Saturday, October 29, 2011

Better to repeal campaign finance law than force donations to the black market

A recent protest supporting the 99% movement took place in Downtown Ferndale Friday, and it was covered by The Daily Tribune.

Nancy Goedert was quoted as saying public funding for campaigns is a soapbox issue for her, but I don't think Mrs. Goedert or others that like that idea have thought it through.

Publicly funded campaigns are a closely-related issue to corporate free-speech, and more specifically, corporate funding of campaigns.  But what protesters often forget is many of their favorite organizations, like, are also corporations that support both financially and otherwise, political campaigns.

As I wrote in February this year,
"MoveOn actually doesn't believe all corporations should be prohibited from free speech.  MoveOn.Org is itself a corporation--though a not-for-profit 501c3, and presumably wants to preserve free speech for itself.  What they must mean, then, is for-profit corporations should be prohibited from free speech, but that would include companies building green-products like wind turbines and solar panels, growing and selling organic foods, and other corporations that are in good standing with MoveOn."
Another complaint against corporate free speech is the amount of money donated, and the many ways corporate donations are hidden--being given to political action committees and other "issue" campaigns, is a by-product (read: unintended consequence) of current campaign-finance laws.  People, corporate or private, will find ways to support their candidates and causes either directly or indirectly.

Rather than create a black market for corporate donations by making direct contributions illegal, why not remove all the limits and let the donations speak for themselves and the candidates?

For instance, if Goldman Sachs wants to contribute $5 million to President Obama's campaign, wouldn't the public rather know that than have Goldman funnel those contributions through an array of grey-market PACs?  At least then we might now exactly who Goldman is supporting and to what amount the candidate may be obligated to return in favors--like bailouts for banks that are "too big to fail."

Or if local attorney-celebrity Geoffrey Feiger wanted to donate $125,000 to John Edward's campaign, instead of (allegedly) requiring his partners to make those contributions he could have made them directly himself and spared himself and everyone else a lot of time (and money) trying to figure out if what he did was legal or not.

The other problem with publicly funded campaigns is trying to figure out which candidates the funds would go to, and what money-raising restrictions would be placed on other candidates.

A lot of 99%ers complain about the failure and dominance of our (predominately) two-party system, but how much money would the government give to the Green, Socialist Workers, Libertarian, or Communist parties?  Should those parties be shut-out?  What of religious parties?  Mightn't contributions to their candidates' campaigns risk violating the so-called separation of church and state?

And who in the government would decide how much money to give to candidates, and how would that person or department be appointed or elected?

No, the better idea is to repeal campaign finance laws and let the public vote with their own dollars.  And if the public really wants to shut-down corporate free speech then they should look for a case to overturn  Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

"America is just not what it used to be."

"America is just not what it used to be."  Or so says Abdullah Pollard, a 58-year old laid-off telecommunications worker as reported by the Associated Press in the Detroit News story, "Protesters want world to know they're just like us."

But are we like them?

One of the problems with the Occupy Wall Street protesters is not knowing what their demands are.  Like the Tea Party, official lists are hard to come by as neither group is centrally controlled (though Nolan Finley thinks OWS is at least centrally financially supported).  The Wall Street Journal reports at least two of demands:
  1. Repeal the Bush tax cuts and
  2. Prosecute Wall Street Criminals
A few others they plan to vote on next week include forgiving student debt, reforming campaign-finance law and enacting the Buffett tax.

The first one is relatively easy to do, but relatively useless.

In February 2009 the WSJ reported what would happen if we taxed (or confiscated) 100% of all the income of America's top 2%:
"A tax policy that confiscated 100% of the taxable income of everyone in America earning over $500,000 in 2006 would only have given Congress an extra $1.3 trillion in revenue. That's less than half the 2006 federal budget of $2.7 trillion and looks tiny compared to the more than $4 trillion Congress will spend in fiscal 2010. Even taking every taxable "dime" of everyone earning more than $75,000 in 2006 would have barely yielded enough to cover that $4 trillion."
Along those same lines, George Will put it into a different perspective:
"In 1916, the richest man in America, John D. Rockefeller, could have written a personal check and retired the national debt. Today, the richest man in America, Bill Gates, could write a personal check for all his worth and not pay two months interest on the national debt."
The second item, "Prosecute Wall Street criminals," is more difficult to endorse until the protesters can be more precise on who they think the culprits are and what they think their crimes were.

I, at least, agree with the protesters that the culprits ought to be dealt with--and not gently.  But I suspect we'll disagree heartily about who the culprits are.

But for the sake of argument, let's start with Freddie and Fannie.  Or to save time and space, let me borrow from Thomas Sowell.  Writing in a recent column about realities over rhetoric, he writes:
"The political crusade for 'affordable housing' and minority home ownership drew many blacks into homes they could not afford. The net result was an especially high rate of foreclosure and, in the end, black home ownership rates lower than they were before the affordable housing crusade began."
In this case, Mr. Sowell's comments are not applicable only to blacks, but to everyone lured or enticed into purchasing homes they may have been able afford the lower down-payment for, but were unable to afford the maintenance, repair, utilities, and taxes.

Returning to Mr. Pollard's comment, "America is just not what it used to be," let's consider The Constitution hasn't changed much since its adoption in 1788, but American's constitutions have changed considerably more.  We may live longer than American's in the 18th century but we're frailer. We've created industries based on blaming others for our misfortunes and exacting our retirements from them.  More Americans are dependent on welfare than ever before.  Our debt to other countries is greater (as a percentage of GDP) than ever before, and we're less self-sufficient than ever before (think energy policy).

On the contrary, Mr. Pollard, America is the same as it ever was.  It's the citizens that have changed.  Immigrants used to come for the opportunity of America, not the steady paycheck.  They came for the rewards that would accrue to those clever and hard-working enough to build something new, not government entitlements.

The immigrants that came to America and built it were willing to risk everything they had so they might own a piece of the dream.  They settled the wilderness and risked dangerous and months-long trips to seek their fortunes out west.  Many lost their lives in pursuit of their dream.

American's today are risk-averse and want instead to be relieved of all discomfort and responsibility--even that they might stub their toe on uneven sidewalks.

No, Mr. Pollard, America is the same.  It's Americans that are different.