Campaign Finance

Rich People Will Always Beat Campaign Finance Restrictions

When Congress blocks off one avenue for funding political campaigns, millionaires find other routes-or bulldoze new ones through the wilderness.

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The Supreme Court decision killing limits on total donations to political candidates means billionaires will be running amok. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson can lay out astronomical sums to help Republicans. Oilmen Charles and David Koch can see him and raise him. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg can burn through his fortune like a blowtorch.

Oh, wait. They already did all that. Under this ruling, tycoons will have one more relatively modest way of supporting the candidates and causes they like. But trust me: You won't be able to see a difference.

Adelson went through some $100 million in 2012, including $20 million given to a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney. The Koch brothers' creation, Americans for Prosperity, used $33 million trying to defeat Barack Obama. Bloomberg gave $10 million to a super PAC supporting likeminded candidates.

The angry outcry that greets every Supreme Court decision overturning campaign finance regulations seems based on the idea that somehow the money torrent can be turned into a trickle. Critics imagine that rich people can be prevented from using their resources to elect politicians they like or evict ones they don't.

The history of campaign finance says: as if. When Congress blocks off one avenue, millionaires find other routes—or bulldoze new ones through the wilderness.

After the historic 1974 campaign finance law tightly restricted donations to candidates, political action committees sprang up to give contributors another option. Facing limits on how much they could give to campaigns, some of the wealthy resorted to "independent expenditures," buying ads to help or hurt candidates. Others decided to run for office, since there is no limit on how much candidates can give themselves.

Not that curbing money is such a great idea. If it could be strictly controlled, the main beneficiaries would be incumbents, who are generally better known than challengers and have more ways to get free publicity. Outlawing soft-drink ads would not deprive Coke and Pepsi of market share.

It's hard to see why anyone thinks the regulation struck down by the Supreme Court really mattered. Federal law says you can give a candidate for Congress no more than $2,600 for each primary and $2,600 for each general election. As if that limit were not enough, it also says you can't give more than $48,600 to all candidates in a given year, even if none of the donations exceeds the individual maximum. So Adelson may give $5,200 each to nine candidates, but not 10.

But the court ruled the limit unconstitutional. As a result, he can fatten the coffers of additional candidates by $5,200 each. Considering that the average amount spent to win a House seat in 2012 was $1.6 million, his check is likely to buy him very little influence.

It may buy him none, since he's proof that in politics, money isn't everything. His 2012 darlings, Newt Gingrich and Romney, got beat. The Kochs impoverished their heirs for the pleasure of seeing a second Obama inauguration. Bloomberg's Independence USA super PAC supported four winning candidates but three losing ones.

All the efforts at banishing money from politics have been a bust. Since 1986, the average cost of a winning House campaign, adjusted for inflation, has doubled. The price of a Senate victory has risen by 60 percent. Independent expenditures on all congressional races rose from a total of $67,000 in 1996 to $125 million in 2012.

Most of this money is spent conveying information and opinion about the centerpiece of democracy: election contests. In the absence of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech, it might be possible to stifle all these efforts to communicate.

But if the wealthy are free to buy newspapers or radio stations to advance their political causes, it hardly makes sense to block them from buying newspaper ads or radio spots aimed at doing the same thing.

The overall contribution limit, the court found in this case, infringes on the right of donors to support as many candidates at the highest level as they choose. Equally important, though, it hinders the ability of those running for office to raise the funds needed to spread their message. The First Amendment, which protects the interests of both speakers and listeners, is offended either way.

As interpreted by the court in this case, the First Amendment also allows rich people to spend their money trying to get what they want. Like they couldn't before.

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  1. Sounds like a pretty solid plan to me dude.

    http://www.GotzAnon.tk

  2. Considering that the average amount spent to win a House seat in 2012 was $1.6 million, his check is likely to buy him very little influence.

    Enough with the buying influence garbage. The majority of political power is wielded by people who truly believe they’re doing good, regardless of who donates to their campaigns. Does anyone honestly think that if we could somehow take all the money out of politics that we would end up with a substantially different entitlement system, war on drugs, tax structure, regulatory state or military?

    We have the government that we have because it’s the government that American voters want.

    1. Damn you, American Voters!

    2. Big Government has enormous power to fuck up our lives. It is therefore eminently logical to assume that people will go to great lengths to ensure that Big Government is using that power to fuck up other people’s lives.

      And yet there are people who think the solution to this is to give Big Government more power to fuck up people’s lives.

      1. We need a bold new government program to clean up the mess solved by the last bold new government program. We always do.

      2. Oh come on! The only reason why government is fucking up our lives is because of corporate influence! The corporations control the government! We need to give government more power so it can control the corporations that control it! Because the government is us! It’s the People! Except that it is controlled by the corporations, but it’s the People! Really! Forget that logical inconsistency! Feel your emotions! Corporations bad! People good! Government is the People! So more power to the government is power to the People! Take government back from the corporations by giving it more power! Power to the People!

        1. You got very nice points…I have the same thinking!

        2. good point on the corporations, but I am not sold on the “government is the people” I can’t imagine most of American politicians know what “hard work” such as our laborers know or the “sacrifices” so many of our soldiers/sailors/airmen/Marines that they send in to harms way know. To me these folks are so isolated from the majority they represent that they know nothing about what it means to be an American

    3. We have the world we have because it’s the world the people want. Each of us votes on how we want the world to be every time we shop at Wal-mart or the mom-and-pop shop, buy a Coke instead of an RC Cola, drive on the expressway instead of hiking cross-country, go see a movie instead of going to the pinball arcade, watch Game of Thrones on HBO instead of a sunset on the back porch, eat a delicious Chicago-style deep-dish pizza instead of that nasty New York-style “pizza”, drink a Bud Lite instead of a local micro-brew, and on and on and on. Everything you do is a vote for doing what you want. But everybody else gets a vote, too. And the collective result of all those votes is the world we live in.

      Even when it appears the votes have been ignored, when things work out contrary to what the majority want, it’s because we have collectively decided to allow a certain amount of anti-majoritarianism within the system. If the majority really wanted something other than what we have, those who subvert the will of the majority would be swinging from lampposts.

      I try to keep this in mind when I get too depressed or angry about the state of the world – democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.

      1. that first paragragh = pure gold!

  3. I get it Chapman, you hate the Kochtopus.

    “The Koch brothers’ creation, Americans for Prosperity, used $33 million trying to defeat Barack Obama. ”

    How much was given to Obama from his supporters?

    1. If he didn’t throw a bone for the progs in like that, I doubt he would get it published in the Chicago Tribune.

  4. Personally,
    If I were to reform campaign finance. I would mandate that campaign donations can only be used to support campaign activities in your house district for all federal campaigns.

    Living in a swing state, “out of state money,” is making the state nearly unlivable about every other year. It….. Never….. Ends…..

    Can I get restraining orders against PACs and Parties, all of them?

    1. With Gerrymandering, my House district always votes Blue. And how can I campaign against Chucky Schumer for senate if I can’t act where the voters are? (Without running personally, that is)

      1. that’s unpossible. Gerrymandering only benefits Repubs. That’s what progs tell me.

        1. Technically his district being solid blue may be benefiting Republicans. One way to gerrymander is to bulk as many of your opponents into one district as you can, sacrificing that district to win the 4 around it.

          1. This is New York, the Dems corralled the Repubs, not vice-versa.

      2. I was mainly just lamenting the never ending barf of trolling real life that people call “political speech.”

        I am only half serious.

        Do you intend to try and convince your neighbors of anything beyond why some other neighbors suck and why they should be afraid of them, and that only by voting for douche/turd will they be saved from the barbarous hordes in pastels?

    2. So you would restrict speech then… noted.

    3. I hate when people with different opinions try to exist, too. They should probably be rounded up or something.

  5. Can I get restraining orders against PACs and Parties, all of them?

    Can I get a restraining order against Peter King?

    Then suck it up. I want that loathesome sack of shit out of Congress before he does any more damage to my liberties.

    1. He is pretty loathsome. I haven’t yet heard a single thing he had to say in which there was not an implicit or explicit fundamental attribution error.

  6. My quick and dirty solution to gerrymandering: define voting districts using county lines.

    1. Our number of counties is not evenly divisble by our number of representatives. So we’d have to start introducing population weighted groupings.

      Also, the court has been really uptight of late over districts of uneven population.

      1. Our number of counties is not evenly divisble by our number of representatives. So we’d have to start introducing population weighted groupings.

        Each county gets one representative minimum. One additional representative for each 50k population.

        1. At the rate of 174K+/representative, plus the waste on staffers, that size of a HoR would be absurd. We’re trying to cut spending, not encourage it.

          1. We’re trying to cut spending, not encourage it.

            The spending problem is not HoR and their staffs, it is entitlements and other non-constitutional activities.

          2. We’re trying to cut spending, not encourage it.

            Relative to other government spending, a huge HoR would be a drop in the bucket.

    2. Wailing….

      Gnashing….

      Grinding…..

      /2 Party System

  7. Our number of counties is not evenly divisble by our number of representatives. So we’d have to start introducing population weighted groupings.

    So? Weight them by population. Is it somehow NOT FAIR that a Representative from some place like Lake Placid gets elected by all those boondock counties up there by the Canadian border, but Nassau County gets a Representative of their very own?

    Montana gets a Representative. The entire state probably has fewer people than Cook County. BFD.

  8. I am definitely not trying to say every single county in the United States should have a Congressional Representative of its very own; merely that the lines defining a district (a district based roughly on population) should follow county lines, and not the bizarre politically defined nonsense we have now.

    1. the lines defining a district (a district based roughly on population) should follow county lines, and not the bizarre politically defined nonsense we have now.

      Most politicians agree with the idea of a non-partisan redistricting – but only when their party is the minority party. For twenty years I got to hear the GOP bitch about the unfairness of partisan redistricting, but they sure shut the hell right up on thst subject once they got control of the statehouse.

  9. “If I were to reform campaign finance. I would mandate that campaign donations can only be used to support campaign activities in your house district for all federal campaigns”

    Sounds good, guru, but only if legislation voted for by “your” congresscritter only applies to “your” district. For all I care,
    Pelosi can legislate 99% tax rate, as long as it applies only to taxpayers (however few don’t flee) in her district.

  10. Why not get rid of all contribution limits, but also require candidates publish a list of all donors? Make the penalty for failure to disclose a donor a felony with a mandatory 10 year jail sentence. And if a donor tries to channel money through another individual (to conceal his involvement) and gets caught, the donor gets a 10 year jail sentence. No penalty for the intermediary channel – let him decide if he wants to turn in the donor anytime. And no penalty for the politician either unless he had direct knowledge of the money being channeled.

    Something tells me 99% of politicians aren’t really interested in transparency.

  11. Of course they [the rich] will.

    While the rest of us are too busy working for a living, the wealthy have plenty of time to sit around and ponder a new way to manipulate the system.

    Andrew Jackson said that 200 years ago.

  12. “The Kochs impoverished their heirs for the pleasure of seeing a second Obama inauguration.” Steve Chapman is being sarcastic, right? The Koch brothers are still very, very wealthy. If they decide to disinherit their kids, then it won’t be because they spent too much money on their political causes.

  13. Rent-seeking cannot be restricted by restricting the supply of money to influence voting decisions. The only ways to solve the public-choice problem is either to educate and persuade voters to ignore the kinds of messages money buys, or to replace elections with another way to select officials, some kind of sortition, or random process, which could be a multi-stage process in which sortition alternates with filtering for merit. See http://sortition.net

    It is important to realize at when this country was founded, candidates did not have to raise or spend much money to get elected. All they had to do was give speeches, reporters would take them down, their newspapers would publish the entire speeches verbatim, and the voters would buy the newspapers to read the speeches.

    Our present problem began when voters stopped demanding political information enough to pay for it. They made the choice, whether wisely or not, to heed the advertising that money buys. We may condemn their choice, but that is their choice to make, as much as to vote for a candidate.

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