Fund as I Say, Not as I Fund

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Ex-Reasoner Ryan Sager has a great piece up on the history of the movement for campaign finance reform that's simultaneously mindblowing and, in a sense, unsurprising. Sager meticulously documents an elaborate, multi-million dollar effort by the Pew Charitable Trusts to create the illusion of a mass movement in favor of CFR. Go read the whole thing, though I've got to cite some bits of surprising candor of an ex-Pew employee from a transcript of a videotape Sager discovered:

Having been on the Hill I knew that … if Congress thought this was a Pew effort, it'd be worthless. It'd be 20 million bucks thrown down the drain. So, in order, in essence, to convey the impression that this was something coming naturally from outside the Beltway, I felt it was best that Pew stay in the background…. We had a scare. As the debate was progressing and getting pretty close, George Will stumbled across a report that we had done and attacked it in his column. And a lot of his partisans were becoming aware of Pew's role and were feeding him information. And he started to reference the fact that Pew had played a large role in this—that this was a liberal attempt to hoodwink Congress. But you know what the good news is from my perspective? Journalists didn't care . . . So no one followed up on the story. And so there was a panic there for a couple of weeks because we thought the story was going to begin to gather steam, and no one picked it up.

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  1. Why is this “mindblowing?” How is it any different from, say, the Chamber of Commerce creating anti-civil-litigation lobbying groups? Or the food and beverage industry’s lobbying shop creating the Center for Consumer Freedom?

    Except the part (conveniently left out) where the CFR groups actually tried, and succeeded, in attracting a grassroots membership, rather than just being a name and a Washington phone number, this looks like every political movement I’ve ever seen.

  2. George Will has written several articles about the Campaign fund reform scam. He has stated that it violates the freedom of speech. I concur.

    The other problem with campaign fund donations is that one can’t buy a damn politician anymore. Just rent the bastards until someone else comes up with more money. Well, that’s what happens when there is no written contract.

  3. JOe: of course it is like every political movement. This one funded by the left primarily to limit the funding of the political right. I believe that it ought to be wide open! I could give a damn who gives what to who nor how much. The only thing I would ask for is a complete listing of who gave and how much and to who. Publishing of this information would give the voters an idea of what they were actually voting for.

  4. Joe, this is more like if the chamber of commerce created an anti-lobbying lobbying group.

    That said, I agree it’s hardly mindblowing but rather politics as usual.

  5. Holy crap! What a great expos’e. I don’t know whether to be encouraged that some light is breaking through, or depressed over how much cloud cover remains.

    Either way works as an excuse to hit the bottle. Not that I need another excuse to drink tonight.

    And speaking of which, here’s my obligatory annual St P’s day link

  6. “Joe, this is more like if the chamber of commerce created an anti-lobbying lobbying group.”

    I don’t get it. Are the foundations mentioned, and the lobbying groups they funded, opposed to lobbying? To private foundations funding lobbying shops? I don’t recall seeing restrictions on private groups giving to private groups among the rules of McCain-Feingold.

    If the Ford Foundation et al, or Democracy 21 et al, were making donations to Congressional campaigns, your paralle would be valid.

  7. So these liberal groups thought they were losing, so they whined to change the rules.

  8. Would conservative groups whine any less?

  9. We can eliminate lobbying, anti-lobbying efforts, campaign financing, etc., simply by eliminating the politicians. Why can’t we get the greatest comp-sci geniuses of the world to create an algorithm that would govern us in a straightforward and rational way? Eliminate human error from the legislative process! ; >

  10. …or just put Lisa, Comic Book Guy, and Stephen Hawking in charge.

    Governance! Governance! Governance!

  11. We can eliminate lobbying, anti-lobbying efforts, campaign financing, etc., simply by eliminating the politicians. Why can’t we get the greatest comp-sci geniuses of the world to create an algorithm that would govern us in a straightforward and rational way? Eliminate human error from the legislative process! ; >

    And then the next thing you know our legislative AI is sending a robot back in time to kill the mother of the rebel leader that will one day overthrow it.

    And I bet it will claim that the robot was demanded by a grassroots initiative…

  12. “Why can’t we get the greatest comp-sci geniuses of the world to create an algorithm that would govern us in a straightforward and rational way?”

    I dunno about straight forward and rational, but you could easily continue the status-quo with a computer.

    Just program your humanoid to rant and rave about the evils of ________. Make sure it says “It’s for the children” and “The lessons of 9/11” at regular intervals.

    When it comes time to budget, have an algorithm rate and rank each program and department from most efficient to least efficient. Allocate based on the ranking, making sure the least efficient gets the biggest share of the pie.

    Simple.

  13. The most efficient way to end corruption in campaign finance is to eliminate campaigns. A move to the hereditary principle for choosing officeholders would put an end to vote buying and provide us with officeholders who are not less competent and no more corrupt than elected officials. In the alternative, officeholders might be selected by lottery, and officeholding could be treated like jury duty.

  14. Let’s do what Mayor Quimby would do: Blame the immigrants!

  15. Why is this “mindblowing?” How is it any different from, say, the Chamber of Commerce creating anti-civil-litigation lobbying groups? Or the food and beverage industry’s lobbying shop creating the Center for Consumer Freedom?

    It’s mindblowing because at one point it was unquestionably an astroturfing campaign by leftist special interests, much of the press knew that it was, and chose to ignore it. Perhaps if the press had done its job the special interests wouldn’t have been able to rally people concerned about “corruption” to their cause of gutting the First Amendment.

    It would have been nice if someone had outed that cunt “Granny D” for the partisan hack that she is.

  16. I’m with Joe on this one…how is this a big story? Scandal? Come on.

    And while we’re busy attacking the left, why not ask some pointed questions of the right.

    Does George Will operate in a bubble? Does no one on the right read his column?

    So not only did the ‘liberal’ press not care, apparently the right-wing talk radio types didn’t care, the right-wing politicians didn’t care and the Fox news pundits didn’t care.

    Why?

    Because right wing fundraisers do the same thing and appear to be twice as good at it.

  17. Politics as usual indeed! It reminds me of that report about the “public clamor” over indecency being entirely orchestrated by one organization, the Parents Television Council. Why, when we have example after example of this kind of thing, does anyone continue to believe that a government with the power to make choices for people can ever be a force for good?

    Even if you’re inclined to think some legislation passed by congress is occasionally (accidentally?) good, which I am not, it seems a high price to pay to deal with all the garbage. It’s like digging through a mountain of shit to find a little nugget of gold (more likely fool’s gold, at that). At some point you’ve got to stop hoping the animal doing all the shitting will start pooping out more gold than shit and just shoot the damn thing. Sure, you might miss out on a nugget now and then, but you’ll have more time and incentive to do something productive, and you’ll smell a lot better to boot.

  18. Brian…that’s about the funniest ‘nugget’ I’ve read on this page in a while.

    Took the liberty of doing a little diggin on this issue.

    Found an article at: http://www.sptimes.com/News/070500/Worldandnation/The_high_finance_behi.shtml

    Just so you know, SOMEONE in the ‘liberal media’ was covering this issue back in 2000.

    One interesting tidbit…

    Pew gave a reasearch organization Committee for Economic Development $2 mil. They advocate eliminating soft money and spending limits. Why?

    The group’s president, Charles Kolb, told the media that corporations feel hit up for money by politicians. The statement eviscerated the argument of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a prominent reform foe, that corporate executives give to “participate” in the political process.

    “I think the suspicion was that the foundations had an agenda and were looking for some outside organization that might provide cover for that agenda,” Kolb, a former Reagan and Bush official, said in acknowledging conservative concerns about the Pew grant. “And that is honestly not what happened.”

    No matter which side you’re on, it becomes increasingly disengenuous to assert campaign finance as a ‘free speech’ issue without acknowledging the increasing potential for abuse ala extortion or highest-bidder politicking.

    Campaign finance reform makes me queazy as it does a lot of other folks. But to deny a problem exists while crying ‘free speech’ starts to look pretty silly after a while.

  19. madpad: can’t deny that a problem exists. What used to be as simple as unmarked bills and a couple of stock market tips now is a complicated campaign fund donation. Politicians have been bought as long as there have been politicians. hell, our pols are sunday school children compared to the Roman senate!

    But do we curtail the right to free speech in order to get a handle on crooked politicians? I still believe that anyone or any business should be able to contribute whatever and how much they so desire to anyone in office or running for office. I also believe that those accepting the donations should be required to list each and every dollar and where it came from. At the least those who follow legislation will know who has been bought and by whom. Come election time an opponent can use the information to maybe kick out the crook.

  20. I can’t disagree with that, GUYK…but then that only answers part of the problem.

    Open the floodgates and the likelihood is the side with the most gold gets all (not most) of the political leverage.

    Then politics in the U.S. is no longer about democracy…it’s about businesses using government as a tool for squashing competition and citizen obstructions.

    We live in a world where grassroots efforts are finding it harder and harder to compete with this even as things currently are.

    What’s the solution?

  21. More from the “What Else Is New” file”

    Who’s Buying Campaign Finance Reform“, a 2001 report from the Americam Conservative Union that names pretty much the same names as the Sager column.

    And this *might* be the George Will column cited by Sager.

  22. madpad: I really don’t believe that politics in the USA has ever been about democracy. It is more about economics and property rights. The biggest problem before us today is property rights-how can we manage to hold on to our excess production (earning)and not be forced into income redistribution scams by government.

    But, this has been the primary issue pf politics every since there have been politicians. The only option that I can see is complete and entire disclosure of campaign funds and an accounting of where the funds were spent. Then it is up to the voters to decide if we want to keep the crooks in office.

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