Campaign Finance

Taking Money Insurgents Out of Politics

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Here's David Kurtz at the liberal site Talking Points Memo:

You may have heard that Larry Kudlow, the former Reagan economic adviser, diehard supply-sider, and CNBC host, is considering running against Chuck Schumer for U.S. Senate from New York.

How can Kudlow hope to match the fund-raising prowess of the incumbent Schumer? Thanks to the Supreme Court's decision on corporate contributions in the Citizens United case, we got it covered, a top Kudlow supporter and pal tells TPMDC.

"People who are worried about their taxes, particularly medium- and large-size businesses, would be more interested in helping Larry Kudlow than Chuck Schumer," John Lakian says.

Kurtz doesn't explicitly say that a well-funded pro-Kudlow ad campaign would be a bad thing. But last I checked, he didn't like the way Citizens United came out, so—unless I missed a subsequent post in which he reversed his stance—I figure he considers this a reason to regret the ruling. But why? If the effect of the Court's decision is to make a race more competitive, so that even a powerful politician with a potent fundraising machine has to watch his back, doesn't that mean the system is now more rather than less democratic?

Set aside whether you like Kudlow better than Schumer. (In another context, after all, the upstart candidate could emerge from the incumbent's left rather than his right. The most famous example came in 1968, when a few wealthy antiwar donors fueled Eugene McCarthy's challenge to Lyndon Johnson.) Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the precedent that Citizens United overturned, dates back to 1990. If anyone has made the case that corporate influence in D.C. declined in the two decades while Austin was the law of the land, please point me to the argument, because I haven't seen it. What I have seen is a system that favors those who already have pull in Washington and who are better able to navigate a complex set of campaign finance regulations. If Citizens United means elections are now more open to outsiders, that's a reason to celebrate, not to mourn.

Incidentally, there are ways to open up elections still further that would reduce rather than raise the role of money in politics. When local governments consolidate or when a city moves from ward-based elections to a council whose members are elected at-large, the increase in the size of the electorate means it's harder to rely on door-to-door canvassing, making campaign ads (and, thus, campaign war chests) more important. It therefore stands to reason that you could make money less important and encourage more grassroots organizing by reversing the process and breaking up those jurisdictions, an idea that could be applied to congressional elections by having more and smaller districts. Yet that hardly ever comes up as a proposal when campaign reformers make their pitches. Interesting, no?

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  1. Kudlow and Congress doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

  2. The Citizens United ruling was NOT about campaign contributions, no matter how loudly the liberals scream. It was about running ads close to the election.

  3. The Citizens United ruling was NOT about campaign contributions, no matter how loudly the liberals scream. It was about running ads close to the election.

    I presume Kurtz is referring to the companies’ ability to fund ads favoring Kudlow and/or attacking Schumer.

  4. Why on the Goddess’s Green Earth would we want more democracy?

    I don’t fancy serving 51% of the population any more than I fancy serving 1 king. We need more rule of law, and less democracy.

    Obeying the rule of law, we’d recognize that you can’t restrict a person’s ability to speak their opinions, no matter if they’re affiliated with any type of organization or not.

  5. In all seriousness, we have significantly more democracy than this system was designed for. The prevailing sentiment at the founding was that too much democracy would be bad for liberty. Hence the mixed system, checks and balances, and limited powers.

  6. I’d like to see more discussion of increasing the size of the House. I could be convinced against, but I think it’s a good idea.

    1. John Thacker,

      I think removing the direct election of Senators would be more beneficial in the long term…

      Let the states battle the State…

      Nephilium

      1. I’d like to see the states elect senators again, *and* a bigger HR.

      2. I’ve long advocated repealing the 17th amendment. This would move all that “special interest money” and spread it out among all the members of the state legislatures, thereby diluting its power.

    2. Yes, because we need more gerrymandered districts.

      Until we find a way to cut down on gerrymandering, there’s no way to improve the competititiveness of House races.

      1. So develop some strict mathematical formula for defining districts.

        Of course we’re dreaming anyway, the system we have will never allow any of this to happen.

        1. A year ago I thought there was no way we weren’t going to have a public option and card check signed into law in 2009.

          The odds against are pretty daunting, but with the right confluence of circumstances anything is possible.

        2. The formula would be very simple. Pass a law that puts a cap on the ratio of border to area. Determine this cap by surveying 100 non-voters, showing each a selection of real or fictional districts with varying ratios and asking if they are gerrymandered or not. The smallest ratio for which 51% of the non-voters say the district is gerrymandered is the cutoff.

      2. Replace votes with a vote-weighted lottery. Less reason to gerrymander then.

  7. I’d like to see more discussion of increasing the size of the House.

    Like, make it so big no one can survive traversing the lobby? I’m for it.

    And fill it with bees.

  8. What I have seen is a system that favors those who already have pull in Washington and who are better able to navigate a complex set of campaign finance regulations.
    True dat.
    And now they’re scrambling to pass new laws, one of which “would tax political expenditures at 500 percent.”
    Does it occur to any of these people that this would make ‘political expenditures’ prohibitively expensive for everyone EXCEPT those with the deepest pockets?http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/03/pelosi-taps-task-force-to_n_448536.html

  9. What’s really amazing about this case is that it was a Hillary-bashing movie that got squashed, yet if it had been a Bush-bashing movie, all these same people would love this decision. I so very fucking much hate partisans. So very much.

    1. Yeah, me too. I get tired of the fact that if I criticize Obama and/or the Democrats, a lot of liberals (and most of the people I associate with are liberals) assume that that means I’m a Republican. Thus a good deal of the discussion consists of me taking ridiculous pains to emphasize that I find the GOP pretty damn repulsive as well. Maybe I’m trying to be too agreeable. But I feel that if I don’t make it clear that disagreeing with the Democrats doesn’t mean I moon over pictures of GWB, I won’t even be taken seriously.
      It’s frustrating on that personal level, but it’s more frustrating to think that people with that “either-us-or-them” mentality are the ones most likely to get involved in politics. Although I guess it makes sense.

  10. FA Hayek wrote in Road Serfdom about the Left’s disingenuous claims that it just wants to move past economic quarrels and focus on people and hugging trees, etc. Liberals and progressives think of nothing BUT economics (most notably, other peoples’ money they feel they have intrinsic claim to or power over).

    Conservatives and libertarians MUST start doing a better job of explaining and defending and promoting (tirelessly, I might add) the free market system and the inextricable links between religious, political and economics freedom.

    You gotta check out this article on that very topic: http://rjmoeller.com/2010/02/t…..sm-part-i/

  11. Conservatives and libertarians MUST start doing a better job . . .

    You gotta check out this article . . .

    Fuck you, I won’t do what ya tell me!

    Seriously, telling libertarians what they “must” do? What do you think we are, objectivists?*

    Plus, if you actually think that’s what liberals think about, you got another thing coming. It’s like saying that libertarians hate poor people ? just look at their policies! Well, no; they just think that their policies are the best way to help the poor. Similarly, liberals think their policies are going to help society. The fact that they’re wrong doesn’t change their motives. Unless their politicians, assume their motives are simon-pure, because you have no way of knowing otherwise. The only way to effectively engage people, and to have any hope of changing their minds, is to respect them as reasonable people (whatever your private opinion of them) and try to see things from their perspective. If you argue with the liberal in your head, you’ll lose every time, as well as being one of those antisocial jackasses who give libertarians a bad name.

    And also . . . it’s 2010. You don’t have to use ALL CAPS to emphasize your points. This site has HTML; use it. Italics emphasize your point without MAKING IT LOOK LIKE YOU’RE A SHOUTING TWELVE YEAR OLD. Seriously, why has there been a seeming plague of ALL CAPS here recently?

    * Not meant to be disparaging to objectivists. Please don’t hurt me.

    1. Unless their politicians . . .

      Gah! Should be “Unless they’re politicians . . .” Dammit, I caught every other typo before I posted!

    2. + (a lot, even with typos). I can think of no other way to piss people off faster than to assume they’re making arguments in bad faith.

      Considering the running “racist!” joke on these threads, and the constant explaining we have to do to Rs & Ds, you’d think more libertarians would understand that.

    3. What do you think we are, objectivists?

      RACIST!

  12. The Constitution does provide for congressional districts as small as one representative per 30,000 people. Taken to the limit, this would seat 10,000 representatives.

    We are limited to 435 representatives for the convenience of the governing class–a situation that has pertained for 90 years. Apparently, they think a larger House would be too unwieldy to pass much legislation.

    I believe that would be a good thing. Let’s at least double the size of the House.

  13. ‘Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce’

    The Citizens United opinion didn’t seem to address this, but there’s a distinction between the Austin and Citizens United Cases. Austin involved a state law; Citizens United involved a federal law. In a country with a 10th Amendment, this should mean something.

    It should be possible to uphold a state law regulating the corporations it creates, while being skeptical of a federal law undertaking to regulate corporations (only a tiny number of corporations are federally chartered).

  14. Why not go balls out and move to pure, direct democracy – get the gears moving for a constitutional amendment allowing for government by public referendum.

    Some of the first motions put forward could be a vast stripping away of laws – something consistent with libertarian thought.

    In many (though not all) ways, direct democracy aims at the same pure sense of self-determination that libertarianism does.

    I think the overwhelming reason that representative (vs. direct) democracy was favored/accepted historically was for reasons of practicality (despite the arguments of supposed legislative expertise in representative democracy, I really think a majority of individuals reject that argument both on its face and due to the corruption that the system has repeatedly manifested).

    The internet has made direct democracy a much, much more viable prospect.

    Why not push for it?

    1. Because mob rule is a really, really bad idea? Google “tyranny of the majority” for some reasons why.

      1. Still, direct democracy could be inserted as a third house of Congress or as a replacement for the house of representatives. It wouldn’t be any more tyrannical than the status quo, unless you believe that Congresspersons represent the best society has to offer in lawmaking (and you don’t, I guarantee it).

        Main problem is the question of cheating — if a district is guaranteed one and only one representative, and it’s a fairly monolithic block of voters, the incentive for shenanigans at the polls is miniscule. With direct democracy, Chicago’s dead voters essentially mean Chicago is cheating all Americans of part of their voice, not just the voters of Illinois. With the stakes so high, things could get very ugly, very fast.

    2. Because exiling anybody that pisses off the mob is a godawful plan.

      (Even though it led to drawings of annoying people getting boned by dogs on the original ostraka.)

  15. Brett is correct. Article 1, Section 2, 1 representative for up to 30,000 people, section 3 states the Senators to be elected by the Legislatures of their respective states.

    I do think the number of reps is too small, and the direct election of Senators results leads to constant campaigning.

    The Constitution was written by the most brilliant lawyers of that time for the common man of that time with the benefit of a common Englishman education only, not a constitutional law degree.

    The genius of the Constitution and its authors, is the deference to the citizen. Commoners from the states were the representatives that voted to accept or reject the Constitution, not the group asssembled at the convention.

    If the elites of today decided to undertake the same, it would be a mile thick and full of the infamous nuances (smoke that fogs the listeners brains so they get as confused as the speaker).

  16. ‘When local governments consolidate or when a city moves from ward-based elections to a council whose members are elected at-large, the increase in the size of the electorate means it’s harder to rely on door-to-door canvassing, making campaign ads (and, thus, campaign war chests) more important. ‘

    My dad was a city councilman in a small city for somes years – he knocked on a lot of doors, something you can’t do in a larger setting. Had our own antique printing press in the garage for cards and signs.

  17. I’m down for anti-gerrymandering reform, but color me skeptical at increasing the size of the House. I agree in principle it’s better for a Representative to have a much closer relationship with the people in their district, which smaller districts would represent. But doubling the House means nearly doubling the number of legislators (and staff) we have to pay, and remember we also pay for their crazy “perks” like using the military as a private jet service. I like the idea of cat-herding ruining their chances of passing any but the simplest legislation, but I wonder if it’s worth it. Anyway let’s fix gerrymandering first, then talk about size.

    Splitting jurisdictions can have negative effects too, by the way. I live in a suburb of Syracuse where we don’t actually get to vote for or against the people who wield disproportionate influence over our local economy. As a result, the rabidly anti-business Stephanie Miner is now Syracuse’s mayor, who makes her hapless predecessor look like a free marketeer. Matt Driscoll before her nearly lost his last election and would have (deservedly) lost it in a landslide if the surrounding towns could have participated in that election.

    1. Your only options are (a) get some city-county merger action going or (b) leave NYS, because (a) does not happen here–mostly because suburban residents like it that way even when the result is the miserable economy you see all over upstate.

  18. Set aside whether you like Kudlow better than Schumer.

    I cant think of anyone I like less than Schumer.

    1. What about Hitler?

  19. @Lummox JR: Two things to keep in mind: (1) As annoying as it is to pay Congresscritters, their pay and privileges are a miniscule percentage of the budget. It’s the pork and entitlements that are the budget-busters. (2) Shrinking the size of districts is, in and of itself, anti-gerrymandering, because smaller districts are closer to the size of the error in measurements of the partisanship of the populace. In other words, it gets harder to draw up districts that guarantee that a certain party will get elected within that district.

  20. When local governments consolidate or when a city moves from ward-based elections to a council whose members are elected at-large, the increase in the size of the electorate means it’s harder to rely on door-to-door canvassing, making campaign ads (and, thus, campaign war chests) more important. It therefore stands to reason that you could make money less important and encourage more grassroots organizing by reversing the process and breaking up those jurisdictions, …

    This is likely to happen in Detroit in the next couple of years. Name recognition alone gets people like Martha Fuckin’ Reeves and Monica (John’s convicted felon wife) Conyers on the city council.

    Nobody on the council represents the poorer, relatively non-voting and non-contributing, neighborhoods at all as they continue their back to nature slide with some time spent as lawless hellholes on the way.

  21. The original ratio of congresscritters to constituents was 30K to 1 in the USA. Returning to that would give us about 10K congressmen, or about 3 per county, making it about as hard to get elected to Congress as it would be to get elected to a county board of supervisors. Sounds good to me! The Senate could be expanded to allow for one Senator per county, making for about 3K total.

  22. The ancient philosophers were also not fans of democracy, believing (quite rightly) that skillful and mendacious demogogues could sway the masses (a historical example is the demagogue Cleon gained an evil notoriety by his proposal to put to death the whole male population of Mytilene, which was enthusiastically voted by the Assembly, but then recalled in a fit of remorse the next day.)

    Limited government and rule of law are the only workable methods of preventing oligarchy or the rule of the mob, and it takes hard work to maintain this state of affairs.

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