5 Quick Political Facts for Today (2/25/15)

A little bit of good news and a lot of bad…

  • Nearly 80% of the voters in Chicago supported publicly financed campaignsWhen put to a public vote, this issue leaves little doubt where many stand on the idea that speech is money and where it belongs in our political campaigns.  Most of us want it out and want the corruption that comes along with it gone as well.  A Gallup poll showed half of the country was in favor of this in 2013, a number very likely to continue growing as the explosion in spending by outside groups who can hide their donors also continues.  Of course, Congress would have to bite the hand that feeds their family members 6-figure salaries to run their campaigns in order for this to change, which means it certainly won’t in the foreseeable future. 
  • Worker productivity grew 74% in the past 40 years while wages only grew 9%.  Because that is totally fair.  It’s true that part of the increase is due to technology but the disparity is still startling.  Considering the incredible increase in income inequality over the same period, it’s pretty obvious the average American is getting the shaft.  It’s also obvious which political party’s ideology is most responsible for this outcome.  But hey, voting against gay marriage, climate change, and abortion has worked out really well, hasn’t it?
  • The sea level north of New York City rose over 5 inches in 2009-2010.  The article states it was a “1-850 year event” and it’s likely we’ll see this type of thing more often.  And, since it’s an article from an international media source, it doesn’t bother digging up a climate change denier paid by the fossil fuel industry to refute the reality.  So refreshing when media accepts scientific consensus and doesn’t play to the least knowledgeable among us.
  • If you live in the U.S. then no, you shouldn’t be very afraid of terroristsAn excellent op-ed in The Guardian by a couple of academics noting the recent change in political discourse about terrorism in the U.S. by mostly the Obama administration.  In short, if you live here and aren’t traveling to dangerous locales, you are almost certainly not going to die at the hands of a terrorist.  And you probably shouldn’t hand over your freedoms and privacy at home in the name of fighting the so-called “War on Terror”.

It is astounding that these utterances – “blindingly obvious” as security specialist Bruce Schneier puts it – appear to mark the first time any officials in the United States have had the notion and the courage to say so in public.

Speaking of terrorism…

  • A Palestinian mosque was torched by an Israeli terrorist groupNot that there will be much outrage in the American media over nefarious Israeli actions, such as the shooting death of a 19-year old college student by the Israeli military the day before, as noted in the article.  And it’s not like these Israeli terrorist groups have just started up or are carrying out their first attack on Palestinians:

Hebrew graffiti was scrawled on the walls, including “Revenge for the Land of Zion” and “Price Tag,” a phrase used by Israeli nationalists linked to hundreds of attacks on Palestinian targets since 2008. Some attacks have also targeted Israeli military posts. (Emphasis added)

Which begs the question, will the Israeli military kill over 2,000 people, mostly civilians and children, to get back at these groups like they did to Gaza last summer?  I mean, these groups are attacking the Israeli military and “hiding behind civilian targets”, aren’t they?  And that clearly doesn’t matter when it comes to bombing populations as they’ve shown in the past, right?  What’s the difference?  Amazing how the double-standards look when they are revealed.

Op-ed Attempting to Revive IRS Scandal Falls Completely Flat

An op-ed by Bart Hinkle appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch this weekend with the ominous title, “IRS scandal implicates Democrats“, suggesting more wrongdoing by high-level Democrats has been found to go along with the zero wrongdoing by high-level Democrats that’s been found regarding this non-scandal.  As with most rhetoric surrounding this situation, it fails miserably to suggest anything new that can be construed as devious, particularly when considering the facts.

One general idea Hinkle makes is just because these groups are spending money and making ads, doesn’t mean they will gain more votes for their favored candidates, which is ludicrous.  I would suggest Hinkle go to any academic database and look at the mountain of research on “name recognition” or just go to any psychologist or advertiser and ask them if repetition works.  Some might point to the recent loss of Eric Cantor despite the huge disparity in campaign spending, but that is the exception, not the rule.  The vast majority of the time elections end with the bigger spender winning.

Hinkle also hints at the heavily debunked idea that the Obama administration had something to do with the targeting:

The U.S. has a long and sordid history of presidents trying to sic the IRS on their political foes; that was even one of the charges of impeachment against Richard Nixon…Granted, the administration did laughably appoint an Obama campaign donor to investigate whether Obama critics had been treated fairly.

First, this suggests that there somehow hasn’t been an investigation to this point.  I’ll assume this is the first time Hinkle has heard of the IRS targeting despite the slew of previous news coverage.  Second, I’m not aware of anyone under oath claiming they have evidence the order to target came from the White House, including the conservative Republican manager overseeing the screening unit.

The main point of the op-ed is that Democrats were sending letters and questioning whether the IRS was properly monitoring these new groups.  I emphasize new because Hinkle fails to note this and he should since it is the main reason the groups were being investigated in the first place.  I’ll quote myself from a previous post on this:

Inspector General J. Russell George suggested in his testimony the IRS made these bad decisions “because of a lack of resources and manpower”.  We also know there was a drastic increase in election spending by 501(c)(4) groups beginning in 2008, where spending went from just over a measly $1 million in 2006 to over $82 million two years later.  This was followed by a continued increase in 2010.

Two things should be noted about the 2010 election spending.  First, it’s rather odd for spending to increase from a presidential election to a midterm.  Just look at the 501(c)(4) spending from the years given in the link or total election costs over the past eight cycles.  Second, conservative versus liberal group spending was not very lopsided until 2010, when conservative groups spent more than double their ideological counterparts.  This was followed in 2012 with conservative groups spending nearly five times what liberal groups spent.

These points taken together give us an idea of what the IRS was up against when it came to enforcing the law: a sudden and unforeseen increase of more than %6000 in election spending by 501(c)(4)s from ’06 to ’08 with a further increase in the ’10 midterms on top of a dwindling workforce and budget to deal with the new problem.

The spending increases, particularly considering the mid-term in 2010, can’t be emphasized enough.  With this explosion in spending, what did people expect the IRS to do?  Ignore it despite evidence the groups were clearly breaking the law?

Which brings me to the last point about Hinkle’s op-ed: his admission yet overlooking of the reality the law was essentially being broken.  His statement:

And remember what terrible offense those groups were committing: They were supporting or opposing candidates for public office, often by buying TV ad time…What Levin, Durbin, Schumer, et al. find outrageous is the fact that some Americans have been speaking about political candidates without those candidates’ authorization. (Emphasis added)

According to the law, these groups can’t support or oppose an individual candidate or engage in campaigns unless it is the minority of their spending.  If they do run ads, they are going to be questioned by the IRS to prove they aren’t spending most of their funds on it.  That’s how proper justice should work here.  And it shouldn’t be surprising the Democrats mentioned were making sure the law was being properly enforced.

This op-ed just looks like another failed attempt to make something out of nothing.  But we all know that will never stop people from trying…

Countering the Right: Ridiculous Ted Cruz Op-ed on Campaign Finance and Free Speech

Ted Cruz is one of those psychotically far right-wingers that just spews so much absurdity from his lips that it’s hard to keep up sometimes.

The Senator and apparent presidential hopeful published an op-ed in the WSJ yesterday attacking Sen. Tom Udall’s proposed amendment to the Constitution regarding the potential (not actual) regulation of money in campaigns.  To say that he took some liberties in describing the amendment and what it does or could do is an understatement.

First off, he certainly had a lot to say…with the exception of a glaring omission: any mention or addressing of the idea that money in politics and campaigns can corrupt in any way.  Or the idea that Americans actually want campaign finance to be restricted according to polls.  He points out the amendment has little chance of passing and it takes three-fourths of state legislatures to pass while omitting the reality that 79% of the public want limits on campaign donations and expenditures, according to a Gallup poll last yearA CBS News poll from last month found similar results.  Also in the Gallup poll, 50% would support government financed campaigns, yet another of Cruz’s omissions.

It should also be noted that the entire op-ed is simply a scare tactic of what could happen resulting from the amendment, not what the amendment is actually asking for or what, in reality, will happen.  It’s reminiscent of the far right’s scare tactics of what could happen if African-Americans get the right to vote, if the LGBT community is given equal rights, or if the Affordable Care Act becomes law, all of which proved their predictions were pretty much dead wrong.

Let’s address some of his contentions directly:

For centuries the Supreme Court has rightly concluded that free speech includes writing and distributing pamphlets, putting up billboards, displaying yard signs, launching a website, and running radio and television ads. Every one of those activities requires money…If you can prohibit spending money, you can prohibit virtually any form of effective speech.

He is contending that money equals speech and, on the surface, this seems reasonable.  The problem, of course, is this ignores the truth in America that he who has the most money has the loudest speech, which is clearly not what was intended by the First Amendment.  Its intention was to give equality of speech and making sure that even the lowliest of voices could still be heard, a complete impossibility in today’s world where money, not speech, is king.  In fact, you could really change his last sentence there to, “If you don’t prohibit spending money, you can prohibit virtually any form of effective speech.”  (His word “effective” should be particularly noted.)

As for the idea that the Supreme Court got it wrong in Citizens United because corporations have no First Amendment rights, that too is demonstrably false. The New York Times is a corporation. The television network NBC is a corporation. Book publisher Simon & Schuster is a corporation. Paramount Pictures is a corporation. Nobody would reasonably argue that Congress could restrict what they say—or what money they spend distributing their views, books or movies—merely because they are not individual persons. (Emphasis added)

It’s brilliant on Cruz’s part to use press and media in this description as it skews the reader’s view into thinking the government would be looking over their shoulders and telling them what to say.  He wouldn’t dare use corporations like Enron, BP, or Halliburton in that sentence since it would give people a different perspective.  The reality of the amendment is that it would not restrict what the press can say but how much a person or corporation can spend during a campaign saying it, something the public clearly wants according to the polls.  In other words, it would be an attempt to balance equality of speech.

Then Cruz produces a list of things that could be deemed constitutional if the amendment were adopted, some of which are just completely ridiculous.  He actually contends that the government “could criminalize pastors making efforts to get their parishioners to vote”, as if anyone would ever support any law that criminalized people for asking others to remember to vote.

What has to be remembered is that these laws would have to be made by Congress (ideally with the popular support of the public) and signed by the president in order for any of his absurd predictions to come true.  And if you look at his list of what ifs, you might notice that not one actually includes a scenario involving a restriction on an actual corporation, which is something the public clearly wants.

Campaign finance reform is something the public clearly wants.  Ted Cruz’s views are something the public clearly doesn’t.

Overcoming Our Money-In-Politics Problem: A Plan

leadA great article by Lawrence Lessig in The Atlantic putting forth a plan to take the massive amount of money in politics today out of the system.

It may be a little over the top, but Lessig makes a compelling argument for the effort.

Read Here.

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Supreme Court’s Campaign Finance Ruling

03court1-articleLargeA good graphic from the NYT that breaks down the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling that regarding campaign finance law.

See/Read Here.

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Inaccurate Perception of Campaign Spending

An article in the NY Times yesterday made the argument the advantage gained from money in this presidential campaign has been even between Romney and Obama.  The argument is laid out nice and clear but it minimizes an important reality of money in this campaign and its relation to true democracy.  The article only briefly mentions anything even related to this element:

But Mr. Obama and the Democrats, buoyed by millions of small donors, have raised a vast majority of his cash directly for his campaign committee, which under federal law is entitled to preferential ad rates over political parties and super PACs.

Freedom of $peech
Freedom of $peech

In all fairness, it was clearly not the intention of the authors to address the point I’m arguing but it warrants a further look.  The fact is one candidate has garnered the financial support of a far larger number of people – in awful economic times, no less – than the opposing candidate yet hasn’t translated this larger support to a larger lead in the polls despite shrewd spending, according to the article.  This should be acknowledged and recognized for what it means: money is power in political campaigns and it can win elections in a more efficient way than quality of the candidate or issue positions.  Anyone arguing this was the intent of the Founding Fathers and what should constitute equality in democracy has a seriously distorted view of the word democracy.

It is difficult to measure the actual effect of money in the presidential campaign at this time but something should certainly be noted.  Without the smaller number of wealthy donors giving millions to both the Romney campaign and the super PACs supporting him, the race would not even be close right now.  If Romney and Obama’s donors were restricted to giving only capped amounts to their candidate of preference or their super PAC, Obama would be dominating because of the better ground game.  For now, as mentioned in the article, they are keeping pace with Romney because of a more strategic use of funds.

But the question that should be asked is “would Romney be even with Obama in the general polls without an overall advantage in money?”  The answer is almost assuredly, no.  Romney should be given some credit for not making any devastatingly bad mistakes in the eyes of the general public, such as making a costly choice in vice-presidential running mate.  But even most on the right would admit he is not the greatest of candidates and in some ways is simply an awful choice to try to rally behind.  The right is not really excited about him and recognizes he is just not that great of a presidential candidate.  Which brings us to a final point.

If a presidential candidate, supported financially by a small number of people in comparison to his opponent and supported reluctantly by his own party, still has a chance to win the election because of the wealth of his donors, isn’t something seriously wrong with our electoral system?  It’s a sad state of affairs but I suppose we are stuck with it for the time being.

What if Unrestrained Capitalism is the Catalyst for One World Government?

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens was in the news this week receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom and criticizing some recent decisions made by the bench where he used to sit.  One of the main targets of his comments was a decision made while he was still a justice and was a dissenter: the highly controversial Citizens United case.  Stevens wonders about the decisions’ effect on voters’ contributions versus non-voters, for example corporations and foreign entities whether business or a hostile group.  He says the issue will return to the Court in some form and it will likely be addressed in a way that restricts non-voters contributions to campaigns in some way.  That’s a nice assessment and positive outcome for the future in one area but will those restrictions even matter?

This is not to suggest an apocalyptic world of death and oppression with some seedy gentleman in a three-piece suit pushing a bunch of buttons in a fortress somewhere.  But it does create some questions as to the long term effects.  Even if we are able to restrict parties’ and candidates’ campaign contributions from foreign entities, will we be able to truly restrain spending by Super PACs?  And if that spending is not restrained, what’s to stop global corporations from running governments around the world through their propaganda?

A reality playing a role here is global corporations would run smoother if the rules they had to play by in every country they did business in were the same (or if the rules just didn’t exist).  If, for example, environmental laws concerning the dumping of hazardous materials were the same in all countries, a corporation could easily move a factory from one country to another with more raw materials without having to update their equipment.  This is a cost saving factor for the business so the owners obviously want the same rules everywhere they play regardless of the effects on the local populace.

At this point, a decision would be made as to the cost versus profit if a company can financially influence elections.  Is it profitable in the long term to spend some money on Super PACs to get favorable representatives into government so the rules can be changed to what the company wants?  If the bottom line says yes, what’s to block them from doing this?  In reality, not much.  Even if the company does not headquarter its operations in the U.S., it can still transmit contributions and influence through its branches.  Toyota would be a perfect example.

To some extent, most Americans probably aren’t bothered by this idea.  Since we are (for now) the richest country on the planet, corporations pedaling their influence typically means American corporations pushing their ideas on others outside our borders and little concern is shown for this in the U.S.  The recent scandal with Wal-Mart in Mexico is a fitting example here.  The backlash in the U.S. and Mexico was relatively quiet for different reasons.  Americans are okay with the exporting of our ideas and culture because of pride and if that happens through corporations, so be it.  Mexico is okay with the corruption because, well, they aren’t going to attack their largest employer in the interest of their GDP no matter how egregious the violation.

A key point should be made here.  Once a foreign corporation becomes so ingrained in a country that they are one of the largest employers their influence on elections is virtually unstoppable despite where their headquarters might be and who ultimately calls the shots.  Just imagine if the shoe had been on the other foot in the Wal-Mart scandal.  What if (a complete hypothetical here) one man stood at the top of a corporation that had tons of influence in the U.S. through the media and some of those organizations even played a significant role in elections?  What if that guy was not American and was from…I don’t know…let’s say Australia?  Imagine how outraged Americans would be if they knew something like that was going on.

Oh, wait.  That already happened.  I must have missed the outrage.

The question now becomes how tolerant will Americans be of this type of influence?  There really is nothing stopping this from happening at this point.  We have to ask ourselves what the new standards will be and what will be a violation of law, if there are any, when governing this area?  Will our attitudes eventually mimic that of Mexico toward Wal-Mart at some point when it would be too costly to prosecute these actions?

We have stood idly by and seen banks become “too big to fail.”  Will we soon see foreign corporate influence in American elections become “too big to punish”?  And when that happens, will we see it begin its spread across the world?  Maybe a better question: has it happened already?

In election, ‘a seat at the table’ costs $5,000 – CNN.com

In election, ‘a seat at the table’ costs $5,000 – CNN.com.

Definitely one of the better commentaries on money and campaigns that sums up a lot.  Excellent read that rightfully attacks both sides of the American political spectrum.

Rupert Murdoch is Ideological. His Money is Bipartisan.

ABC News reported some of the political donations of Rupert Murdoch and his media organizations and the recipients of those donations included some names that may surprise some.  Names like Pelosi, Schumer, and even Obama.  Names that have the (D) by them when they run for office.  Names that also regularly get attacked by the Murdoch-owned pundits at Fox News.

This should really surprise no one paying attention to the media scandal in Britain.  Murdoch has been shown to wine-and-dine prime ministers of different ideological schools of thought on his private yachts so the reality that he donates to both parties in the U.S. is logical and should be expected.  Murdoch is simply an opportunist.  Tighter campaign laws in the UK force him to use one type of tactic to buy influence there.  Loose campaign finance laws allow him to more openly buy his influence here.  He uses the tools (money) at his disposal to get his way.

Remember that these methods of gaining influence are not the illegal actions Murdoch’s organizations are under scrutiny for using.  That he gives money to different political parties is no surprise as many corporations and wealthy donors do the same in the U.S.  The fact that these donations are not illegal is what should concern people.

It is amazing we do not legislate campaign donations in a much tougher way in the United States.  Let’s face it.  When someone donates a large amount of money to many different people on separate sides of the ideological spectrum, it is not a donation because those recipients reflect the ideological philosophy of the donor.  It is a donation to make sure legislation tilts in the interest of the donor.  We have a word for that.  It’s called a bribe.

Any rational and truly democratic society would call it what it is and make sure the laws would not allow this buying of influence to occur.  The likelihood of corruption is obvious and the fact it has happened many times in the U.S. is no secret.  In a democracy with an objective media, there would be an uproar calling for change.  In a democracy where the biased-media is the one performing the corruption, the silence is deafening.