Jan 23 2010

Christian Science Monitor has great faith: in incumbent Government, that is

Category: corruption,governmentharmonicminer @ 8:59 pm

In a stunning display of ignorance about the nature of American government and the intent of the founders, the Christian Science Monitor editorial board whines that the Supreme Court opens the money gates. There is more at the link, if you can bear to read it.

The Supreme Court on Thursday opened wide the gates to allow more corporate and union money to finance political campaigns, and potentially influence politicians and lawmaking.

That’s unfortunate, and means that the role of watchdogs tracking the money trail will be more important than ever.

It’s not as if corporations and unions have so far had their wallets glued shut. They can fund issue ads that are important to their interests. And they’re allowed to form political action committees that directly support candidates, as long as the donations are collected voluntarily from employees and union members.

But even members of Congress, whose energy is increasingly diverted to fundraising, have long recognized the potentially corrupting effect that big money can have on them. More than 100 years ago they banned corporations from donating directly to federal candidates.

Thankfully, the justices upheld that ban Thursday, as well as disclosure rules about contributors. But in a divisive 5-to-4 ruling, they overturned other important restrictions.

In time for this year’s midterm elections, corporations and unions can now spend directly from their treasuries on ads to support or defeat candidates, as long as those ads are produced independently and not coordinated with a campaign. They may also run ads right up until election day, instead of pulling them 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy grounded the ruling in First Amendment rights. Corporations and unions, like individuals, have a right to free speech, the majority reasoned. “The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach,” he wrote.

But Justice John Paul Stevens said in his dissent, “The court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation.” Indeed, when voters say they want “change” in Washington, the influence of money on politics is the kind of thing they’re talking about.

Some facts do intrude.

There were plenty of rich people in America in 1850. They spent very little money trying to get candidates of their choice elected. The reason? Taxes were low. There was no income tax. The federal government didn’t spend all that much, and did not fund lucrative contracts. A government that doesn’t take much of your money, and can’t give you much, is not a government whose makeup matters enough to very many rich people, or groups, to bother to spend much money on.

Fast forward.  In the modern USA, the government has the ability to take your money, regulate everything you do, and spend lots of money buying various goods and services from the private sector.

The Christian Science Monitor suggests that the people who are affected most by government power, the people who have the most to lose, should not have a commensurate ability to affect the decision making process.

Shame on them.

And the CSM seems to think that a government that spends enormous sums of money is one that the people whose money the government took should not be trying to influence, or at least not very much.

That’s just ridiculously naive.

A couple of recent experiences of large corporations in relation to government are instructive.  Not so long ago, Microsoft Corp gave almost no money to political groups or candidates.  But ever since the Clinton justice department essentially attacked Microsoft under “anti-monopoly” law, Microsoft has become a large donor to BOTH parties, out of sheer self-defense.  Something similar has happened with Walmart, which was previously mostly uninterested in politics, until many legislators got the idea that they should force Walmart to change its employment policies in various ways, at which point Walmart began giving money to both parties.

Does someone think that Microsoft and Walmart should not have the right to try to influence the outcome of political processes that are going to affect them in a very big way?  Yes.  But those people fundamentally want the public, including the people who are most productive among us, to be unable to defend themselves from government.

There is no way to “get the money out of politics” and still have a free nation.  The best way to ensure some kind of balance and fairness is simple: require complete and total disclosure of every donation, donor and recipient, to the electorate.  Print it everywhere.  Then let everyone make their case, in the open, about who is influencing whom in a way that is against the interests of the public.

Then let the public decide at the ballot box, instead of letting judges and congressman decide who gets to fund what communication to whom, and when.

The REAL corruption is elected politicians drafting legislation to shut up people and groups who want to exercise their free speech rights.

Here’s another viewpoint on the Supreme Court decision.