Friday, January 13, 2012

Occupy Campaign Finance Reform

For tactical reasons, the Occupy Wall Street movement is disorganized. That has made it difficult for them to come up with goals that can be agreed to by a majority of those involved in the movement. One issue, though, is gaining wide acceptance across the Occupy movement. Opposition to "Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission" and an advocacy of Campaign Finance Reform in general is increasingly advocated by the Occupy movement.

The ire is understandable given the focus of the Occupy movement. In the corporatist collusion between big business and big government, they focus on the business half of the partnership. The goal, as it is forming, is to prohibit all third party campaign activities. The target is Super PACs as well as corporations, and when pressed on the issue there is grudging agreement that unions are covered as well. The only form of donation that would be considered acceptable would be directly to the campaign.

Although the intent is good this will achieve the exact opposite of the desired goal, making it quite the same as every preceding campaign finance reform law. Those pushing this particular change are not well versed in economics, especially the law of unintended consequences, in spite of how the history of campaign finance law is a glaring example of it in action. Ever preceding law was put in place to reduce the importance of money in politics, and money is now more important than ever in politics. The Super PACs are the end result of a long line of those laws.

The basic campaign finance reform law is a limit on how much an individual can donate. This would prohibit the wealthy from bankrolling a candidate at the expense of the masses. What actually happens is that it shuts out competing views. Suppose there are two parties, one fifty times larger than the other. While both would benefit from a few big contributions, only one would benefit from many small contributions because it has the donor base to do so.

One might think that this would therefore encourage those who want actual change to work within the party to tap into that fundraising machine, but the party leadership controls who the party helps. The leadership will then share mailing lists and donor lists with candidates the leadership likes. This has the effect of binding candidates tightly to the party.

A way around the tight control of party leadership was developed, the PAC and then the Super PAC. And the solution to the problem of money in politics is to eliminate the only way left that actual advocates of change might use to get elected? The end result of this is something else that is also suggested often, full public financing of campaigns. When pressed on how someone would qualify for that financing, the suggestion was made of petitions, which would be recruited by the party binding the candidates even more closely to the party.

The way to eliminate the Super PACs and to reduce the influence of money in politics is to eliminate the cause. That means removing all the campaign finance laws that led up to the point where the only way outside of the tightly controlled system is by people pooling their money in PACs. People forget that a campaign donation is indeed a form of political speech, and it was political speech in particular that was supposed to be protected by the freedom of speech clause of the first amendment (the freedom of religion clause covered religious speech).

That does not mean that only the rich would have a voice, contrary to the claims of those who cannot imagine another way of doing things. Just as attempts to limit money have increased its importance, removing the limits would decrease its importance giving more people a greater voice in the political system.

No comments: