Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Campaign Finance—Voluntary Contributions vs. Public Funding: Which is ‘Dirty?’

In a New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial (Fulop the reformer? What about that $1 million check?), Tom Moran went after Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop for accepting a $1 million campaign contribution, through “a Super PAC with close ties” to the mayor, from a wealthy donor who Fulop says he could not identify. The anonymity of the donor makes the donations suspect, says Moran. Moran labels it “dark money” and “back door funding.” Moran writes:

Also, the list of donors to the fund is packed with companies and individuals who do business with Jersey City, and so have a financial interest in making friends with the mayor. A review by the Jersey Journal characterized the donor list as a "Who's Who of Jersey City."

What does anyone expect, given the enormous power the government and politicians have over the private sector? Welcome to the mixed economy. Of course, the Left-leaning Moran doesn’t address the cause that draws money into politics. He does, however, offer a solution to the effect of the cause he doesn’t identify:

Without robust public funding of political campaigns, only the wealthy elite can make a viable run without compromising themselves like this to some degree. Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and U.S. Ambassador to Germany, is the only likely candidate for governor who fits that bill.

I left these comments:

Without robust public funding of political campaigns, only the wealthy elite can make a viable run. . .

Even if true—and it’s not (just consider Bernie Sanders)—so what? In the end, the candidate still has to persuade the individual voter. And it’s not at all certain or even common for politicians to “compromise themselves.” Money may follow the candidate that fits the donor’s politics, or is simply intended to gain leverage to be heard by the candidate. But financial backing by private citizens doesn’t automatically mean trading favors for money, and it’s unfair to imply that of any candidate. Corruption happens on occasion, but as Seton Hall Professor Heath Brown, himself an advocate of campaign spending disclosure, argued in a S-L guest column:

The research is clear that the simple notion that campaign donations lead to electoral victories and eventually to legislative favors is not valid. Research by Christopher Witko of the University of South Carolina shows that campaign financial support may lead to increased legislator attention and effort on certain policy issues, but not typically to changing a vote on a single piece of legislation or disregarding the views of constituents.

Keep in mind that all of this so-called “dirty money” is privately and voluntarily given. Public funding is money taken at legalized gunpoint from private citizens, and then doled out to political candidates based on criteria created by politicians. Why should any politician who can’t persuade private citizens to finance his campaign voluntarily be able to forcibly take money from unwilling citizens? Why should incumbent politicians have the power to limit who can challenge them? Talk about corrupt! There is nothing dirty about money given voluntarily, even if anonymously, so long as it’s not part of outright bribery or other actual criminal activity. Notice the moral inversion: Private voluntary donations are dirty, while coercive public funding is not.

Private money in politics is far more democratic and far less corruptive than public funding. For one thing, excluding criminal activity, private citizens have a right to spend their money as they judge best, including political activism. For another, super-PACS and other means of advocacy speak not only for their donors but for the millions of ordinary citizens who agree with their particular message or the candidate and party they back. Big money-backed advocacy groups give tools of persuasion to average voters with limited means, without the voter having to spend a cent. To silence “big money” is to silence millions, who will no longer be able to as effectively spread the massage advanced by the super-PAC in their own efforts to persuade other voters and influence elections. As unappetizing as it is, the status quo is far better than government control of campaign funding. Public funding is a dream come true for the power-hungry political class. Imagine politicians being able to go on their unfettered way of regulating, taxing, and controlling our lives without having to put up with those pesky private citizens getting in their way? How many politicians would love to silence dissent and challenge? Nothing could be more contrary to democratic principles under constitutional republicanism than that.

The current situation is far from ideal. But it is a product of a mixed economy, which features extensive political corruption of the economy. Big political spending is a consequence of big government. The government has grown to control virtually every aspect of our economic and even private lives, creating the incentive for private citizens to pour gargantuan sums of money into political campaigns. Why? To influence the politicians who wield that government power, which is called “the democratic process.” But in the end, political donors, no matter how wealthy, can’t install politicians. Only voters can do that. Why should any voter care whose money is backing which candidates or political policies? Each individual voter controls his own vote. Once you step into the voting booth, it is you the individual voter—and only you the individual voter—who controls your choice, based on your own evaluation of the information put forward by the candidates and their supporters.

For anyone concerned with money in politics, the solution is not to outlaw private money—i.e., private citizen involvement—from politics. The solution is to roll back the size and scope of government, steadily reducing it to its only legitimate role—to protect individual rights. That would reduce the incentive that draws money into politics in the first place. “Robust public funding of elections” would strip away or severely limit private citizens’ ability to influence—i.e., persuade—other voters, and thus strangle the private citizens’ freedom to influence the political direction of the country.

Contrary to statist propaganda, the right to vote is not our most important right—not even close. A far more precious, and fundamental, right is the right to speak out, which is intricately tied to our right to spend our own money on our own speech and political advocacy. Under the severe restrictions advocated by statist apologists for big government, our voices would be largely drowned out, and we would be forced to finance candidates we oppose. Stripped of our ability to influence and persuade other voters, we would each be left only with an essentially meaningless single individual vote, while politicians control the political direction of the country.

Related Reading:

Are ‘Average Voters’ Hurt or Benefited by Unrestricted Campaign Spending?

1 comment:

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