Is Tim Kaine Now a Danger to Democracy?

Nobody on the left really believes what they always say about campaign contributions and spending.


If I am driving faster than you are, NPR's Shankar Vedantam recently noted, that's because I'm late and in a hurry. But if you are driving faster than I am, that's because you're a reckless jerk. This is known in psychological circles as a fundamental attribution error: We attribute our own behavior to circumstances and others' behavior to personality defects. People do the same thing all the time in politics, Vedantam said.

Indeed. So it's a safe bet that when many Democrats heard a new super-PAC had been created last week to help Virginia senatorial candidate Tim Kaine, they chalked it up to circumstances: A super-PAC supporting Kaine's likely GOP opponent, George Allen, had just been unveiled. So Kaine was simply fighting fire with fire – just like President Obama, who also overcame his scruples and urged supporters to contribute to Priorities USA, a super-PAC started by two former Obama aides.

Republicans, on the other hand, see Obama and Kaine getting—even welcoming—help from super PACs and condemn them for hypocrisy. Obama has called super PACs a "threat to democracy." Kaine calls their participation in politics "a disaster" and says "the notion that these are independent expenditures" is "a great fiction." But neither man will denounce the PACs helping them because they do not wish to unilaterally disarm. That's how Obama put it, anyway. "The ends justify the means" would be another way. A third way would be what Thomas Adcock wrote in Drown All the Dogs: "The dirty business of a noble cause never ends."

In truth, Kaine and Obama are mistaken. There is nothing particularly nefarious about super-PACs, which are simply incorporated entities formed to influence elections. Countless groups do precisely that all the time—including newspapers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times.

When politicans complain about "outside groups" meddling in electoral politics, what they really mean is that they want to control the debate. Consider the case of Seattle radio hosts Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson, whose on-air support for an anti-tax initiative a few years ago riled local government leaders who favored higher taxes. The officials went after Wilbur and Carlson; a judge ruled that the radio hosts' support for the ballot measure amounted to an in-kind contribution, and issued an injunction.

Wilbur and Carlson eventually prevailed, thanks to the "media exemption" in Washington's campaign-finance laws. That media exemption, like others around the country, is a double standard that exists for one reason only: to preserve the First Amendment rights of media corporations that otherwise would be silenced by the campaign-finance restrictions that seek to silence all other incorporated entities.

What makes the Washington case—and others like it—particularly interesting is this: The original rationale for campaign-finance restrictions was preventing corruption: Limiting contributions to candidates would keep them from being bought. Now campaign-finance laws apply even to ballot measures – initiative and referenda – where the possibility of corruption is nonexistent: ballot measures can't be bribed.

Silencing "outsiders" is just what Kaine sought to do when, in December, he "offered to reach an agreement to eliminate any involvement by outside groups." How, precisely, was he going to do that? Would he have tried to silence, say, The Washington Post editorial page, which is all but sure to endorse him? Or would he have included a double standard exempting media corporations? Prudently, he didn't say.

Now Kaine complains that "third parties filling the airwaves get to hide behind a cloak of secrecy," while he prefers "transparency." Transparency is indeed good. But you also could make a strong case against any transparency at all. If the goal is to prevent corruption—trading favors for cash or indirect help such as third-party advertising—then one way to achieve the goal would be to make all campaign contributions anonymous. Right now, Kaine knows that, for instance, his campaign received $55,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. If he had no idea where the money came from, it wouldn't matter how much anyone gave.

But he does know where the money came from. How many Democrats think that makes Kaine corrupt? Precious few, is the wager here. And precious few think the pro-Kaine super-PAC will corrupt him, either. And they're right.

As former Federal Election Commission chairman Bradley Smith observed last month about Obama's super-PAC, this fatally undermines the case for campaign-finance restrictions: Probably no Democrat thinks Kaine is going to change his position on public policy or his vote on judicial nominees because of the money he got from the IBEW or anyone else. And no Democrat thinks his own voice will be "drowned out" by the Kaine super-PAC's creation of an ostensibly "unlevel playing field."

"Nobody on the left really believes what they always say about campaign contributions and spending," Smith concludes. "The 'reformers' do not believe money is corrupting. Rather, they believe that their political opponents are corrupt."

Exactly. My side drives fast because it's in a hurry. Your side is just a bunch of jerks.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where this column originally appeared. 

NEXT: Nancy Pelosi Once Sneered At Questions About ObamaCare's Constitutionality? That Must Mean the Law Is Constitutional!

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  1. I think the word for this is fundamental attribution error.
    Also, first.

    1. I see you didn't even read the first paragraph. A true paragon of men, you!

  2. I would be shocked if the left took a stance that wasn't hypocritical.

    1. McCain-Feingold was pretty bipartisan and representative of the Big Gov Bush years of 2001-04 along with NCLB, Medicare Part D, PATRIOT Act, the Mortgage Downpayment Gift Act, and the Great Middle Eastern Reform and Nation Building Act.

      Of course all that was immediately forgotten in Jan 2009.

      1. You mean "compassionate conservative" means "big government liberal who claims to oppose abortion"?

        No fucking way!

        1. http://images2.wikia.nocookie......harris.png

          Loljk - we're all picking on poor Obama.

  3. Obama just had to avoid public financing last election because it was crucial that he win so he could save the country. It would have been unconscionable to do otherwise.

    1. I would think that private funding a campaign would be more popular here.

      I am opposed to public campaign financing myself.

      1. For many here the first principle is to hate liberals and Democrats, all others are secondary.

        1. Liberals and Democrats want the government to protect their private property while also giving them a claim to the property of others.

          They are liars and thieves who use the government to commit fraud and theft on their behalf.

          They are nothing short of evil.

          Go euthanize yourself. The world will be a better place for it.

          1. Don't mind this defender of the non-agression principle when he urges mass death, his handle is "sarcasmic" after all!

            1. I see no conflict with the non-aggression principle here.

              After all, it is you and your ilk who are initiating force and fraud.

              1. Oh, because taxes don't exist when a Republican is in the White House.


                1. I'm not a Republican.

                  1. A fact conveniently ignored by all of the liberal trolls here.

                    1. Chances are any given poster is an (R). John is the obvious example but there are many others.

                    2. That must be a comforting thought when you're cumming all over your picture of Obama every fucking night.

          2. When history looks back Bush 43 will represent the apogee of progressive activist government.

            2008 will be like 1929.

            Obamacare, as bad as parts are, will represent the transition to (attempt) paying for a bill in contrast to the Bush era.

            1. I have nothing but contempt for Bush 43. Why do you argue as if I supported him?

              1. I am all for a party like the LP emerging as a viable 3rd party.

                But that looks less likely every year. In the 80s - Ross Perot I thought it was likely.

                No more.

                1. "Political tags ? such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth ? are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort."
                  -Heinlein's Lazarus Long

                  Both the Rs and Ds are of the former sort. They only differ in what they want to control.
                  The latter, those who do not wish to control people, tend not to participate in politics or vote.

                  It's quite the conundrum.

              2. I have nothing but contempt for Bush 43. Why do you argue as if I supported him?

                Because "BOOSCH!!!" is all liberals have.

                1. Because all his problems went away when he left. The wars, the trillion dollar deficits, the financial disaster/depression - the new guy got to start fresh.

                  1. The wars

                    Iraq continues, only with mercenaries and "non-combat" troops.

                    Afghanistan got "surged" and Santorum wasn't even involved.

                    Libya got bombed because...why did Libya get bombed again?

                    Iran is about to be fucked. Hard.

                    trillion dollar deficits

                    Which Barry has increased, at the speed of a runaway train.

                    the financial disaster/depression

                    Still on going, in spite of Barry's futile attempt to paper over it while rewarding his cronies.

                    the new guy got to start fresh

                    He didn't campaign on a fresh start. He claimed he could fix shit with the power of "hope and change" and the lesser powers of "cleaning" and "articulation."

            2. "Obamacare, as bad as parts are, will represent the transition to (attempt) paying for a bill in contrast to the Bush era."

              You're funny, shriek.

        2. Right, why bring up a time when someone mentioned in the article broke a campaign pledge (while still campaigning!) about the same topic as the article (hypocrisy about spending in politics)?

        3. I think the big steaming pile of hypocrisy is the complaint - not the fact that he accidentally made the right choice while presenting himself as a victim because of it.

      2. Dude, that was pretty obviously sarcasm. At least that's how I read it.

      3. I'm opposed to public financing, but I'm not the one who made a pledge to use it until I realized I could outspend my opponent by not using it.

  4. Yeah, democrats should have made a principled stand against super pacs. Then, by losing the next election, they could pass legislation restricting super pacs. Somehow. With magic, perhaps.

    1. Or they could have sacked up and just admitted that Super PACs aren't intrinsically corrupting influences that endanger democracy, mom, and apple pie.

      That would have the advantage of being both (a) accurate and (b) principled.

      But no. They'd prefer to lie out their asses, pretending that Super PAC money is corrupting, but that they, unlike those Republicans, are virtuous enough to resist the blandishments of greenbacks.

      1. What democrat is saying "Super Pacs are bad, unless we use them?"

        The only argument I've heard is "Super Pacs are bad, but the republicans winning is worse."

        1. They aren't saying "Super Pacs are bad, unless we use them." Dick. They are saying "Super Pacs are bad." And then turning around and using them. There is absolutely no proof that spending x amount of dollars wins you an election. Furthermore, the basic reasoning behind their stance is that people are stupid and will be easily swayed by someone spending money on a candidate.

        2. A distinction without a difference. Stated otherwise: The ends justify the means.

  5. I guess I'll no longer visiting this site if I have to answer stupid questions

  6. All Power to the Imagination!

  7. Heck yeah dude now thats what I am talking about!

  8. Now wait just one second. Can a union fund a Super PAC? What's that you say? "yes"? Well, then we're all for them! Super PACs for all! The partisan hackery blinded us from the awesomenss that is Super PAC.

  9. Can any of you lawyerly types explain the following? I thought it was illegal for a candidate to coordinate with a SuperPAC. At least that's what Colbert told me......

    "...President Obama, who also overcame his scruples and urged supporters to contribute to Priorities USA, a super-PAC ..."

  10. As was pointed out in the article, liberals are not against *all* corporate attempts to influence the political process - witness the New York Times Corporation. It might be noted that some unions and non-profits and charities and public interest organizations are corporations as well. Of course, those aren't the bad corporations that need to be stifled.

    And opensecrets has an interesting table of contributions. You can see it here.

  11. Wrong again! When Democrats say, "Outside groups", they mean people who aren't a member of their social class .. you know who I mean, the boys and girls who believe that you and I are just their play toys and too stupid and too ignorant to know - let alone understand - what's good for us. That who the 'outsiders' are: people like Tea Partiers and like Sarah Palin. You know her worst sin, don't you? Graduating from some 4-year college not in the Ivy League. Just like most of the rest of the U.S.

  12. http://images2.wikia.nocookie......harris.png

    Loljk - we're all picking on poor Obama.

    1. Nesting fail :facepalm:

  13. Is there a libertarian reason opposing this amendment? No candidate for the Presidency or either house of Congress shall accept contributions in cash or in kind from any organization or group of persons for expenses incurred in a campaign for that office. All such contributions shall be made only by individual citizens who shall attest that the funds or other items of value are from their own resources and that they have not received, nor have they been promised, offsetting items of value from any other party in exchange for their contribution. Organizations of any type may, without restriction, expend money to advocate a position on any issue before or likely to come before the electorate insofar as no candidate's name or description is included in their expressions of advocacy.

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