Monday, October 5, 2009

Muzzling Money in Politics

The open display of campaign financing to influence Congressional votes in health care and financial regulation shows, if we needed more evidence, that McCain-Feingold isn’t working. Here’s another approach.

Instead of trying to choke off political money at its source, make the donations blind. Create an intermediary, a Campaign Finance Administration, to collect the money from donors and make payments to candidates or parties, and require all donations to go through it. Donors could select any recipients they choose and earmark their contributions for them, but the agency would maintain confidentiality over how much was given and who it was directed to. On a regular basis they would deliver a check to each candidate, combining all the donations made within the latest period. The goal is to permit donors to spend their money to promote their political objectives, but to reduce their leverage over politicians between elections.

It’s like the secret ballot, which was used to combat vote-buying in the heyday of urban political machines. You can still vote for any bozo you want, but you can’t sell your vote because you can’t demonstrate that you actually did what you were paid for.

I won’t say it will solve all our problems, but it’s a fairly simple step that shouldn’t raise any constitutional hackles.


Anonymous said...

















Martin Langeland said...

And the next January the emissary from Mr. GotRox is sitting in the reps office with the receipt in his pocket. "Congrats Mr. Congress Crittur on your (re)election. Here's how much we sent you, and here's our honey do list."
Put another way, how does this obviate the candidate time waster of soliciting funds?
IMHO, so long as we require whoring after money to secure public office, our politicians can't help but be whores.

Bill said...

Well corporate financing of candidates shouldn't be considered unregulatable free speech in the first place.

If we have to have it, I think all donation should be double blind. Anyone/thing can contribute money, but money is parceled out to races based on total donations and the advertising costs in the various electoral districts not to a specified candidate. This would even the playing field for non-incumbents and non-major parties (assuming PACs are also eliminated), and likely get legislators closer to their constituents.

and while I'm off in Utopia, I'd like a pony

TokyoTom said...

Peter, under your scheme donors remain incentivized to maximize personal gains from contributions by finding ways to TELL candidates how much they contributed. Such signalling would be practically impossible to prevent.

TheTrucker said...

My own solutions haven't changed since the late 90's. I would like to see the current challenge to the constitutionality of the small House of Representatives succeed and a repeal of the 17th amendment. I believe that attempts to keep money out of politics is a lost cause and that the only way to deal with the problem is logically place the representatives closer to the people and further away from the lobby. The people of the State of Montana are not represented by Max Baucus. Max Baucus represents the health insurance lobby who has given him enough money to crush any popular candidate in a race for the seat in Montana. Assuming a repeal of the 17th, if the people of Montana elect honest state legislators then they will get a good Senator. One that is _NOT_ owned by the lobby.

And the House is the same sort of problem. If electoral districts are a lot smaller then the candidates are much more beholding to their constituents and less likely to be crushed by big media advertising.

Peter Dorman said...

T. Tom,

It helps to think about the analogy with voting. You can still offer to sell your vote under secret balloting; the problem is that you can't prove to the buyer that you actually voted as promised. The idea is to apply the same mechanism to funding.

The difference is that writing a check also produces a record at the donating end, in the donor's financial accounts. There are two solutions, not mutually exclusive. The first is to prohibit communications in which donors convey to recipients how much and to whom they have given. That might be difficult to enforce, but making it illegal should have some effect. The second is to have a secure system for the donor to designate a recipient. That is, the donor's records could include the amount and date, but the only verifiable record of the recipient would be in the hands of the public authority, and confidential. Since the authority bundles donations and issues them at fixed intervals, the amount and timing would normally not be enough to infer who got the loot.

Travis Fast said...

Do fully public election financing and then create lobbyist days for every scrap of legislation so that any interested party can make representation on any pending legislation or existing legislation. would that not solve the freedom of speech problem?

TokyoTom said...

Peter, I think that any solution that requires a muzzle on donors simply isn`t going to work as a practical matter, even if it passes Constitutional tests.

What restrictions apply now to corporate donations?

Martin Langeland said...

"What restrictions apply now to corporate donations?"
This is one of the main roots of the problem: The mistaken notion that corporations, as fictive persons in law, have 14th amendment rights of equality with natural persons. The Founders, with the British East India Company glowering over them, meant to prevent just that. It took a law clerk's misunderstanding of a Justice's remark in the Santa Clara case to allow the subsequent establishment of precedents that give corporation's free speech rights and allow them to purchase our politics. That needs redress.

TokyoTom said...

Martin, I`m with you 100%; corporations aren`t "persons" and they don`t speak and they certainly shouldn`t have Constitutional rights, which belong instead to the people who own, work in, lend to, do business with or are injured by them.

We should be attacking the root of the problem, not playing whack-a-mole.

I think an effective line of aiding people`s understanding here is to explore the problems arising from the government grant of limited liability to shareholders; I have done this at length here:

We can see that this pernicious feature of corporations (along with unlimited purposes and life) fuels risk-shifting from investors to society, massive growth of government to deal with the problems, and a continuing struggle to decide what law or regulation gets passed next.