Archive for Sunday, February 12, 2012

Public financing is a must

February 12, 2012


“One of the worries we have obviously in the next campaign is that there are so many of these so-called super PACs, these independent expenditures that are gonna be out there, There is gonna be just a lot of money floating around and I guarantee a bunch of it’s gonna be negative.” — President Obama in an interview Super Bowl Sunday.

“President Barack Obama — in an act of hypocrisy or necessity, depending on the beholder — has reversed course and is now blessing the efforts of a sputtering super PAC ...” — from a story on Politico the next day.

We’ve seen this movie before. In 2008, candidate Obama broke a promise to use public campaign financing, thereby gaining a tactical advantage at the expense of betraying his professed principles. Of course, politics is hell on principles, so one can hardly be surprised at his decision now to embrace a super PAC set up on his behalf. Disappointed, but not surprised.

Maybe you’ve seen recent episodes of “The Colbert Report” in which Stephen Colbert has spoofed the super PAC rules by following them. He formed a super PAC, raised a million dollars, then announced his candidacy for “president of the United States of South Carolina” and, in accordance with the law, turned control of the money over to Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who then ran an ad slamming Mitt Romney, Colbert’s “opponent” in the South Carolina primary. This was all legal, so long as the two did not “coordinate” their activities.

That Colbert and Stewart are friends and business partners and shared staff did not count as “coordination.” Which sort of puts it into perspective when a real candidate shrugs and says he has no control over nasty takedown ads run against his opponent by some super PAC controlled by his friend or business partner.

It also offers vivid illustration of how disastrous was the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case that paved the way for corporations to dump unlimited money into the electoral process. The court blessed this chicanery under the theory that money is speech. One does not dismiss a free speech argument lightly, but one should dismiss this one just the same.

If a billionaire wants to express her opinion, let her write a letter to the editor like anyone else. Let her take out an ad in the local paper.

But giving her the ability to flood an election with unlimited, practically unregulated money gives her an unfair and insurmountable advantage, rendering her voice exponentially louder than that of the average citizen. Worse, as we see with Obama, it inaugurates a cash flow arms race from which no candidate, however principled, can afford to opt out.

One is reminded of a perverse old reading of the golden rule: “He who has the gold makes the rules.” That saying has about as much to do with the actual golden rule as the court’s decision does with free speech, but it neatly sums up the effect that decision has had on American politics.

It is past time we the people demanded corporate cash be banned from politics, and that all candidates be required to accept public financing. Until then, we are doomed to keep seeing this movie.

Politico casts Obama’s decision as an act of either hypocrisy or necessity. But see, that’s just the problem:

It was both.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CST each Wednesday on His email address is


Richard Heckler 6 years, 3 months ago

Political campaigns commence way too early, run too damn long and spend too much corrupt special interest money. Which indicates that substantial and strict guidelines must be set in stone to combat the corrupt system.

Truth in advertising should be ON 24/7 and those that do not pass go straight to the trash can.

How to set term limits? Go to the voting booth without fail and vote in new low spending candidates. Democrats and Green Party thinkers please. The GOP no longer supports republicans only radical rightwing thinkers like Brownback.

Thank you very much. This message was brought to you by Merrill of Lawrence.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 3 months ago

One answer to our political problems : CUT OFF special interest financing of elections! YES even at the local level.

Our government is always claiming the USA is about democracy. In that case allow the citizens to practice democracy by allowing citizens to vote on these issues in 2012:

Let's demand a new system and vote in Fair Vote America : Demand a change on the next ballot.

Let's have public financing of campaigns. Citizens cannot afford special interest money campaigns for it is the citizens that get left out. Let citizens vote on this issue.

Bribery of elected officials and bribed officials = the most stinky of all bribery!

Day in and day out our elected officials spend hours each day campaigning for SPECIAL INTEREST campaign dollars.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 3 months ago

In a free society, certain excesses must be tolerated, including supporting political candidates by making financial contributions to them. Political liberals like Pitts are intolerant of political freedom when campaign financing is involved, unless they themselves (e.g., Obama) are running for public office, when their hypocrisy shines forth radiantly.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

I hope you're right that voter turnout is high - that's the only way the system can work as it's intended to work (with the caveat that uneducated, poorly informed voters were probably not what our founders had in mind).

Now you're not sure of the outcome?

P Allen Macfarlane 6 years, 3 months ago

"Obama will do anything to get re-elected."

And you will do anything you can to make sure he does not. So, why are your desires more "pure" or "legitimate" than his?

progressive_thinker 6 years, 3 months ago

Boehner, Cantor, and the "final four" are presently doing a great job of getting Obama re-elected.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 3 months ago

"...uneducated, poorly informed voters were probably not what our founders had in mind."

Jafs, we finally agree on something. That's how Obama got elected.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 3 months ago

And Brownback. And every politician holding every office in America.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 3 months ago

I saw a poll a few years ago where 90% of high school seniors could not find Florida on a map. 90%. And the next year they will be voting. Now of you had said Rhode Island, I might understand, but Florida? I'd be willing to bet that more than half the voters could not name the three branches of government. Nor could they name their two senators and member of the house. I'd bet that more than half could not tell you how many justices are on the Supreme Court nor could they tell you for how long they serve.
We're in the process of getting the government we deserve.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

If there had been teevee in Paine's day, its content would have been controlled by the King, not the rabble rousers seeking to establish a democracy that did yet exist. You know, kinda like what we have now, where the content on teevee and other major media is controlled primarily by the oligarchs who own/control it.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 3 months ago

I think the system has worked to some degree in light of the fact that some of the most incompetent candidates we have seen in our history have been weaned out and my guess is that most of us would like to see some more candidates crash and burn like the Hindenburg.

Former Republican candidates are saying that their party is in need of an overhaul and is searching for it's identity. That sounds like a bunch of teenagers to me.

The Democratic Party, which has more divergent views among their members, has had to struggle for unity in light of the fact that Obama is just too darn conservative for some of their members.

The leading candidate of the Republican Party has turned out to not be able to make a convincing argument to even his own political party.

I am sympathetic to Romney's position of trying to win over people who still believe Obama was born in Kenya or Malaysia, is a secret Muslim operative, wants to secretly destroy the US economy and rebuild it as a marxist socialist paradise.....and you get the same emails I get.

Simply making up stories and calling someone every name you can think of does not make a convincing argument even though you might spend a Billion dollars doing it.

I don't think all the money now residing in China, Switzerland or the Caymen Islands is going to be enough to buy the American people's votes this time around.

But if they want to blow that much money on advertising, I hope it helps the economy.

bad_dog 6 years, 3 months ago

And to think L_O referred to your post above as "...dumbest post of the day." L_O just nominated and self-seconded for the award. No need to vote...

bad_dog 6 years, 3 months ago

Yep, you're just way too smart for all the rest of us. You just nominated and self-seconded as the person that didn't think it through-again.

Redundant on so many levels.

progressive_thinker 6 years, 3 months ago

Don't forget those who receive farm subsidies [Sam Brownback]. Also, don't forget those who receive subsidies in the oil industry, aeronautic industry, defense nauseam.

voevoda 6 years, 3 months ago

So, Liberty_One, you're happy to limit the civil liberties of the poor? Some libertarian you turn out to be.

Liberty275 6 years, 3 months ago

That makes income tax a poll tax and therefore not constitutional.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

1 is great.

The rest don't solve the problem of those with lots of money influencing politics more than they should.

I'd propose some sort of free and equal airtime, etc. for all candidates, with a very modest cap on how much money each candidate can spend on their campaigns, with no contributions allowed at all.

In addition, each candidate would be required to undergo at least a couple of in-depth interviews, with interviewers asking tough questions. They'd also be required to participate in at least a couple of serious debates. All of these would be scored by fact-checking organizations immediately (interviews and debates) and their findings widely disseminated shortly afterwards.

Also, there should be some way to make sure that they have to answer some questions from the public, perhaps randomly selected ones.

ebyrdstarr 6 years, 3 months ago

Citizens United is not premised on the idea that corporations are people. It is premised on the idea that Congress shall not abridge freedom of speech, regardless of the identity of the speaker. There are other critical parts of the majority opinion to argue against and there are lots of ways Congress could respond with less restrictive legislation (the issue in that case, after all, was a total ban on spending within a particular time frame). But disputing whether corporations have rights under the First Amendment isn't the thing to fight. (That corporations were protected by that amendment was not new to CU, either. The case includes a long string cite of cases recognizing that fact going back decades.)

And not all corporations are profit-making entities.

Liberty275 6 years, 3 months ago

Pitts is your typical left-wing hypocrite. The Miami Herald spends millions of dollars printing and distributing pitt's pablum on a regular basis while he say's others can't pay money to publish differing opinions. He's as dumb as the dinosaur media he works for.

Take a hike pitts. Everyone's speech is protected the same and there is nothing you or the miami herald can do about it. Also, since there are American citizens that cannot write in English, I expect you to call for a ban on all written political punditry. Hypocrite.

Satirical 6 years, 3 months ago

Pitts has it exactly right!

People joining their money together in a common cause, or corporation made up of people, shouldn't be able to express their opinion on political matters. Only the left wing media has the right to express its opinion on political matters (show one-sided coverage) and call it free speech.

To prevent a waning influence of the media elite we must join together and decry this outpouring of greater political participation from other sources. To protect democracy we should only be allowed influence from certain (liberal) sources. Don't you see...preventing free speech is the only way to save democracy!

Satirical 6 years, 3 months ago

tange... "Since my political perspectives are not shaped by media..."

If you get your news from a media source, then your views are shaped by the media. You can get your news from a variety of sources to try to mitigate the conservative/liberal influence, but what is reported and what isn't reported is always just as influential as how it is presented. Unless you get all your information first hand, your views are shaped by others. To think otherwise is naive. And even if you live in a bubble, most people don't.

"wouldn't so-called "liberal" media be countered/-balanced, presumably, by "conservative" media?" - tange

Only if there were an equal number of conservative and liberal media outlets. While most liberals will deny the fact the the majority of media outlets are liberal , you cannot deny most liberals hate the idea of the media having a smaller impact on politics.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

There is a distinct and important difference between people joining together in a common cause of expressing their views, and a corporation, which is not such a group.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

Slim to none on this one.

Corporations aren't a group of people joining together to pursue common expressive goals, like the NRA or the ACLU.

They're a group of people joined together for a variety of economic reasons, which differ from participant to participant.

The political views of those people are most likely diverse.

ebyrdstarr 6 years, 3 months ago

Corporations are quite often groups of people joining together to pursue common expressive goals. Planned Parenthood, for example. A lot of non-profits are corporations, like Independence, Inc. Oh, and the ACLU is, indeed, incorporated. The very first line of their bylaws confirms this fact.

The fact that people tend to think of giant, multinational beasts seeking profit when they think of corporations doesn't mean those are the only entities covered by the term.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

Yes, I had that thought after I posted.

Corporations like that seem to fit better with the idea of common expressive aims.

ebyrdstarr 6 years, 3 months ago

So one point of the majority opinion was that we can't pick and choose which corporations can express themselves politically without limit and which we can restrict.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

But we can - it's a clear distinction between corporations that function as "commonly expressive" and ones that don't do that.

ebyrdstarr 6 years, 3 months ago

Define "commonly expressive." I don't buy the distinction that you're trying to make. Neither did the majority of the court.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

A very slim majority - it was a 5-4 decision.

It's pretty common sense - an organization that exists for the purposes of promoting a political viewpoint is made up of people who want to do that.

For example, let's say the Nazis formed a corporation - Nazis, Inc. It's clear that the people who donate to them, work for them, and invest in them are extremely likely to believe in their philosophy and mission.

The same is obviously not true of a corporation like Target, which exists for economic rather than political reasons, and is very likely to contain a diversity of political views among employees, shareholders, customers, etc.

ebyrdstarr 6 years, 3 months ago

Target has a mission statement. So does GE. And those are just the first two I googled. I would wager that the vast majority of such corporations have mission statements. Why doesn't that qualify as a common stated goal or purpose? I would really hate to think that First Amendment protection comes down to how well-crafted a mission statement is,

Common sense tells me that there is no good, clean test for deciding which corporations can participate in the political arena and which ones can't.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

They do.

But they're generally not about political views/advocacy.

It's not about how well crafted - it's about the content.

If the right to speech comes from being a "collective voice" of the participants, then the speech must actually reflect the collective beliefs of those participants.

ebyrdstarr 6 years, 3 months ago

But who gets to decide which organizations are engaging with a collective voice and which aren't? I think most mission statements probably include something that could be considered in some way political or advocacy. Say Target's mission statement expresses the desire to pursue green options in all of its products and to focus on selling products made in America. So now, can't Target Corporation enter the political realm to support candidates or legislation who propose green iniatives or tax incentives for companies that manufacture in the US? Because those views are entirely in line with the expressed mission of the company, an expressed mission that shareholders have had a chance to vote on.

That's what I mean by how well-crafted a mission statement is, if you can work in content that passes muster with whoever it is that gets to decide which corporations have stated a sufficiently collective voice and which are just flat seeking profit. But, really, if the collective voice is just pure pursuit of profit, why shouldn't that corporation be able to advocate in the political arena for policies that further its mission, like deregulation or tax cuts on corporate income.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

Also, the idea that 1st amendment rights aren't predicated on person-hood seems off to me.

That's the whole point of the Constitution - to grant rights to people, more specifically American citizens.

ebyrdstarr 6 years, 3 months ago

I know there's no point in arguing with you because you've already decided I'm an awful, disrespectful person. But I have to disagree with your incredibly narrow view of the Bill of Rights, and especially the First Amendment. I'm not going to get into the question of whether that document grants rights or restricts government. Nor am I going to get into the question of whether it only deals with rights of citizens.

But the First Amendment does not address persons as individuals. It simply cannot be thought of as a list of rights belonging solely to individual people. Freedom of the press is not a right that belongs to you and to me as individuals. The freedom of religion clauses certainly apply to churches, not just to the individual men and women who fill their pews. Freedom of assembly cannot sensibly be viewed as an individual right belonging only to separate men and women. Congress can't tell the ACLU (a corporation) that they can't hold a meeting, right? And, finally, freedom of speech is not a right that belongs solely to individuals. The plain language of the amendment doesn't leave much room for debate on this. "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech." Doesn't say anything about who the speaker is. And there's a long, long line of US Supreme Court cases acknowledging that it isn't just Joe Schmo whose speech can't be abridged, but that group Joe formed, "Joe's Schmos." You don't think the First Amendment allows Congress to prohibit the NRA from mailing out information, do you? (The NRA Foundation is a corporation.) Or to prevent the ACLU from giving an interview on a particular topic? (Remember, the ACLU is a corporation...)

The First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging speech. Period. The identity of the speaker is irrelevant. (Which is exactly what the majority in Citizens United wrote, if anyone would bother to read that opinion. They never said this stems from the legal fiction of incorporation.)

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

Well, if you'd refrain from insulting me, I might change that view.

We've had this debate before, and neither one of us has convinced the other, so I'm not sure what the point is, but...

I agree that groups, when acting as commonly expressive ones, also possess the right of speech - but it's mainly because they're made up of individuals acting together - they act as a sort of "common voice".

And corporations like the ones you mention might fit that description.

But, the corporations that most people think of when they hear that word aren't groups like that - they're not organized around that principle at all, and so they can't act as a "collective voice".

ebyrdstarr 6 years, 3 months ago

I maintain that I have not insulted you. I have at times strongly disagreed with you and, yes, I did once call one of your points laughable. I think that was entirely appropriate given the evidence you were trying to rely on even after I nicely pointed out why that particular piece of evidence was not worth the paper it was printed on as evidence for what you were claiming.

I have a hard time agreeing to disagree about things that aren't subject to disagreement. That corporations are covered by the First Amendment is well-accepted law and so not open for disagreement in my view. But it seems that you may be coming around. Because you now acknowledge that the term "corporation" covers all sorts of entities, many of which you would not dispute have First Amendment rights. As I said above, we don't get to pick and choose which corporations get freedom of speech and which we can restrict. If people forming collectives and organizations carry their rights of free speech and transfer them to that collective, that applies to all such organizations, not just the ones we approve of.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

It's not about "approval" - it's about whether or not the group functions as a collective voice.

Groups that function in that way have legitimate 1st amendment rights, in my view, but other sorts of groups don't.

If a corporation is a group of people joining together for the purpose of expressing common views, it makes sense.

But, many corporations aren't that sort of group, and function quite differently, so it doesn't make sense there to me.

ebyrdstarr 6 years, 3 months ago

When I said "approve," I was including the purpose of the corporation's existence. Whether it exists for the common purpose of making profit or defending individual liberty seems irrelevant to me. That is making a value judgment that I don't think Congress is allowed to make under the First Amendment.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

All of the rights are for people.

Tables, coats, and animals don't possess constitutional rights, right?

The fact that they didn't specify that in that part of the 1st amendment doesn't make it untrue - seems to me that your view is the more narrow one, by focusing only on that fact.

Also, in the latter part of the amendment, it does specifically mention "the people", in the parts about assembly and petition.

ebyrdstarr 6 years, 3 months ago

Yes, the amendment does include the words "the people." I do not think that can be fairly read as meaning "individuals" but rather the collective people. If they had meant to restrict it to individuals, I suggest they would have used the term "persons" rather than the collective expression.

And I fully agree with Liberty's take that the BoR is a restriction on government, not a granting of rights to individuals.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

This is probably largely semantic, and somewhat trivial, but "the people" is simply a collection of individual people.

I don't tend to believe in "natural rights" - it seems to me that in nature, there are no "rights", and that all such rights are created by societies.

So the Constitution, in my view, is granting rights to people, and it's doing it by restricting the power of government.

Again, probably semantic and not that important.

Sometimes the document has language of "Congress shall make no law", and other times it uses the language of "the right of the people", or "no person shall", etc.

ebyrdstarr 6 years, 3 months ago

Well, the Founders fundamentally disagreed with you about the nature of rights and the purpose of the BoR. One reason a lot of people thought the BoR was unnecessary is precisely because those rights belonged to the people and no government had a right to infringe upon them unless specifically authorized in the charter document.

There are different language choices in the BoR, so when considering the document as a whole, I still maintain that it's cleaner and simpler to think of the document as listing things government can't do, rather than thinking of it bestowing rights. But I still don't know why you're so resistant to the idea that the rights don't all belong solely to individual people but to the collective people, including whatever groups or organizations individual people form.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

Many people believe in natural rights, or God-given ones.

The founders wrote "all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator..." - apparently their belief in inalienable rights was faith-based.

Do you share that belief?

I'm not sure why you keep arguing that point - I've already agreed that groups, since they're made up of people with rights, also possess those rights by extension.

It's just that I don't think the group has some sort of separate identity or separate rights - just the collective rights of the individuals involved.

It's also interesting - if you're right, and I have no reason to doubt it, then the belief in natural rights would have led to the BoR not being written - somebody must have thought it was necessary though, which leads more to my view.

ebyrdstarr 6 years, 3 months ago

The whole revolution in political thought that our founders were following was very much playing with the idea of rights flowing from nature, whether it be from an actual creator god or a less-defined natural power or whatever. I share that belief that all human beings have inherent dignity, worth, and rights, yes. I don't believe they come from "god" per se, but one doesn't need to believe in a higher power to believe in this idea of natural rights.

I think whether the group has separate rights or just the collective rights of the individuals involved is just a semantic argument that doesn't need to be decided. It's a distinction without a difference in my view.

There was a lot of debate about whether the BoR was necessary, with some colonies appearing they wouldn't pass it without and a lot of people being perturbed by the addition. But that debate really doesn't address the core question of whether the colonists believed in natural rights. Their hang-up was on trusting power. The US really was a very new, novel kind of government unlike anything the colonists had known. So while they believed in the idea of natural rights and embraced a government other than monarchy, a lot of folks wanted more written guarantees than others.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 3 months ago

Where would the Mope's campaign for 2008 been without the bundlers?

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