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Campaign Finance: The Root of All Evil

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On The Daily Show on Thursday former President Bill Clinton made some very good points about the pressures on legislators and how the need to finance increasingly expensive campaigns is reducing the quality of representation which they provide and contributing to the increasingly contentious atmosphere in Washington. This is especially true for members of the House of Representatives who have to face an election every two years and are fighting so hard to stay in office that they don't actually get as much done or pay as much attention to what they are doing as they should.

Clinton provided a typical example: "Suppose you're a Senator from a small state in the inter-mountain west, but you've still got to raise a lot of money and you don't have a lot of people in your state. You may be out four nights a week on fundraisers for four of the six years you've got a Senate term. These poor House members – let's say you've got to fly back and forth from California or Oregon or Washington every weekend to do your job and then when you're back in Washington you're doing this (fundraising)."

Say what you like about Bill Clinton and his pecadillos, even if you disagree with him politically, you have to admit that he's no dummy and he knows American politics and he can cut to the heart of an issue. I recall how different the atmosphere on Capitol Hill was in the 1970s when I had my first jobs on Capitol Hill. The atmosphere was much more relaxed and collegial.

Clinton shared similar recollections with Jon Stewart about his time working in the Senate just out of college, when "the typical Senator would come to Washington for seven months a year and work like crazy and stay in Washington on the weekend, not fly home…and they got to rest and they got to see their friends and they got to sit and meet with members of both parties and talk through issues and read books and think. Then five months a year…they got to go home and they would stay there and they would travel around their states and their districts and they would listen to people."

His description reminded me of an era before either of us was born, harkening back to the early days of the republic, when travel distances made it impossible for legislators to make quick trips back and forth to their home districts and when there was no national mass media, so campaigns were won or lost on the candidate's record, his speeches and the personal effort he put into campaigning. Daniel Webster didn't win elections by buying the most national ad time, he won them by driving his buggy from town to town all over Massachusetts and making a speech in every tavern and every meeting house. He spent his time and he used his wit and eloquence, but he didn't have to spend a disproportionate amount of his time on Beacon Hill raising money.

Clinton sees this situation as a challenge to "find a way for them and their competitors, the challengers, to run for election without making them go out five nights a week in this endless hunt for funds to get on television when someone attacks them."

That's the basic problem. Our legislature is losing its integrity and maybe its collective sanity from too much travel, too much of the wrong kind of work, and a desperate need for campaign funds which seduces them into accepting money from Norman Hsu or Jack Abramoff because it makes their lives a little easier. It's a situation which cries out for some sort of reform, for us to turn the clock back to the days of Daniel Webster, Stephen Douglas and John C. Calhoun, great campaigners who were also great legislators and advocates for their constituents.

Clinton didn't get to his solution to the problem he raised in this appearance, but I've got a fair idea that while I agree with his objective our methods for getting there would be rather different. I imagine Clinton had ideas of publicly funded campaigns in the back of his head, where tax dollars are used to level the playing field and the qualified candidates get identical funding from the government. The two catches being how you determine who is a 'real' candidate and deserves public funding, and the fact that the money to fund campaigns would have to be taken involuntarily from people who might not support any of the candidates receiving it. To me both of those aspects of such a system are unacceptable.

Instead, why don't we consider really turning back the clock? Let's just take away the changes which separate politics as they are today with how they were a hundred years ago and recreate an environment in which campaigns are limited and focused on the candidate's words and ideas rather than his war chest. Two main things have changed since that earlier time, the amount of money spent on political campaigns and the character of modern mass media. So let's take the money out and place some limits on the media.

In an ideal world there would be no controls on who can spend how much money on a political campaign. In an ideal world the media could be free to take any advertising they were offered and provide any coverage to a campaign which they wanted. That's freedom of speech and freedom of the press. But in the real world we do place some limits on what can be done in a political campaign to try to maintain some sort of a level playing field.

The traditional approach to campaign finance limitations has been to go after the contributors, to limit who can contribute to a campaign and how much they can contribute. The rules are set to restrict certain types of organizations from donating too much or spending too much on behalf of a candidate and to specify limits on how much any individual can contribute to any candidate. This system is complex and inconsistent and full of loopholes. It permits bundling of donations, doesn't address certain types of contributions and allows for all sorts of in-kind and indirect spending which ought to be restricted. This system clearly doesn't work and every attempt to reform it makes it more complex and not significantly more effective.

The answer could be to approach it from the opposite direction. Instead of restricting who can contribute money and how much, why not just limit how much money a candidate can spend? Spending the millions of dollars some candidates spend just to get elected to Congress is excessive. Keep the limit appropriate to the significance of the office, but make it low enough so that incumbents and challengers can raise it without any great effort. Then ban all soft money and all spending for advertising by anyone other than the candidates campaigns. Make the candidates and their supporters work instead of just spending money. Get them out pressing the flesh and making speeches and earning their offices instead of going into debt or taking on more shady obligations.

Of course, this would cut back massively on advertising in the media for most campaigns, and that leads into the other problem that has to be addressed, media coverage. With advertising cut down, the coverage which the media voluntarily gives to candidates becomes enormously more important. The media could literally make or break campaigns, and despite their claims of impartiality, even something so small as the choice of which soundbyte to use or the amount of on-air time given to the incumbent over his challenger could create problems. This is the problem which has led to 'equal time' policies like the controversial and often proposed 'fairness doctrine', and they're a problem in and of themselves. They're as hard to apply fairly and evenly as the current campaign finance laws, and amount to a massive violation of press freedom, free trade and free speech.

To be fair, the problem of the media has to be addressed in a way which is comprehensive and resistent to abuse and manipulation. As with financing, this can really only be done through a radical and absolute approach because half-measures just don't work. It would require something on the order of a total media blackout for campaign coverage or any other coverage of the candidates. The problem is that this might interfere pretty severely with the coverage of news that ought to be covered if the incumbent is involved. So the answer is to limit the duration of campaigns to the time candidates are not working. For example, in the case of Congress ban all campaigning while Congress is in session, limit the session to seven months in an election year and have them out of session for the four months leading up to November. Even better, let them work six on and six off. They spend too much time in DC and might get up to less mischief if they had less time to work in. A side benefit of this would be to remind Congress that they write the laws, but don't actually need to be there all the time to run the government. That's the job of the executive branch.

These proposals aren't in the best tradition of the First Amendment, but they also aren't expressly prohibited, and if they restore the accessibility of candidates and make the scope of campaigns reasonable again, they or something like them might be worth pursuing.

We've lost track of the idea of the citizen legislator and developed a class of professional politicians who buy their way into office and have to let their allegiances be bought to raise the money to buy the votes that put them there. This was not what the founding fathers had in mind when they dreamed up our unique Republic.

The importance of returning government to its basic value was foremost in the mind of Andrew Jackson when he took office with the objective of purging and reforming a federal bureaucracy already grown out of control barely a generation after it was created. In his address to Congress Jackson wrote that there are "few men who can for any great length of time enjoy office and power without being more or less under the influence of feelings unfavorable to the faithful discharge of their public duties…they are apt to acquire a habit of looking with indifference upon the public interests and of tolerating conduct from which an unpracticed man would revolt."

Since Jackson's time we have gone through other periods of political reform, but the overall trend has been towards government becoming increasingly institutional and remote, dominated by an aristocracy of career bureaucrats and politicians, who are far too often born into families of politicians and bureaucrats going back generations. For our republic to survive it is essential that we reverse this trend and take our government back to its roots, and the first step in that direction is to end the excess and corruption which have pervaded and perverted the system and which have their roots in how we elect our representatives.

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About Dave Nalle

  • DEE

    Absolutely true. Couple points that solidfy this point. The vast majority of Americans want Socialized medicine, however, our politicians refuse to act because they are in bed with drug and insurance companies. The vast majority of Americans want the Iraq war to end. Again, it doesn’t get done because the politicians are slaves to the defense and military supply companies. The politicans are supposed to be there to do what the people want. This is not happening anymore. Politicans are only for themselves now. When will we realize that we have to force them to change? They will not act on there own because it would be to their detriment. Something big has to happen for them to get the picture. We have come full circle, we again are under a system of taxation without representation.

  • JustOneMan

    Dee…

    “The vast majority of Americans want Socialized medicine” NOT..the favor “universal healthcare” NOT a socialized system

    Politicians are slaves to the defense and military supply companies. really? Name the names and proof that they are beholden these contractors…I know that idiot Murtha is can you name some more…

    JOM

  • http://www.zeitgeistmovie.com/ Cindy D

    Good article. I wonder if a television station devoted to candidate coverage, sort of a public government TV, might not work. You would have to get a number of signatures before you could get access. Then access could be equal to all the candidates who could use their time creatively.

    Maybe real debates might be nice change, instead of those laughable debates where each candidate gets 30 seconds to answer. But, they could be free to participate in whatever way they choose.

    JOM are you ever not hostile?

  • DEE

    Universal, Socialized, same thing look it up in a dictionary… I love how people in this country get their panties in a ruffle just by the work social. Oh my god. Socialized. Socialization is a good thing in this case and on the issue of healthcare. Stop being so scared of and demonizing that word. Naming the names are beside the point, I want to know why, when the American people clearly say they want something, the politicans do not make it happen. Aren’t they supposed to work for and get done what the people want? I don’t see it happening in our current corrupt system. Look it up yourself, there are 10 lobbyists for every 1 member of congress. Wake up people.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    The vast majority of Americans want Socialized medicine,

    Not exactly true. The vast majority of Americans want to have health care available to them. Most of them do not think through how that care would be provided, and when asked specifically about different options they don’t rate a single-payer government managed system highly. What most of them would like is to be able to have reasonably priced and good quality private insurance.

    however, our politicians refuse to act because they are in bed with drug and insurance companies.

    Different politicians have sold out to different special interests. For every one who is in the pocket of the drug and insurance companies there’s one who’s in the pocket of businesses which would love to have the state take over healthcare from them, or unions who see a lot of ptential power and profit in such a system.

    The vast majority of Americans want the Iraq war to end.

    Well of course they do. But if you break the numbers down, that rather abstract conclusion represents lots of different views on how the war should be handled, from people who want it to end through victory to those who just want to pull out right away. Hell, who doesn’t want the war to end?

    Again, it doesn’t get done because the politicians are slaves to the defense and military supply companies.

    This is a hoary old argument. But where were those industries during the 25 years of relative peace from the end of Vietnam until Iraq? The fact is that those companies aren’t just military suppliers. They have plenty of work to do in times of peace too.

    Dave

  • Clavos

    “Universal, Socialized, same thing look it up in a dictionary…”

    Wrong.

    “Socialized” is provided by the government. “Universal” isn’t necessarily.

    And JOM’s right. What the majority of people want is health care for everybody, NOT health care provided by the government.

    You want the same people who screwed up the response to Katrina curing your illnesses???

    You want the people who guard the border operating on you???

  • Clavos

    A bit off topic, but here’s an interesting quiz to take which will tell you how closely each of the candidates agree with your own positions on the major issues.

    I was, to say the least, somewhat surprised by my own results; it seems that the two candidates whose platforms most agree with my ideas are Joe Biden and John McCain, with equal scores; followed by (in descending order): Giuliani, Hunter (tie), Romney, then a tie between Clinton & Obama. Dead last was Ron Paul.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Dave,

    Good article. I agree with you on most of your points. While political campaigns were a far different animal before the media took control, I’m not sure, though, that things overall were that much better in government.

    The advent of technology and the media has changed campaigning drastically. I believe that making significant changes in the current system will be very difficult. One could perhaps hope that it would collapse of its own weight.

    Of course attempting to make most of the changes you suggest would run into innumerable road blocks. People from all directions would be crying foul about one thing or another.

    The current presidential campaign is a prime example of why change should be made. The enormous amounts of money needed to maintain a competitive presence is obscene. Hell, the time and Hurculean effort involved in mountng a national campaign could leave the winner so mentally spent and emotionally and physically exhausted, that she (oh, okay, maybe he) might not be able to adequately execute the office, at least for a time. One would like to imagine a new president as hitting the ground running. But whoever takes office in January of ’09 and much of their staff may well be running on empty.

    You have obviously given this more thought than I, but I do believe that spending must be controlled in some fashion. It’s impossible to believe that today a midwestern haberdasher could ascend to the White House. One would have to have sold a lot of hats.

    Equally as daunting as the money needed to carry out even many seemingly small local elections is the time factor. Some kind of time limits should be put on campaigning, again as you suggest regarding money, time appropriate to the office.

    But even a presidential campaign shouldn’t take more than 3 to 4 months. With a myriad of media instantly available to our finger tips, we can, if we choose find out all we could ever want or need to know about any given candidate. We don’t need to be hearing them prattle on endless appearances on the Sunday morning shows, dozens of ludicrous “debates,” hundreds of sound bites and thousands of TV ads over the course of what, at the culmination of the current election, will have been at least 2 years. Give us a break!

    The national conventions were at one time meaningful. Some often made for good theatre. But there is virtually no drama to be had in them today. It’s often more interesting to see what’s going on out in the streets than inside the halls. Usually, the most anticipated event is what new face or faces may get up to give keynote addresses – ala Obama’s appearance at the last Demfab. For the most part, with the slates already decided, the conventions are just another waste of time and taxpayer’s and contributor’s money.

    Even the primary system should be changed drastically. Therein lay some drama at least, but they are otherwise so archaic and varied in their approach that their results are often convoluted and indecipherable. Why not a national primary for the national elections? Makes sense to me.

    Of course, it will likely be interesting to see how the internet continues to develop as a campaign tool. Making more effective use of it could perhaps change the whole campaign paradigm.

    Baritone

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Dave,

    I wrote a fairly long comment (agreeing with you) but it won’t publish. What’s happening?

    B-tone

  • Clavos

    Probably the spam trap, B-tone. It’ll show up eventually.

    Happens to me all the time. Seems to have accelerated since they added the Cocomment feature.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    It was indeed the spam filter. I rescued it. When that happens there’s no point in posting it 5 more times, because once the spam filter has it in its head that the particular wordings are spam, it will flag them every time.

    Dave

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    The advent of technology and the media has changed campaigning drastically. I believe that making significant changes in the current system will be very difficult. One could perhaps hope that it would collapse of its own weight.

    I think that if it were going to collapse on its own it would have already happened. But you’re right about how hard it would be to change the system. Look how poorly McCain-Feingold worked out. It had the best of intentions behind it but was made things worse if anything.

    The current presidential campaign is a prime example of why change should be made. The enormous amounts of money needed to maintain a competitive presence is obscene.

    Clinton’s argument – and I’m not sure I buy it – was that the President is more remote from the process of government and thus less cost effective to subborn. Plus the sheer amount of money required for a presidential campaign is in some ways a good thing. A candidate has to get money from so many sources that no single source can really stand out and have preeminent influence. They all sort of cancel out.

    That’s why I agree with Clinton that the House of representatives is the place to start. Because their terms are so short, a larger percentage of their time is consumed by campaigning than any other elected officials. They ought to be the test group for any reforms.

    Hell, the time and Hurculean effort involved in mountng a national campaign could leave the winner so mentally spent and emotionally and physically exhausted, that she (oh, okay, maybe he) might not be able to adequately execute the office, at least for a time.

    Let’s not forget William Henry Harrison who caught pneumonia making his inaugural address in the rain, went into a coma and was dead 30 days later.

    You have obviously given this more thought than I, but I do believe that spending must be controlled in some fashion. It’s impossible to believe that today a midwestern haberdasher could ascend to the White House. One would have to have sold a lot of hats.

    Midwestern Haberdasher? Lincoln? Not sure that’s how I’d describe his job managing a general store. Smacks of hyperbole. BTW a hat merchant is a milliner.

    And Lincoln DID raise money. He had backing from local politicians and the whig/republican machine in Illinois who ultimately rigged the nominating process because the convention was held in Chicago.

    But even a presidential campaign shouldn’t take more than 3 to 4 months.

    So true. This 2 year campaign is just ridiculous.

    dozens of ludicrous “debates,”

    I actually kind of like the debates. They’re one of the best ways to get a real feel for the candidates.

    The national conventions were at one time meaningful. Some often made for good theatre. But there is virtually no drama to be had in them today.

    I’m not that concerned about the theatre, but I do think a change in the structure of both parties primaries would be good. If more states could be convinced to move away from the winner-take-all model for choosing delegates and apportion delegates based on the popular vote it would produce closer results and more balloting, which I think would produce better results. The current system is unbalanced and gives too much influence to party insiders.

    Dave

  • REMF

    “I was, to say the least, somewhat surprised by my own results; it seems that the two candidates whose platforms most agree with my ideas are Joe Biden and John McCain, with equal scores; followed by (in descending order): Giuliani, Hunter (tie), Romney, then a tie between Clinton & Obama. Dead last was Ron Paul.”

    Why surprised? Because there were no deserters among them?

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Dave,

    Harry Truman was a haberdasher, a seller of men’s clothes – including hats. I can remember his being referred to derisively as “that hat salesman.”

    By the way, obviously my comment did eventually show up.

    B-tone

  • troll

    *…the politicians are slaves to the defense and military supply companies.

    This is a hoary old argument. But where were those industries during the 25 years of relative peace from the end of Vietnam until Iraq? The fact is that those companies aren’t just military suppliers. They have plenty of work to do in times of peace too.*

    whether or not an argument is tedious or stale has no impact on its validity…but false premises do

    for example – there has been no peace since Vietnam…the US has maintained a constant ‘war footing’ around the world with bases to build and maintain and weapons systems to upgrade

    additionally – these industries have a long list of foreign customers to arm and supply who burn off product regularly not infrequently in conflicts amongst themselves

    …only a participant would come up with an argument that the people in these industries are other than war profiteers – imo this includes all from investors to workers…none of whom are prevented from taking their money or labor elsewhere

  • Clavos

    “…only a participant would come up with an argument that the people in these industries are other than war profiteers – imo this includes all from investors to workers…none of whom are prevented from taking their money or labor elsewhere”

    OK, troll, I accept your argument.

    I’m a war profiteer.

    I also profit from people’s illnesses (including my wife’s; I immediately bought stock in the manufacturer when her intrathecal pump was implanted), which I suppose also makes me a misery profiteer?

    It’s a wonder I can sleep at night.

  • troll

    …I think that that part of your portfolio makes you a health profiteer

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Since I switched half of my Halliburton stock to KBR stock at an instant 17% profit I prefer to think of myself as a Merchant of Death rather than a war profiteer.

    But the fact remains true that companies like Halliburton do extremely well whether there is a war on or not, or whether the war that’s going on involves the US or not. The same services they provide in a war are needed in disasters and in all sorts of other critical areas.

    As for whether we were at war between Vietnam and Iraq, you could argue that we’ve been at war since 1945, but it wasn’t always a shooting war, and that was certainly true overall between Vietnam and Iraq. Panama and Granada hardly count as wars because they had minimal impact on war purchasing.

    Dave

  • Clavos

    Grenada. I don’t think we’ve ever invaded Spain.

    (sorry! I just can’t help myself-I’m even in a twelve step program) :>)

  • bliffle

    Put all contributions in a Blind Fund so that the candidate gets the benefit without owing allegiance to the contributor.

    End the egregious notion of Corporate Personage.

  • troll

    …you’ll be happy to know that your company is just now finishing up its contracts assisting Iran in building its natural gas infrastructure…and don’t I remember something about centrifuges – ?

    your country thanks you for your patriotic investments

  • Clavos

    “Put all contributions in a Blind Fund so that the candidate gets the benefit without owing allegiance to the contributor.”

    Good idea.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Brother Nalle, I’m surprised to see you biting on all this “campaign reform” nonsense. Much of what you flirt with here certainly IS expressly forbidden by the First Amendment. How could you possibly argue that limiting what or how much which media can report would not constitute Congress making a law abridging freedom of the press?

    The problem is inherent in what Congress actually does at this point. They spend approximately 1 trillion times more than they did at the founding of the republic, and certainly have way more money and favors to pass out. That being the case, the kind of intense moneyed rat-race is the inevitable and more or less appropriate outcome. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect that there will be much more and tougher fighting over a much bigger public pie.

    Best I can tell from the tea leaves, the amount of money in federal campaigns is still fairly small – compared to the money and influence over which they’re fighting. There’s just flatly no way to reduce the influence of money and power on elections other than to reduce the amount of money and power for which they are competing. If Congress had only half the spending and regulatory power, most likely the money and lobbying would fall by half as well.

    There’s no good solution to this under current circumstances, but there are certainly a lot of ways to make the whole situation a lot worse – exactly the kind of stuff trying to jimmy the system you or Bill Clinton might prescribe. And if congress critters don’t like the “sleep deprivation” that Clinton described, then they can always quit and go find honest work.

  • troll

    gotta go with hermano Al – if you want to decrease the corrupting influence of money in government then shrink government…preferably to zero

  • Clavos

    “gotta go with hermano Al – if you want to decrease the corrupting influence of money in government then shrink government…preferably to zero”

    Works for me….

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Al, I’m with you on reducing the size of government. The problem is that the current election/campaign system doesn’t put people in office who are willing to do it. Big spending campaigns produce big spending legislators. Starting somewhere small like reforming congressional campaigns might get us some results. Just wishing government smaller hasn’t worked so well so far.

    As for Clinton’s plan, I specifically repudiated it. Hillary went into more detail on it today on Meet the Press. She wants to have all campaigns publicly funded, which means government deciding who can run, creating a permanent political aristocracy. That’s precisely what I don’t want, which is why I’m suggesting alternative ways to achieve the stated goal.

    As for the first amendment issues, I think you’re off-base. There’s a huge difference between selectively censoring the press and just shutting down all coverage of the election. But I agree it’s not the ideal solution. I’d be happy with just starting by limiting campaigning and fundraising to a 3 month period before the election. That would be a good start.

    Dave

  • adam

    >Instead, why don’t we consider really turning back
    >the clock? Let’s just take away the changes which
    >separate politics as they are today with how they
    >were a hundred years ago and recreate an
    >environment in which campaigns are limited and
    >focused on the candidate’s words and ideas rather
    >than his war chest.

    How about removing the weak link in the current system: the representatives themselves? Introduce and extend more ways for direct democracy and reduce or eliminate the powers of our (bribed, corrupted) representatives.

    There would still be the problem of big money buying big propaganda to sway the masses, but at least it won’t be direct corruption. The debate, the fight, will be explicitly public, not secreted away in some back room or flown off in a private jet to some exotic location.

  • Moonraven

    When talking about campaign financing, you need to follow the money to find out who is running your country.

    Here in Mexico the congress just approved an electoral reform (next to be ratified by the states) that left the biggest beneficiaries of the campaign funds (from the public coffers) squealing and kicking like the pigs they are. Those big piggies are the owners of the television stations.

    They were counting on at least 6 billion pesos (550 million dollars) per sexenio (six-year electoral term) from the public trough from the sale of campaign “spots”.

    The congress passed the reform shortening the term of campaigns (Mexico has had the longest, most expensive politica campaigns on the planet) and among other things, PROHIBITED the purchase of spots during the campaigns.

    It will be interesting to watch all the candidates trying to curry favor with the t.v. stations, however–as the enormous power of the media COVERAGE in elections will not go away with the prohibition of all those spots.

    So much for electoral reform.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    I’m always bemused by those who say they favor the elimination of government. I suppose we should just count on the big corporate honchos to keep a lid on everything. Certainly, our mega-corporations would never abuse their power. All big business is nothing if not honest to a fault, and their only concern is the happiness and welfare of the fair citizens of this blessed country. The few that might tend toward the nefarious would fear repercussions in the market place should any diddling around with our money or our trust be discovered.

    The only other thing we need is god. Occasional prayers and admonitions by the likes of James Dobson or the great Pat Robertson. That’d keep us all walking the straight and narrow. Naw, we don’t need no stinkin’ government.

    B-tone

  • troll

    we don’t need government any more than god to regulate our interaction and control our behavior

    what we need is for government to get out of the way so that the power relations between the classes can ‘work themselves out’

  • Cindy D

    “As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

    I guess his suspicions were correct.

  • Clavos

    “I’m always bemused by those who say they favor the elimination of government. I suppose we should just count on the big corporate honchos to keep a lid on everything. Certainly, our mega-corporations would never abuse their power.”

    While I share your concerns about corporate abuse, Baritone, I fear governmental abuse far more.

    The worst situation, however, is the partnering of industry with the government to protect and feed each other. The pharma industry and the FDA, for example. Or practically any utility with almost any state utility regulatory agency.

    Too often, government has shown itself to have feet of clay when its own interests collide with those of the citizenry, and the regulation of industry is a frequent arena for this kind of a scenario.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    It certainly doesn’t help when so often the industry and its regulators draw their personnel from the same group of ‘experts’ or when former employees of regulatory agencies find private employment in the same industry.

    Dave

  • Maurice

    Here is Walter Williams take on this subject:

    “Campaign finance and lobby reform will only change the method of influence-peddling. If Congress did only what’s specifically enumerated in our Constitution, influence-peddling would be a non-issue simply because the Constitution contains no authority for Congress to grant favors and special privileges. Nearly two decades ago, during dinner with the late Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek, I asked him if he had the power to write one law that would get government out of our lives, what would that law be? Professor Hayek replied he’d write a law that read: Whatever Congress does for one American it must do for all Americans. He elaborated: If Congress makes payments to one American for not raising pigs, every American not raising pigs should also receive payments. Obviously, were there to be such a law, there would be reduced capacity for privilege-granting by Congress and less influence-peddling.”

    * “If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the government is no longer a limited one possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one subject to particular exceptions.” James Madison, “Letter to Edmund Pendleton,”
    — James Madison, January 21, 1792, in The Papers of James Madison, vol. 14, Robert A Rutland et. al., ed (Charlottesvile: University Press of Virginia,1984).

    * “The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.”
    — James Madison, speech in the House of Representatives, January 10, 1794

  • Clavos

    “Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.”

    Repeated for emphasis.

  • bliffle

    So you guys are in favor of cutting off all the charity issued to corporations every year? Like the $170billion of targeted tax breaks? Like going to war on behalf of oil monopolies?

    etc.

  • JustOneMan

    Then Poster “Boy” for campaign reform is the biggest liar in the bunch…

    Obama bought more than $50,000 worth of stock in two speculative companies whose major investors included some of his biggest political donors.

    The right wing La Times reported…

    Even as he shuns donations from lobbyists, Obama has taken more than $1.4 million this year from law and consultancy firms that have partners who are registered to lobby, a Times analysis of Obama’s fundraising shows. He has received hundreds of thousands more from corporate executives while turning down money from their lobbyists.

    Oh yea he is for change! As much change as he can stuff in his pocket and mattress…

    JOM

  • Maurice

    bliffle

    if you would just read the posts you wouldn’t have to ask such questions. Please reread #34 again – slowly this time….

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    So you guys are in favor of cutting off all the charity issued to corporations every year? Like the $170billion of targeted tax breaks? Like going to war on behalf of oil monopolies?

    Wow, dumb question, bliffle. Of course we are.

    Personally, I’m with noted democrat Robert Reich (Clinton’s secretary of labor) and think that there should be NO corporate taxes. There certainly shouldn’t be selective ones.

    And BTW, there are hundreds of oil companies. It’s one of the least monopolized businesses in the world.

    dave

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com/ handyguy

    Wow, an article by Dave which makes me want to say right on rather than making my blood boil. Some of the follow-up comments from him and from others are pretty questionable, but that’s par for the course.

    It seems obvious to me that money has distorted and corrupted our political system in dangerous ways. Thousands of lying TV ads do not make us a better country. The First Amendment is a red herring here. We should be able to find a way to let politicians really be heard, taking stands on issues, rather than letting slander and disgust define campaigns.

    Do Al Barger and Baronius and others who defend the current system really like it? I don’t believe it for a minute. They’re just having a knee-jerk reaction to ‘socialism.’

    Of course, the Clintons do tend to look at government programs as a way to get things accomplished, thus public financing – and the libertarians [and Clinton-haters] will never agree with them no matter what. But maybe there are other ways, such as Dave’s suggestion, to approach the problem.

    Just don’t even try to deny that it is a problem!

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Wow, an article by Dave which makes me want to say right on rather than making my blood boil. Some of the follow-up comments from him and from others are pretty questionable, but that’s par for the course.

    Now you just need to realize that I’m just as right on everything else.

    The First Amendment is a red herring here.

    Read that a few times and see if that’s REALLY what you wanted to say.

    Do Al Barger and Baronius and others who defend the current system really like it? I don’t believe it for a minute. They’re just having a knee-jerk reaction to ‘socialism.’

    No, they’re taking a poisition principle. All they’re saying is that speech should be absolutely free. People should be able to express themselves with their words or their money with no restrictions. It’s a reasonable perspective.

    On principle they’re absolutely correct, but the practice in reality isn’t working out so well.

    My compromise is that if we’re going to restrict free speech it’s not as bad as it could be if it’s done evenly and accross the board.

    Dave

  • bliffle

    “People should be able to express themselves with their words or their money with no restrictions. It’s a reasonable perspective.”

    Sez who? Is that part about the money in the constitution?

    If what you say were true, then noone could be prosecuted for bribing anyone.

  • Maurice

    bliffle – please read this.

    Dave – what you propose is interesting. It would certainly help the situation. I just think that as long as laws are passed that help one group at the hindrance of another group we will always have a push for corruption in politics.

    If the federal government were truly restrained by the Constitution we would not have such problems.

    “[T]he powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its
    jurisdiction.”
    — James Madison, Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention [June 6, 1788]

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    The fact that it’s nearly always rightists who cite the first amendment with regard to this issue – but not necessarily with regard to other issues – makes me call it a ‘red herring.’

    When a constitutional issue divides too neatly into Left and Right positions, I am suspicious of the positions. I am certainly not suspicious of the Constitution, just of the conveniently selective way some people apply it. Myself included, of course.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    heh..interesting indeed that those who profess a love of the Constitution, the First Amendment in particular…yet embrace “tort reform” and the rest forget something…

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    read that last line again…ALL tort restrictions, ANY attempt at restricting folks from lawsuits, violates that last line of the First Amendment

    just a Thought

    Excelsior?

  • Dr Dreadful

    Also, gonzo, perhaps you’ve noticed how many of the same people who are prepared to defend the Second Amendment to the death are extremely bothered by the Fourteenth…

  • bliffle

    Maurice,

    I looked at that childishly colorful citation, whereupon I could finally discover the text of the 1st amendment, which, as usual, and in spite of all the lurid web decoration, says what it always said before:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    but I couldn’t find anything that says spending money to bribe people is legal.

    What’s your point?

  • bliffle

    DD says: “…many of the same people who are prepared to defend the Second Amendment to the death are extremely bothered by the Fourteenth…”

    Except, of course, in one very specific case: Bush vs. Gore, where their lawyers (led by james Baker) claimed that Bush would be deprived of “Equal Protection” if the Florida supreme court decision to recount votes were to be allowed to stand! The SCOTUS majority, 7 of 9 appointed by republican presidents, then proclaimed that this decision could NOT be used as a precedent! Astounding!

    I’d bet that even James Baker was surprised at this decision.

    It seems to me that this is against the very essence of constitutional law, which is supposed to be about the processes of law, not specific instance.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    “…many of the same people who are prepared to defend the Second Amendment to the death are extremely bothered by the Fourteenth…”

    I missed this before, but it’s a classic example of the idiotic bigotry of the left. In fact, those who support the 2nd Amendment are the same people who fought for liberty and passed the 14th Amendment in the first place, and they’re the same people who have continued to fight for civil and individual rights in the generations since then.

    You’re making the mistake of confusing civil liberties with group entitlements, which are markedly NOT the same thing.

    dave

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    The fact that it’s nearly always rightists who cite the first amendment with regard to this issue – but not necessarily with regard to other issues – makes me call it a ‘red herring.’

    Handy, in articles on BC in the last couple of years I’ve cited the first amendment on issues like internet censorship, prayer in schools, flag burning and a variety of other topics. It applies to all of them no more or less than free expression of political support. Where’s the inconsistency?

    Dave

  • STM

    Some very good points Dave. Caps on campaign funding work well. I believe there should be a taxpayer funded amount (capped, and equal, of course and I know you’ll disagree with that but it does lay down some legislated ground rules) and then a capped amount for each party provided by their backers.

    Add an electronic media ban of between three days and a week – no ads, no politicians making statements – in the week leading up to the poll to give people a) some cooling off time and b) space to make their own decisions, and voila! It’s amazing how different the same story can appear in the newspapers and the electronic media.

    Add compulsory voting and you’ve handed ALL the power back to the people. I understand you have libertarian concerns regarding compulsory voting, but the experience Down Under has been that it engages all groups in the electoral process and forces politicians to address all groups and needs. Politicians who step out of line do not have the protection of their lobby groups. I believe Australians on the whole are far more politically savvy and engaged than Americans, and it’s the reason. I see it as no different to the state forcing people to get drivers’ licences, or paying taxes. It’s just not that big an impost.

    We also had a three-day electronic media ban in operation here for many, many years in relation to statements by politicians (not the reporting of the election) and it was a godsend for voters, who could have a bit of time before the poll to really think about what and who’s on offer. Good luck trying to get that kind of legislation in the US, but it is good for the punter, if not for the news organisations.

  • STM

    Clav: “And JOM’s right. What the majority of people want is health care for everybody, NOT health care provided by the government.”

    But no doubt they would like the government to make sure that it is fair and equitable, and only the government has the power to do so.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    just a Thought on the topic…

    the broadcast public airwaves belong to the Public, and are leased to commercial entities…

    each Candidate on the ballot in the broadcast range get equal time on all public airwaves as represented by a dollar figure which the Campaigns can spend as they see fit in “buys” from the broadcasters…

    this removes the single largest cost of a campaign, at the cost of the broadcasters fulfilling their “public service” portions of their leases of the public airwaves

    just wanted to toss an Idea into the mix, i tend to agree that financing campaigns is one of the root problems in our Republic at this time

    Excelsior?

  • Clavos

    bliffle said this back in #20:

    “Put all contributions in a Blind Fund so that the candidate gets the benefit without owing allegiance to the contributor.”

    I said before, it’s a good idea….

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    each Candidate on the ballot in the broadcast range get equal time on all public airwaves as represented by a dollar figure which the Campaigns can spend as they see fit in “buys” from the broadcasters…

    This is very attractive, gonzo, but I see problems. If you give every candidate on the ballot the same amount of money, doesn’t that reward those who can qualify but have very little support and punish those who have a great deal of support and could buy a lot more advertising on their own?

    You take the money/advertising time away from the major parties and give it to the natural law party and give them equal time? Or the White Aryan Party for that matter.

    Then there’s the question of where the money comes from. If as someone suggested earlier, you pool all contributions, then no one has a motivation to contribute, because their contribution no longer goes to support the person or party they want. If you use taxpayer money then you’re taking peoples money to subsidize beliefs they don’t agree with.

    Another problem. Who controls how people get on the ballot? You’re transferring a LOT of power to that group. They’ll probably start to set the qualifications incredibly high to keep minor candidates off the ballot altogether.

    I’d like to see third parties have a chance even more than you would, but it’s just not fair to do it at the expense of taxpayers by having them essentially subsidize also-rans.

    There’s got to be a better way – and I still think just capping spending does the job. It levels the field without costing taxpayers more money or making people pay for campaigns they don’t support.

    Dave

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Dave, #49:

    I am neither expressing bigotry nor taking a political position. I simply made the observation that there are those who seem to forget how sacred their Constitution is as soon as they come across a part of it they don’t like. The same could be said of gun-control advocates who run up against the Second and find themselves wishing it wasn’t there.

    Big Dog is an example of what I am talking about. He is strongly pro-gun and cites constitutional authority (the Second Amendment) for his position. He is also strongly anti-illegal immigration and identifies the Fourteenth Amendment right of automatic citizenship as a major contributor to the problem.

    I really don’t see what difference it makes whether a right is enjoyed by individuals or by groups if it’s constitutionally protected. Once again, you’re cultivating hairs specifically to split them.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle


    Big Dog is an example of what I am talking about. He is strongly pro-gun and cites constitutional authority (the Second Amendment) for his position. He is also strongly anti-illegal immigration and identifies the Fourteenth Amendment right of automatic citizenship as a major contributor to the problem.

    Yes, but you shouldn’t assume – as you seem to – that the two positions he holds go hand in hand or are held that same way by any signficant number of other people.

    I really don’t see what difference it makes whether a right is enjoyed by individuals or by groups if it’s constitutionally protected.

    Ah, but the constitution says not one word about group rights.

    Once again, you’re cultivating hairs specifically to split them.

    Have you seen my photo? I’m clearly not cultivating hairs.

    Dave

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    you shouldn’t assume – as you seem to – that the two positions he holds go hand in hand or are held that same way by any signficant number of other people.

    And you shouldn’t assume that because you argue for gun ownership and for [some of] the rights of illegal immigrants, yours is the default position. Ideological inconsistency is very common. Don’t believe me, pick a random congressperson and pay attention the next two times he/she opens his/her mouth…

    the constitution says not one word about group rights.

    Then why did you bring it up?

    Have you seen my photo? I’m clearly not cultivating hairs.

    The moment I hit the Publish button it occurred to me that I was handing Moonraven or REMF a freebie. We shall see…!

  • STM

    Good to see you two having a nice knees up :)

  • STM

    Tie the amount of the funding to the size of the party, its membership, and the number of seats it contests. That way, both the Dems and Republicans get roughly equal amounts, whilst the smaller parties get an amount commensurate with their support, ie from zilch to not very much.

    Most ‘em, like the ones you’ve noted Dave, are disruptive to the democratic process anyway, despite the fact they are allowed by right to run. So deal with ‘em accordingly.

  • Clavos

    Stan, I disagree with your #60.

    I think institutionalizing the two party system any more than it already is, is a mistake.

    Sure, the smaller parties are marginal and sometimes disruptive, but the more rational of them offer alternative ideas, some of which have real merit and often end up as part of the majors’ platforms.

    Case in point: in the current race, both Kucinich and Paul are offering some ideas which can and likely will be adopted in the platforms of the nominees of both major parties; ideas that might not have been exposed to the voters, but for their seemingly Quixotic campaigns.

    Your idea, I think, would further marginalize them to the detriment of the process, and ultimately, of the country.

  • Silver Surfer

    Clav, you old bastard … I knew you’d come out of the woodwork at some point.

    You’re probably right, and how’s the titfer :)

  • Clavos

    Waitaminnit, SS!!

    You’re gonna just roll over like that, with no counterpoint???

    That’s no fun!!

    Me titfer got used recently; I wore it to a party on a client’s boat (which I had just sold him). Turned out, there was another Nam vet aboard, who came over and introduced himself as soon as he saw me. He thought the story of how I acquired the hat was very cool.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Clav, he’s tired and going to bed to eat chocolate, or something.

    All that jetsetting must be catching up with him!

  • moonraven

    I don’t need any fuckin’ freebies, gringo.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    An example of gratuitous narstiness we could all do without:

    DN: “…a classic example of the idiotic bigotry of the left.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Me:
    “The fact that it’s nearly always rightists who cite the first amendment with regard to this issue – but not necessarily with regard to other issues – makes me call it a ‘red herring.'”

    DN:
    “Handy, in articles on BC in the last couple of years I’ve cited the first amendment on issues like internet censorship, prayer in schools, flag burning and a variety of other topics. It applies to all of them no more or less than free expression of political support. Where’s the inconsistency?”

    I wasn’t accusing you, individually, of inconsistency [in this case, I mean]. Your article actually takes a contrary position from some conservatives re: campaign finance reform.

    My point was that constitutional issues don’t, or shouldn’t, divide into neatly stacked Left and Right positions, because the Constitution is not a Leftist or Rightist document. When anyone uses the Bill of Rights as a basis for heavy-breathing politics, of any kind, be suspicious.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    What is the bill of rights for, if not some heavy breathing, waving of signs and shouting of slogans?

    dave

  • Maurice

    bliffle #47

    you have asked more naive questions in this thread than usual and to me that indicated you are unfamiliar with the constitution. Just thought you might like to read it.

    Makes me thing you might be one of those that discovered the Electoral Colleage in 2000…..

  • bliffle

    Do you have some point about the issues under discussion, or have you gone over entirely to ad hominem attacks?

  • Maurice

    bliffle – JFC!

    you aren’t getting it! If I was making an ad hominem attack on you it would be to refute some point you are making – you are not making a point! You have repeatedly asked me about my points (#36 #42). I was just making an observation about your ability to read.

    BTW – An ad hominem attach would be if I said your argument in #20 were invalid because you once misrepresented yourself to me as an Electrical Engineer.