Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Incumbents’ Fear of 'Wild, Wild West' Campaign Funding is a Good Thing

Jonathan D. Salant of NJ Advance Media reported for NJ.com  on “outside groups poised to spend millions on congressional campaigns.” In How 'wild, wild west' money has changed the game in Congressional elections, Savant wrote:

Lawmakers traditionally raised funds early to scare off potentially strong challengers. Now they have a new concern.

Even though just one of [New Jersey's] 12 House incumbents so far faces a competitive race for re-election, current campaign finance rules allow outside groups, many of which keep their donors hidden, to spend millions of dollars against them at the last moment.

The political establishment laments the “new concern”:

"It's literally a free-for-all," said Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1st Dist.), who had $319,196 in his campaign bank account through Dec. 31. "It's the wild, wild west when it comes to money."

"No member of Congress can ever relax," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group. "The money could target them from outside interest groups in huge amounts at any time. It's no longer enough to have war chests to ward off potential challengers."

Notice it’s OK for incumbents to “have war chests to ward off potential challengers." But now that challengers can potentially even the playing field by tapping into “outside groups” for campaign firepower, we’re supposed to weep for the incumbents, who can no longer “relax” in their incumbency. Poor babies.

Blame for this new “Wild West” of campaign finance is placed squarely on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, which “overturned almost a century of law and precedent and removed limits on corporate and union campaign spending.” This has politicians up in arms—literally itching to use the government’s guns to shut down the flood of campaign cash.

“We have to change the system," demands Rep. Frank Pallone. "What you're seeing is the elections dominated by the wealthy." Really? What I see is the empowerment of the average citizen—and politicians seeking protection from strong challengers.

"Money can suddenly be carpet bombed on them," said Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert with Public Citizen, a Washington-based advocacy group that supports stronger fundraising rules. "Out of the blue, a group they've never heard of can suddenly spend millions against them.”

I left these comments:

What comes across loud and clear are the whines of incumbent politicians crying over being challenged by citizens from “outside” their royal political domaine.

Who cares who is spending how much money on whose political campaign? The bottom line is that it’s the moral right of private citizens to spend their political dollars as they see fit, so long as it doesn’t involve outright bribery and the like—and so long as the money is spent legitimately on the campaign, the job of which is to convince we individual voters to cast our votes for [or against] that candidate.

Those who provide the “big money” are doing not only themselves but voters a service. Information is vital to open campaigns. It costs money to get information out to the mass audience. When a wealthy donor provides money for the candidate of his choice, he speaks not only for himself but for all those thousands and/or millions of average voters who agree with the candidate and the message. And for those who don’t agree, the information provides the opportunity to rebut and put forth alternative candidates and ideas. What rational voter would oppose information they need to make an informed choice?

The paranoid may fear “elections dominated by the wealthy.” But no matter how wealthy, each person has one vote, and must decide based on the information provided by the candidates during the campaign. People of self-esteem don’t fear information and don’t fear “anonymous” donors. They fear politicians who, feeling put upon to have to fight to defend their seats, want to shackle and control the electoral process.

What’s truly corrupt is the demonization of private campaign donors as somehow “dirty” or “dark” or lawless. The movement is on to scare us into banning (or severely limiting) private donations, and switching to a system of public funding of campaigns. But what could be more corrupt than forcing private citizens to pay for politicians and ideas they may oppose, effectively giving the political class the power to set the rules for who can run for office—and doing it with our money. What can be more corrupt than giving politicians unfettered power to go on taxing and regulating and catering to their special interests while shutting out private challenges? Opponents of Citizens United remind me of the pig leadership on Animal Farm, who spout meaningless generalities designed to convince the clueless rank-and-file animals that shutting down opposing views and granting them more and more power over the farm is for the animals’ own good.

If this article—which sometimes seems to read like an op-ed—does anything, it provides a good argument for NOT overturning Citizens United. I can think of nothing better for the democratic process than that "Out of the blue, a group they’ve never heard of can suddenly spend millions against them." It’s called freedom of speech. That’s what Citizens United gave us, and that’s a good thing.

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2 comments:

Mike Kevitt said...

Before Citizens United and interpretations of it by you and others, my problem was I didn't even know we'd been denied a significant part of our freedom of speech. I probably have similar ignorance about other political issues.

But, I think statist ideas should be legally, physically barred from consideration by elected and appointed gvt. officials under a system of individual rights, gvt. and law. It's supposed to be individual rights, not crime. Once an idea or proposal is identified as statist, law and gvt. automatically bars it from consideration by elected and appointed officials. I can't imagine what I might be missing that would make me change my mind about that.

Michael A. LaFerrara said...

"I think statist ideas should be legally, physically barred from consideration by elected and appointed gvt. officials under a system of individual rights, gvt. and law."

We already have the tool to do just that—a constitution. The challenge is to craft the constitution to protect individual rights and keep it that way. That requires an enlightened citizenry, which means an intellectual leadership capable of keeping the citizenry enlightened.