. Expression is always good, and it's your right.

    I do agree with you somewhat - trying to maintain the fact that the First Amendment has very strong political convictions and protections, there is no good solution for "money in politics" IF it is a "problem" - yet.

    As far as supporting something you disagree with - my position is that just as it's the responsibility to know what they're signing when they sign a contract, it's the donor's responsibility to know what they're donating to. If a campaign or SuperPAC, in my opinion, wasn't transparent, I can CHOOSE not to donate to them if I don't want to. I'm a free choice/free market/freedom-loving person. No one puts a gun to my head and tells me who I must give my money to. If I am uncomfortable, I would walk away :-)

    With all that, if money in politics is, in your opinion, a problem, how would you correct it? Thank you!

    1. Lets start with one thing, all money donated to influence politics in any way has to be reported. (lets say anything over $1,000)

      This way we as citizens have to ability to ensure we are not indirectly supporting candidates or policies we do not agree with by using the products or services we get from a company.

      This should then be posted and listed on a government website (state and federal donations)

      There needs to be a better way that we as citizens can monitor and view "what" is being invested by "who" to try and influence "what".

      This government is run by the people and the people need to have tools so we can better monitor how our government is being run so we can hold the appropriate parties and politicians accountable.

    2. LME
      Im confused on this part:

      "As far as supporting something you disagree with - my position is that just as it's the responsibility to know what they're signing when they sign a contract, it's the donor's responsibility to know what they're donating to."

      was that in reply to this

      "In theory you could be funding political action on an issue like...... abortion, you could be helping to support a party or group promoting abortion with your money and not even know it. "

      I was talking about the fact if i go buy a hamburger at McDonald's the money I paid for that hamburger is part of that companies profits. If that company decides they want to donate a large amount of money to a superpac. They do not have to disclose that they made the donation. (thats my understanding)

      In that situation I could be indirectly supporting a candidate against my will and I have no means to be able to know if the company's i support with my money are donating to super pacs.

      To me that is huge issue

  3. This is one of those topics I feel rather passionate about, but there is also no easy answer to. I'd have to put a lot of thought (preferably throwing ideas back and forth with others) into it before I felt comfortable on siding with a potential solution.
    But, one thing for certain is that our current system is broken.
    - So what are Super PACs?

    Before going further, here’s a quick run-down of what this situation involves, for those not completely familiar with what the Citizen’s United decision and Super PACs effectively did to political/campaign spending.

    So, say you want to provide monetary support to a candidate/cause/political party as they run for office. There are a few different options available on what you can do.

    First, is donating directly to the president’s or political party’s campaign.
    - This is the most effective, helpful way to assist a candidate. The money can be used directly for anything related to the campaign’s expenses; hiring staff, travel, meals, ads, renting out halls, or whatever else they may need.
    - This option is also extremely regulated. There are absolute monetary limits on how much you can donate; violating this is a felony. All sources of campaign donations have to be disclosed. Corporations and unions cannot donate through this method.
    - In this, the government directly acknowledges that money can unfairly influence an election.

    Second, is donating to a PAC (Political Action Committee) that supports the president/party/cause of your desire.
    - There are a few different types of PACs, with varying levels of restrictions. For the most part, they are considered as (and must be) operating separately from the campaigns they support. They cannot share staffers, and have limits on what they can spend money on (typically, limited to just running ads).
    - Corporations/unions/entities can donate to them, though again often with limits/regulations and must be disclosed.
    - Some PACs can also donate directly to campaigns, though they face contribution limits here too.

    Now, Super PACs are the type of PAC that came out of the CU decision, which allow for limitless anonymous contributions under the requirement of not working directly with any campaign whatsoever.

    More on all of that here:

    1. *********************
      - What’s the problem with that?
      Often, the counter-argument to taking measures to correct this involves citing possible abuse of the precedent it will set. As you mention LME, we have to be incredibly careful on where we impose limitations/regulations on this subject so not to unfairly punish or jeopardize freedoms and rights of the people. And that’s a fair argument to make.

      I’d like to counter that point though, with the potential abuse in our current precedent.

      The CU decision effectively allowed for limitless, anonymous contributions from any source. Under this precedent, what would stop this scenario?:
      We know Obama is working closely on relations with Russia/China, and Romney is taking a more aggressive stance towards them. What of Russia/China came together, decided that as nations it would be in their best interest to have Obama as president as opposed to Romney, and opted to invest a measly (compared to their reserves) $1billion in an Obama Super PAC?

      As American citizens, we would never know this transpired. We would simply see news that the Obama Super PAC received an anonymous $1b donation, and we’d know nothing else and just be left to speculate.

      Continue on to assume that with that amount of spending available, Obama blew away Romney in re-election by out-pacing his spending 10 to 1.

      Don’t you feel it’s your right to know how your president is elected? Where there money is coming from? Don’t you see how this allows for the highest levels of corruption in electing our president? Do you feel it’s fair and within the intentions of our Constitution and electoral process, to allow outside nations to have such a strong potential influence over our presidency?

      This example can be applied for many other situations as well. I mean, really, can anyone here say that if this really happened (which by history, is no means a stretch in potential), that they'd just shrug and say 'oh yeah, that's perfectly OK!'?

      The government already seems to 100% agree that money can hold a dangerous influence in politics, and that’s why we already have regulated personal contribution limits and increasingly comprehensive insider trading rules. And everything must be disclosed.

      Why is this any less dangerous? Or any more freedom-limiting?

    2. RKen - Thanks for replying.

      I can see where you're coming from (especially using the China-Russia example, though I would argue the Constitution protects citizens' rights, not foreign nationals' rights, but either way, a different example/similar situation would be used), but again, as abhorrent as that sounds, I have a tough time getting around the concept of "this is a problem, so let's make a potentially bias, freedom-limiting, Constitution ignoring solution." To me, that's what the Constitution was designed to protect against. If not, if we were generally concerned with (say we had intelligence that with 100% certainty a bomb was going to go off in the middle of New York City, and it as going to be a suicide-vest bomb, we just didn't know who would do it) a very "dangerous" situation, should we just limit the rights of the citizens to prevent the negative outcome of this situation? In my example, yes, many, many people would die. With terrorism, this can happen now or down the road. Regardless, we can't simply go around NYC searching people. Sure, it would potentially "fix" the situation, and it would prevent this absolutely devastating thing, but we have protections. It's very difficult for me to see how campaign finance is any different. If it is seen as a problem (again, I don't as long as it's equal opportunity and available for all), then I don't think the fix is to limit freedoms.

    3. I understand your concern in stepping on freedoms. But, we are already ‘limiting freedoms’ in this area. Laws/regulations already exist (and have for a long time) that govern contribution amounts and disclosure requirements.

      To me, this situation ends up being like... Say highway X has a speed limit of 65. Anyone who breaks it, of course, will have to pay the fine as per usual. But say there’s a loophole where those driving commuter buses have no speed limit at all at certain times of the day. Passing a law that makes it so commuter buses can’t abuse this, and have to follow the same precedent as was set by the original speed limit, sounds logical and fair, does it not? A case can be made for it ‘limiting freedoms’ but if that wasn’t important for the original speed limit, why is it any less/more important for this?

      Overly simple metaphor in my haste, but I’m sure you understand the point.

      Additionally, regardless of all that, I can’t say I agree with the ‘right to anonymously contribute’ in politics being something that must be preserved/can lead to any kind of bad slippery slope.

  4. Ahh... for the 'good old days.' I remember my grandparents hunched in the living room - their eyes transfixed on the idiot box - watching the very first televised presidential debate between J.F.K. and Nixon? - I was not yet 7 at the time, and not much interested in politics : )

    We were lucky... back then, not everyone had a t.v. We got our news from radio, (1) newspaper - and a one hour Nightly News show on one of TWO networks. Our third channel was local, and played stuff like Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo. ALL stations signed off at midnight with the Star Spangled Banner.

    Back then, you might see a political spot on t.v. - if your family owned one - maybe once a week, if that. And I'll have to do some research, but I don't believe the national networks had YET taken their current turn to the far left... to my young eyes - they appeared to be truthful and honest.

    Over the past couple of decades, communications have become instantaneous. And, I believe that's where this all crept out of control. Politicians feel the need to keep or get ahead of their opponent(s)... our country is so large and spread out, it's physically impossible for them to get their message out - have their faces seen, without the media... and the fact we cannot deny is this: Media exposure requires a lot of money.

    The unions, with access to massive funding, have ALWAYS been in bed with the Democrat Party. Union LEADERS donate member's money to the candidate that will do the most for the union - not necessarily who's best for the country.. and the membership has NO say on where their dues money is spent.

    The CU law treats Corporations and unions equally, as it should. But as I said before on this matter, I believe it DOES favor the Republicans, in that the unions, by hook or crook - have ALWAYS managed to move member's money in the direction of the Dems and continue to do so.

    Most of the flack against CU comes from the left - OWS - and UNIONS. If it benefits BOTH sides, equally - why would the unions want it gone?

    As far as anonymous donations. Why is it anyone's business WHO I - or anyone else - donates to?

    President Obama had NO problem calling out PRIVATE businessmen, with vague implications of wrong doing, simply because they donated to the 'wrong' candidate. Never mind that there was NO evidence whatsoever of it being true!

    Would he have done that had they donated to HIM or HIS P.A.C. The answer, I believe, is a resounding NO!

    Those businessmen were THEN forced to spend more money doing damage control to save their livelihoods - and many STILL lost some customers... I don't care WHO your are, that is just plain WRONG!

    So, I'm now leaning toward making ALL donations anonymous. We can work out some sort of system to make sure the donations are coming from citizens, if need be.

    I've always thought there was far too much money involved in our electoral process. As with all things human, the more money, the greater the risk of corruption.

    I also think the primary process is unfair.

    How to fix it? Not sure... but turning it over to the government is definitely NOT the way to go.

    1. Unions cannot donate to political campaigns, or even parties.

      And it has been that way long before the CU law.

      The CU decision doesn't benefit the right or the left anymore than the other, aside from making the group with the access to the most money the most influential.

  5. RKen... you are 100% wrong on that one. Unions have ALWAYS donated to candidates - with NO input from membership - from whence the money came.

    As a (former) long time, currently 'withdrawn', union member, I know this for a fact.