Campaign Finance

To Reduce Money in Politics, Slash the Size of Government

Reformers always have a new scheme to take "the money out of politics," but it usually just makes the government larger and campaign spending increase.

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Like a terrifying demon that returns during the final scene of a horror movie, campaign-finance reform is the "thing" that never goes away. The U.S. Supreme Court sometimes saves the day, as it did with the First-Amendment-related Citizens United case in 2010. Yet reformers always have a new scheme to take "the money out of politics," even though their last schemes always resulted in more cash influencing political campaigns.

The campaign-finance scaremongers are baaaack with a symbolic bill that is a political poke-in-the-eye of the sleazy-seeming Trump administration. It could never pass the Senate or gain a presidential signature, but it makes a point. Now that they have a majority in the House, Democrats are pushing H.R. 1, which Vox describes as a "sweeping anti-corruption measures aimed at stamping out the influence of money in politics and expanding voting rights."

The voting-rights goal is doable because Congress has the power to loosen federal standards for voting. But only a delusional person would believe that lawmakers have the power to "stamp out" money in politics any more than they have the power to "stamp out" sexually transmitted diseases. Desire often outstrips good sense, which is why STDs and political spending are at record highs. People will work around any new hurdles placed in their way.

The problem—at least with political spending—is government, not rich people. Both political sides rail about the role of billionaires in our political system. The Left fulminates about the Koch Brothers and right-wing "dark money" groups, whereas the Right pounds the table about George Soros and left-leaning tech firms. However, a close look at lobbying spending in California offers some much-needed lessons on this hot-button topic.

The Sacramento Bee recently published an analysis of spending on government lobbying and found that it rose again last year. The total was $361 million, up 5 percent since 2017. It is far above the approximately $200 million spent on lobbying in 2002. One can easily conclude from these numbers—and from watching lobbyists swarm the Capitol—that something untoward is going on.

Nevertheless, those numbers need a little more perspective. The total 2017-2018 California state budget was $183.3 billion. Gov. Gavin Newsom's new budget proposal would spend $209.1 billion. In 2002-2003, the total state budget was $97.9 billion. Lobbying spending has gone up – but only in tandem with growth in state government spending. Lobbying dollars are small potatoes when you consider the total pie.

Sure, stories are legion about legislators who won't consider any proposal until they run it by the requisite lobbyist. Union leaders strut around the Capitol as if they own the place, because they pretty much do own the place. Lobbyists and trade groups of all type—unions, industry and activist groups—routinely write the language that becomes state law. Welcome to the real world. No finance reform can ever take the politics out of the political system.

Again, the problem is the size of government. Writing in National Review, Bradley Smith notes that Democratic lawmakers have proposed a Green New Deal "that would essentially abolish the aviation, auto, energy, and mining industries, among others. Why is it illegitimate for shareholders and employees in those industries to voice their opinions on regulatory schemes that would leave them bankrupt and unemployed?" Good question.

Take a closer look at that California lobbying report. The top spender was Pacific Gas & Electric, which is a regulated monopoly utility whose continued existence could be dependent on how the Legislature decides to handle wildfire-related liabilities. The Western States Petroleum Association, a trade group that represents highly regulated oil and gas businesses, is next on the list. Then there's another regulated utility, Edison International, and the California State Council of Service Employees, which is a powerful labor union.

Reality check: Those groups whose existence is most dependent on the government are going to spend oodles on lobbying that government. Look at the lobbying categories, per the Bee. The biggest spender is government—mainly local governments influencing state government. Next is healthcare, which is a government-dependent industry. Then come utilities, which are government-granted monopolies. Also high on the list are insurance companies, where government has power to set rates, as well as manufacturers, education and labor unions.

Finance reformers are frustrated by the courts, but there's that thing called the First Amendment. Spending is not speech per se. However, columnist George Will asked if The New York Times would be OK if it were free to write what it wanted, but if the government controlled "the amount it can spend on journalists, paper, ink, printing presses, delivery trucks, advertisements, and so on." You get the point.

Maybe we can all embrace a reform idea that would actually work: reducing the size and power of government. Sadly, that is the one idea that will frighten the kind of politicians and activists who support campaign-finance reform.

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998 – 2009. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

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  1. The best way to get money out of politics is reducing the federal budget.

    1. You’re living in a fantasy: the typical American wants vastly more spending. The only path left toward your goal that’s possible, barring mass enlightenment, is to crash and burn first.

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      3. Well they can want it all they wish, but if spending is not cut dramatically within 10-15 years we will experience fiscal collapse, and there is nobody to bail us out. Following the collapse, benefits will be slashed far more than they would have if Congressnhad practiced fiscal responsibility.

        Hope you weren’t counting on Medicare and Social Security.

    2. No. The best way to get money out of politics is to make it magnitudes upon magnitudes more expensive for money to remain in politics. Lots of ways of doing that but none of them will happen until that is the focus of the effort.

      Reducing federal budget can only happen with an entirely different group of elected officials who hear a different set of priorities than currently is voiced from the public. IOW – it ain’t remotely the first step – and after decades of futility of pretending it is the first step, it’s about time to realize what insanity means.

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  2. The government is simply too powerful, with too much money, for businesses to ignore, especially when government seems to be keen on regulating anything under the sun. Even if it takes a chunk of your profit to outlaw competition, that’s money well spent!

  3. But how will I get my free things if the government isn’t huge?

    1. You’ll have to murder, kidnap, extort and steal by yourself.

  4. But we want the government big enough to give us the things we want and not give things to people we don’t like who are special interests and therefore illegitimate. Why can’t we have our cake and eat it too?

    1. Because the federal government spends so much money ‘studying’ the evil effects of flour and sugar, that’s why.

      1. If only. Uncle Sugar is spending money on the impacts on feminism of gendered ice floes, and similar tripe.

  5. only a delusional person would believe that lawmakers have the power to “stamp out” money in politics

    So? Delusional people have the right to vote, too!

    1. Delusional people have the right to vote, too!

      Sadly true.

  6. One thing all Libertarians can agree on: we only need a tiny and limited government.

      1. A free pony, with free boarding in an unfenced equine facility.

    1. What are the ancappers, chopped liver?

      1. No, anarcho-capitalists are the psychopaths running things now: the state is the epitome of anarchy – lawless thugs, creating chaos, violence and war – and the corporations are their partners in crime. You may as well call yourself a national socialist while you’re at it.
        Ungoverned, lawless chaos is evil; its opposite is the free market. (voluntary, non-monopolistic government, of and by the people)

  7. As proof of the importance of money in politics, I give you President Hillary Clinton who outspent her opponent Donald Trump by a factor of about 2:1 and had the support of the major financial interests and labor unions.

    What… I can’t hear you…say that again…You mean Hillary Clinton isn’t the President?..no, no, it can’t be.

    1. One dollar equals one vote, right?

    2. Well, it is obvious that there can only be one explanation for this. Illegal Russian interference to the tune of a billion dollars, amairite?

    3. Beto outspent Cruz almost 2:1.

      1. That’s why Beto O’Rourke won…duh

      2. That and he had the newspapers in all the major Texas cities slobbering over him, while they did their best to make Cruz look evil. Outspent Cruz massively and had millions more in free publicity from the media and still blew the election.

  8. Look, it is clear that we cannot limit the influence of corporate money in elections as things are. This is why we need a new cabinet level department of campaign and lobbying administration.

    This office will have a team assigned to every race in every election and to every industry group and lobbyist. They will be charged with eliminating undo influence on elections and elected officials, and with ensuring that the information provided to the public is not slanted in order to influence public opinion.

    They will also set up a Ministry of Truth to ensure that things published in the media and online are accurate and truthful.

    This is the only way forward.

  9. Of course, it would be possible to decide that all that in the past money was be necessary in order to get a politician’s political views out to the voting public. And then to decide that in today’s technological world, it would be possible to allow each politician access to a website run by the FEC (reduced to one webmaster, one supervisor, and one ‘administrative assistant’) where their political views will be made available to the world. And then decide that those political views, exactly as published on that web site are news, and should be published by all news organizations so the twelve people without web access could know those views as well. And with that level of wide distribution, we could define a ten week campaign season, outlawing all political ads and robocalls outside of the campaign season. And free speech by unions and corporations can be satisfied with the usual publication of ads in the usual ways; specifically including all truth in advertising laws.
    Under those circumstances, it would be possible to outlaw ALL ‘contributions’ to all politicians from all sources.

    TA-DA! No more corruption, just a brief surge in unemployment as all the lobbiests, lawyers, and accountants in politics go and find real jobs, perhaps explaining the GND of AOC?

  10. I recall a Libertarian candidate who said he would run a campaign where all contributions would go through a CPA firm who would not tell said candidate where the funds came from, thus insulating him from “being bought.” He was informed that it would be an actual state crime for him and the public not to know where the contributions were coming from.

  11. That’s my dream, Jerry.

  12. It’s this: congress accrued too much power to itself first, then lobbyists followed. States need to start thumping reps and senators on the head when they dabble in powers not granted – recall the nitwits, and move on.

  13. The progressives who shriek loudest about money in politics are also the ones who want a massively funded federal government. Because their progressives and thus, idiots.

    1. Like everyone, they are only worried about money on the other side.

  14. “Vox describes as a “sweeping anti-corruption measures aimed at stamping out the influence of money in politics and expanding voting rights.”

    I read the linked article and did not find this quote or anything related to “voting rights”. Short of allowing anyone who happens to be in the country at election time, how are “voting rights” to be expanded? It seems we have been tinkering with this since the War between the states, have we not fixed it yet?

  15. Since the ’80’s I’ve felt we’ve needed a downsizing of government to flow those of manufacturing, and business. I still believe it would powerful platform plank. But…I hate to be the one to point out the obvious, those with the power to change the status quo profit from the status quo. And have no incentive nor inclination to change things. They’re benefit lies in the opposite direction, expansion and increased power.

    BTW could I ask everyone to use the term profit when speaking to those who advocate for more government. I think it’s effective b/c these folks are hard-wired to be repulsed at the term and it would not occur to them that politicians and mother government are profiteers. It kinda shocks them into a new perspective.

  16. This is a rather simplistic analysis. Yes, corporations will spend to protect themselves from regulation, but there is so much more that brings in money. In Wisconsin roadbuilders are very large donors insuring that big road building projects are in the budget. What about military contractors? How much do they spend to insure we have ships and planes that may or may not be needed. Recent years we hear about the need to drug test welfare recipients. Well some contact lab is getting that business. We live in a modern world and a first nation society. There is simply too much money that is touched by government and always will be. So I don’t accept the premise of this article.

    1. “In Wisconsinevery state roadbuilders are very large donors insuring that big road building projects are in the budget.”

      Likewise at the Federal level.

      The “crumbling American infrastructure” and “structurally deficient bridges” campaigns are the work of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the various state and national construction contractor lobbying groups. All the campaigns contain a germ of truth but they miss larger points about the reasons for the failure of various governments to provide adequate infrastructure in so many places. But that is a whole different discussion.

  17. The largest mechanism to grow government since WWII is the US Income Tax, along with monetary expansion by the Fe. They go hand in hand. The income tax is based on voluntary compliance, and individual self assessment. To reduce the tax, it is up tindviduals to file returns that reflect their lack of taxable Income. Congress has passed laws that say the way to shift the burden of truth back to the government is to file returns that dispute the Information Returns. He W 2 and 1099 returns are legally disputed by IRS forms. There is nothing illegal about this. The information is available. Examples of IRS compliance with the laws are available. You tube testimonials are available.
    Only a few politicians will relinquish power voluntarily. We need individuals who are willing to legally say NO to unconstitutional income tax collection. End of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, have received full refunds of state and federal tax withholdings, including payroll taxes, since 2003. This is not a scam, there is no secret group to join, no annual dues to pay. Read , study, follow the examples. Stop sending your money to support the welfare/warfare state! http://Www.losthorizons.com

  18. The larger the government is, the bigger the product politicians have to sell. This guarantees that political positions of power will be ever more remunerative and desirable, and worth a greater investment to obtain.

    The way to get “money out of politics” is to magically turn political positions into what were once called “public service” jobs. I’m sure our fondly nostalgic cliches over-state how good-hearted and competent those public servants were, but they can’t have been as cynical, delusional and unapologetically venal as our would-be “ruling elite” is today.

    “Money out of politics.” yeah, sure. Whatever strikes the proglodytes as “the right thing to do” and whatever they think “just makes sense..”? Do the opposite.

  19. Politicians need more money to exercise more coercive power, to control more of our lives. Campaign finance reform is just another scam.

    They won’t stop stealing and regulating until people stop asking for something they have not earned.

  20. All those civil-servants that were furloughed during the last shutdown?
    Fire them and shut down whatever program they were working on.
    We survived for a month without them and whatever they were doing.
    Then, take everyone who is not on the “snow list”, and RIF them too.

  21. This article is so ridiculous. The purposes of campaign donations by the rich are: (1) have the government give the rich enormous tax breaks so that the ordinary people have to pay the way for the rich; (2) have the government spend money that goes to the rich; (3) have the government squash competitors of the rich. The US Supreme Court ruling that corporations are people is ridiculous, and leads to the enormous level of corruption we have today. If corporations are people, why don’t executives go to prison for bankrupting (killing) them?

  22. Money corrupts not only our elections but the government itself. Vastly reducing the size of government would help alleviate these problems. But the best way to eliminate it from election corruption is to pass an amendment prohibiting monetary political contributions. Work out a way for elections to be publicly funded. The media should provide airtime for debates, etc. with equal time for all candidates. Plenty of details, but it could be accomplished.

    While candidates with the most money don’t always wins, they more frequently do, unless they are like Hillary. Why should a rich person have more influence over an election than a poor person? That’s not democracy- that’s a form of plutocracy.

    1. I got to reply by linking the “money speech” from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

      http://www.capitalismmagazine.com/200…..ey-speech/

  23. Again, the problem is the size of government.

    Defining that as the problem is NOTHING more than simply saying ‘Let’s all piss into the wind because there is nothing anyone can do’.

    Campaign money is clearly only an issue re elections and elected officials. NOT the size of government. If those elected officials are not reducing the size of govt (and I have heard ZERO of them even TALK credibly/honestly about that for maybe 20 years), it is:
    either because there is no will among the voters to reduce the size of govt so no one promising to do that can be elected

    or because those elected officials are bought and paid for and elections mean nothing.

    If the former, then hey start pissing into the wind.
    If the latter, then there are plenty of things that can be done that can undermine any grassroots appeal of ‘campaign finance controls’.

    Personally I think massively ramping up the size of the House works. By say 7 times or so for a start. So each district has 100,000 people. Which is the sort of scale where both grassroots retail (needs active people) and top-down wholesale (need big money) politics can work in an election. Where the cost of buying legislative control immediately jumps by 500% or more. It can also appeal to regular folks – outside the partisan straitjacket – who can then put pressure on the critter whores to introduce the simple legislation. And it makes it possible for ‘reduce govt’ to become electable again.

    1. The main reason elected officials expand government is neither that they are bribed to do so, nor that they think their constituents want it. It’s because expanding the government is in _their_ _own_ interest. A larger budget garners them more campaign contributions and other benefits from those seeking government money, as well as those seeking tax loopholes. A more powerful government increases their own power, and garners them more campaign contributions and other benefits from those wanting to be left alone, as well as those wanting the government to crush their competition. And so a Congressman who ran on a platform of “smaller government” can be found voting repeatedly for larger government, restrained only when he receives a large enough bribe from those who would be affected by a proposal, or when it becomes so blatant that _most_ of his constituents will notice and remember in the next election.

    2. The authors of the Constitution attempted to compensate for this in the federal government by severely limiting the tax base (effectively allowing only excise and import taxes), by giving the feds only limited enumerated powers, and by splitting up the power among three branches of government, and splitting up the legislative power (which was supposed to be the most powerful branch) between the House and Senate. The problem is that government officials have spent 230 years eroding those protections. The 16th Amendment allowed direct taxation of income – with the promise of very low tax rates, but actually rates were unlimited and have been as high as 90%. The 17th Amendment changed how Senators were elected, reducing the political difference between the Senate and the House. Several amendments added to the federal powers. And the federal government grew until it became normal for Congress to pass bills so bloated that no one could read them before voting on them – and even that didn’t allow the laws to be sufficiently detailed, so much of Congress’s legislative power has been delegated to executive branch bureaucrats writing regulations.

      And finally, we now have a President claiming that something that’s been going on for over 50 years is an “emergency”, and therefore he can divert money to purposes other than what it was appropriated for, and exercise eminent domain over land near 1,000 miles of border without an authorizing law…

  24. A start would be to cut the number of Departments by 5-10!!! Get closer to what the Founders intended. Maybe 6-8? I can see; State, Commerce, War, Justice, Interior, THEN, bring the Senators OR the Congressmen BACK to their states. With today’s telecommunications THAT should not be a problem. AND, that would give “employment” [If you want to call it that & not CRIMINAL occupation.] to thousands of new lobbyists!

  25. A start would be to cut the number of Departments by 5-10!!! Get closer to what the Founders intended. Maybe 6-8? I can see; State, Commerce, War, Justice, Interior, THEN, bring the Senators OR the Congressmen BACK to their states. With today’s telecommunications THAT should not be a problem. AND, that would give “employment” [If you want to call it that & not CRIMINAL occupation.] to thousands of new lobbyists!

  26. This is so true, and it is so obvious… But… The USA’s mass cultures’ opinions, whether left or right, are mostly going in the opposite direction. We also need to slash government costs to avoid going bankrupt, and to stop social security from going bankrupt. I hope you have all watched the video on Reason about the national debt. It is hilarious and troubling.

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  29. MORE NEO-“LIBERTARIAN”, PSEUDO “FREE-MARKET” NONSENSE by the HYPOCRITES @Reason.

    “The last thing abandoned by a party is its phraseology, because among political parties, as elsewhere, the
    vulgar make the language, and the vulgar abandon more easily the ideas that have been instilled into it than the
    words that it has learnt.”

    “Even despots accept the excellence of liberty. The simple truth is that they wish to keep it for themselves and
    promote the idea that no one else is at all worthy of it.

    We can state with conviction, therefore, that a man’s support for absolute government is in direct proportion to the contempt he feels for his country.”

    -Alexis de Tocqueville-

    1. Koch Agronomics, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, mostly inherited billionaire backers of the reason Foundation, hold no fewer than two dozen patents.
      Yep, PATENTS, Big Government PROTECTIONIST & MARKET INTERVENTIONIST policy.

      The Koch family has made hundreds of billions via special interest legislation, via protectionist policies.

      They continue to spend millions telling others, via their pseudo-“Libertarian” PROPAGNADA, why it’s bad to do as they have done…that is rely on state-sponsored capitalism, aka CRONY-CAPITALISM.

      THEY WHINE ABOUT BIG GOVERNMENT, BUT RELY ON & COVERTLY PROMOTE THE SAME FOR THEIR BILLIONS.

      “LIBERTARIAN” OR TOTAL HYPOCRISY?

      1. All caps make you look like an idiot, you dead thread-fucking idiot.

  30. To remove money from politics you have to get rid of what attracts money to politics; the 75,000 page convoluted tax code, excessive regulation (95,000 page Federal Register) and excessive government spending ($22 trillion national debt).

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  32. Time to exercise the only remaining piece of our Constitution never used.

    ConventionOfStates dot com.

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