Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Laws Should Address Problems & the Supreme's Shangri-La

The Bloomberg editorial board takes the Supreme Court to the woodshed over over the spurious Montana campaign law decision from earlier this week. And I couldn't agree more.  It's not secret I'm no fan of the Citizens United decision for a few reasons.  First, equating money with speech is ludicrous because one is inherently apportioned equitably across the populace, money is not.  Second, because more money in politics is almost certainly a recipe for corruption.  I mean, we didn't seen a subversive MP3 in Rep. William Jefferson's freezer or a library of banned literature in Ted Stevens' renovated home.

More to the point in the Montana case, the state has experienced that too much money leads to corruption:
Montana begged to differ. Based on its history, which included the wholesale purchase of the state’s Legislature and political class by mine owners more than a century ago, Montana restricted corporate spending in elections. It did so not because the state abhors free speech, but because it required a bulwark against corporate corruption that had subverted the state’s laws and threatened the well-being of its citizens.
But the Supreme Court didn't much care for this rationale. Money equaled speech after Citizens United, but as the Bloomberg editorial continues:

In Citizens United, the majority... compounded this error by patting itself on the back for at last bringing clarity and coherence to the nation’s muddled campaign finance regime. “A campaign finance system that pairs corporate independent expenditures with effective disclosure has not existed before today,” Justice Kennedy crowed. This is a pitiful statement. No such system existed when Kennedy wrote it. And the prospect of ensuring effective disclosure has only grown more dubious since... Republican leaders - - including House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, both of whom vowed support for campaign finance disclosure in recent years -- are blocking it. Thus Kennedy has not only been wrong about disclosure in the past and present, he may continue to be so well into the future.Such errors are not incidental to Citizens United. They are central to it. If political money corrupts, then there are countervailing interests to weigh against the potent claims of free speech. If powerful interests -- including foreign interests -- are free not only to influence elections, but also to do so secretly, then the Shangri-La of free speech conjured by Citizens United, in which the myriad sources of finance are fully disclosed, exists purely in the imaginations of five men in black robes.
Quite right.  Of course there are those that will argue that the legislation passed by Montana was in response to an event over a century ago and that we can't legislate against a problem that doesn't exist anymore, especially if it violates what some consider "free speech." 



Though many of those same folks, who support the Citizens United decision and the free speech they feel it defends aren't up in arms about legislation that would restrict a citizen's ability to vote to solve a voter fraud problem that doesn't exist.

44 comments:

Colin said...

First, equating money with speech is ludicrous because one is inherently apportioned equitably across the populace, money is not.

Demonstrably false. Free speech is not even close to being equitably apportioned. Do you really believe that a homeless person has access to the same amount of speech as a member of Congress or, to pick a random example, a member of the Bloomberg editorial board?

Second, because more money in politics is almost certainly a recipe for corruption.

Lord Acton didn't say it was money that corrupts, he said it was power. Want less corruption? Strip politicians and the government of its power. The left seems to desire a world in which the government has lots of power but there is little corruption. Sorry guys, can't have one without the other. There's a reason why people tried to bribe Rep. Jefferson but no one tries to bribe the town dog catcher.

Ben said...

I think you might misunderstand Lord Acton's quote. Nevertheless, it's hardly germane to the conversation. Additionally, you may be interested to know that corruption occurs at all levels of government (and, therefore, at various levels of relative power)--specious dog-catcher strawman notwithstanding.

Jason said...

Free speech is not even close to being equitably apportioned.

I'm sorry, but this is incorrect. We're all born with a voice and, in this country, the right to say what we will with that voice. We aren't born with a bank account.

[C]orruption occurs at all levels of government

I would perhaps expand on Ben's thought and say simply that corruption occurs just about everywhere there is power and authority be it government a government or a corporation.

But what the state of Montana knew when it passed its campaign finance law was that money exacerbated the inherent problem of corruption, so they sought to limit its influence.

Unfortunately, the court has decided to disregard the lived experience of Montana.

Colin said...

That corruption is found in all levels of government does not undermine my point. After all, I said that we need to strip government and politicians of power and did not distinguish between the various levels. Further, the dog catcher is not a strawman -- it perfectly illustrates my point. People will try to bribe/corrupt those in power, not those without or with a minimal amount of power.

Want to reduce the amount of money in politics? Reduce the amount of politics in our lives.

Colin said...

I'm sorry, but this is incorrect.

No, it is absolutely correct. While we all have the ability to make words come out of our mouths or write/type, some of us have a much greater ability than others to make ourselves heard or read. A Bloomberg editor has much more speech available to them than your Average Joe (which perhaps goes a long ways towards explaining why they despise Citizens United, as it introduces competition in speech and diminishes their ability to shape the narrative).

corruption occurs just about everywhere there is power and authority be it government a government or a corporation.

And? The point still stands that corruption and the desire for influence others is proportional to the power they wield. Start abolishing federal departments wholesale and you'll see lobbyists pack up and leave.

Don't relentlessly push to expand government and then act surprised when the number of lobbyists and influence peddlers increases, or the amount of money spent on campaigns.

Jason said...

A Bloomberg editor has much more speech available to them than your Average Joe

Can't argue with that but you're ignoring a critical point, namely the veil of ignorance. One is born with the ability to express themselves freely in this country. The ability and the efficacy are two very different things.

But people aren't born with a bank account flush with cash to push the narrative they desire. This is the problem with equating speech to money. Once is a principle that survives considering the veil of ignorance, the other does not.

which perhaps goes a long ways towards explaining why they despise Citizens United, as it introduces competition in speech and diminishes their ability to shape the narrative

I'll assume by "they" you mean the Bloomberg editorial board. Citizens United does nothing to ensure "your Average Joe" can shape the narrative. Quite the opposite, unlimited money has ensured a very few, very rich people can shape the narrative and with lackluster reporting, can do so anonymously.

This stands in contrast to the Bloomberg editorial board, which is a board of many voices and responsible to the company they write for. They also put their names to the piece. Citizens United has given rise to Super PACs whose origins, brands, and funding are shadowy at best.

Don't relentlessly push to expand government and then act surprised when the number of lobbyists and influence peddlers increases

First, I don't believe I've "relentlessly push[ed]" to expand government.

Second, by the same logic should we seek to limit the size of corporations? As a corporation has more power and authority are they not as susceptible to corruption? Surely corporations with interests spread across the world hold as much authority and power as many government? Why shouldn't we seek to dismantle these powerful apparatuses?

Ben said...

It only illustrates your point if you know for a fact that no one has ever bribed a dog catcher.

That said, I generously took your point to be broader than embracing only dogcatchers. I believe you mean that those office you deem to be unimportant (like dog catcher) are not worthy of bribery. Yet, in societies in which bribery is tolerated, people will bribe any officer that is able to somehow either deliver an official service faster or who demands it to deliver that service. This in fact undermines your point. Unless of course your point is to do away with government altogether . . . that's the logical conclusion of your position. And while that may be (likely is) your preferred policy outcome, we don't live in Utopia. Government is necessary.

Moreover, bribery is not the only form of corruption. In fact, it's the Court's very over emphasis of so-call quid-pro-quo corruption (and refusal to acknowledge other forms of corruption) that led to the terrible Citizens' United decision. Take your dogcatcher again, sure he might be bribed to leave the big business man's dog alone when it's runny off its leash. But then again, the business man may not need to bribe the dogcatcher because the business man spent $1 billion to crush his nemesis, the incumbent dog catcher. The new dogcatcher, feeling indebted, desiring reelection, and having witnessed (reaped the fruits of) the business man's wrath, will not enforce the leash law vis-a-vis the business man's dog. That, too, is corruption. And that is the danger of CU--and the reversal of the Montana Supreme Court's decision.

Colin said...

Can't argue with that but you're ignoring a critical point, namely the veil of ignorance. One is born with the ability to express themselves freely in this country. The ability and the efficacy are two very different things.

But ability is not the issue here, it's the apportionment of speech, which you said is equal. Given that you agree with me about Bloomberg editors vs. an Average Joe, it seems you now concede the point.

people aren't born with a bank account flush with cash to push the narrative they desire. This is the problem with equating speech to money.

Stating that money is not speech does not make it so. Someone with more money than another person can engage in more speech (which further belies the notion that speech is equitably apportioned). That's just reality.

Citizens United does nothing to ensure "your Average Joe" can shape the narrative.

I never said it did.

Quite the opposite, unlimited money has ensured a very few, very rich people can shape the narrative and with lackluster reporting, can do so anonymously.

That their additional money can grant them additional speech undermines both your case that money is not speech, and that it is equitably apportioned.

Citizens United has given rise to Super PACs whose origins, brands, and funding are shadowy at best.

You should check out the Federalist Papers, written by a shadowy figure by the name of Publius. How did the republic survive? Are anonymous bloggers who discuss politics "shadowy"?

by the same logic should we seek to limit the size of corporations?

Don't really see the logic. First of all, if there is bribery within a corporation -- someone giving kickbacks to their boss or some such -- that doesn't really impact me. Government corruption does. A corrupt corporation will probably suffer and possibly even fail and disappear. When is the last time a government agency was abolished for corruption? Or really, for any reason?

Bret said...

im not sure how this fits in with the united decision, but having surveyed the corruption literature for my dissertation, maybe i can help shed some light on this debate.

first, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that the size of the public sector is even associated with corruption, much less a cause of it. granted, public sector size is not the same as government power. more specifically, in one of the best regarded cross national studies, Treisman (2000) finds that developed economies, high imports, unitary systems, and history of democracy were negatively associated with corruption perceptions. The usual caveats about causal mechanisms and direction of causation apply here. In a later review article, Treisman (2007) finds support for less intrusive regulation and predictable inflation (along with free press and a couple other things) as negatively correlated with corruption.

on the other hand, Lambsdorff (2006) in a fantastic set of reviews of every aspect of the corruption literature, finds little consensus on the effect of regulation, voting system, government structure, or federalism on corruption, mostly because these concepts are poorly measured or the causal mechanism is not articulated.

More specifically with respect to concepts like public sector size, bureaucratic power, and federalism or decentralization, the most convincing explanations in my mind are the ones that argue decentralization affects corruption through an interaction with capital mobility and tax base elasticity. so when capital is highly mobile, regional elites will compete to attract investment by lowering transaction costs in the forms of both corruption and regulation. On the other hand, when capital is fixed, one would expect decentralization would either have no effect on corruption, or would give regional elites the opportunity to extract rents.

so i guess the point is that the relationship between political power and corruption is more complex than big vs. small, or weak vs. strong, or unitary vs. federal. so it might be helpful to thing about the nature of campaign donation and how it might possible affect corruption through different constellations of institutional design. what is the nature of the corporate interest in question? a fixed capital resource or manufacturing business that can't pack up and leave, or an internet company that can go wherever it wants? how do laws or court decisions affect the balance of power between center and periphery?

in general, the united states is a highly federal (decentralized) system, and my sense is that it has an economy with highly mobile capital, and cash is highly fungible, so maybe eliminating restrictions on donations incentivizes state and local government to eliminate corruption and reduce regulations. on the other maybe it just allows mobile capital to capture local government (including district elected congressional representatives and senators).

in either case, i don't think its helpful to say less government creates less corruption, if for no other reason than business likes at least some parts of government. government protects property rights, establishes currency, and reduces transaction costs in other ways. so business doesn't want to get rid of government, it wants to control it, and use it in a way that protects its economic interests. i don't say that in a normative or judgmental way. i don't see a problem with business using government to advance its interests, as long as there's a recognition that everyone else has a right to see government work for them as well.

Colin said...

It only illustrates your point if you know for a fact that no one has ever bribed a dog catcher.

I'm certainly willing to bet that far fewer resources have been expended attempting to bribe dog catchers than other, more powerful, government officials.

This in fact undermines your point.

It does not. The resources expended in bribery will be directly proportional to the power of the person being bribed and, hence, their ability to grant favors.

Unless of course your point is to do away with government altogether . . . that's the logical conclusion of your position.

I never advocated for this, as the costs of reducing corruption would be outweighed by those imposed by anarchy. But the point still stands that corruption and resources expended to influence those in power will grow as their grows. You can argue that the benefits of bigger government outweigh the costs of greater lobbying and opportunities for corruption, but you can't deny this reality.

Your example, meanwhile, is problematic as it assumes that election victory is simply a product of money spent, despite numerous examples of this not being the case.

It further seems to me that if this guy wasn't enforcing leash laws that his constituents wouldn't be happy and he'd open himself up to a challenge. That would pose a much bigger threat than the businessman's billion dollars. Ultimately, the businessman only gets one vote.

Ben said...

It does not. The resources expended in bribery will be directly proportional to the power of the person being bribed and, hence, their ability to grant favors

Two things:
1. changing the goal posts does not rebut my point.
2. see Bret's post.

As far as your money versus votes point, please read Gerber & Green's work and then come back to this discussion.

Colin said...

Bret is correct, that corruption is not simply due to size of government, with numerous factors such as culture and even how well paid the bureaucrats are playing key roles, and I should have been clearer on this point.

I think the larger issue, however, is money in politics. In this, I remain absolutely convinced that it is directly proportional to the size and power of government. Less government power=fewer lobbyists.

Jason said...

it's the apportionment of speech, which you said is equal

No, I said "speech... is inherently apportioned equitably across the populace, money is not." The inherent part is the key. Everyone is born with the potential to deliver ideas freely in this country.

Stating that money is not speech does not make it so.

You've failed to adequately explain how money equals speech. Money can buy you airtime, it can buy you the use of someone else's ideas, but money can not directly generate the idea or the speech. Only a human synapse can do that. The Constitution does not guarantee airtime, it guarantees the opportunity to have an idea and express it, but it doesn't specify megaphone requirements. That opportunity wasn't threatened by McCain-Fiengold. Somewhat suprisingly five "strict constructionists" decided that what the Founder really meant was that speech is a commodity.

Colin said...

changing the goal posts does not rebut my point.

What goal posts were moved?

As far as your money versus votes point, please read Gerber & Green's work and then come back to this discussion.

Um, OK, well you go read Levitt and Milyo and then come back to this discussion.

Ben said...

I have read both. I'm fairly sure you've not read Gerber & Green. It would do you good, particularly their work on Rick Perry's gubernatorial campaign--you might learn something about what actually impacts elections.

Colin Statement1: There's a reason why people tried to bribe Rep. Jefferson but no one tries to bribe the town dog catcher. (emphasis mine)

Colin Statement2: People will try to bribe/corrupt those in power, not those without or with a minimal amount of power. (emphasis mine)

Colin Statement3: The resources expended in bribery will be directly proportional to the power of the person being bribed and, hence, their ability to grant favors. (emphasis mine).

Colin said...

No, I said "speech... is inherently apportioned equitably across the populace, money is not." The inherent part is the key. Everyone is born with the potential to deliver ideas freely in this country.

Yes, at the moment of birth, our ability to engage in speech is equal (save those with mental defects). This is true as far as it goes, but so what? After that time, we grow up and some of us are better able to engage in speech than others.

You've failed to adequately explain how money equals speech. Money can buy you airtime, it can buy you the use of someone else's ideas, but money can not directly generate the idea or the speech. Only a human synapse can do that.

Speech, as the term is commonly understood, is more than just the ability to utter words. A painting is speech. A newspaper advertisement is speech. Both require money to create. Hence, money is speech.

And no, the constitution doesn't guarantee airtime, but it does guarantee your ability to pursue it.

Lastly, why are we scared of people engaging in political speech anyhow? Citizen's United was decided over two years ago -- when are the bad things supposed to start happening? Where are the signs of our democracy being imperiled?

Bret said...

For the record, the empirical record on those things is mixed as well. Treisman's studies found Protestantism and British rule legacies are associated with less corruption, but in my mind the dramatic anti-corruption successes in places that everyone characterized as a culture of corruption (see Chile, Georgia, Singapore, for example) are enough to falsify any culture hypotheses. Institutional changes drive culture, not the other way around.

And yeah, there's probably good empirical evidence that higher wages reduce corruption (there are also dissents (Sosa, 2004 and Van Rijckeghem, 2001), but nobody's seems to be sure of why. Why wouldn't a corrupt bureaucrat just pocket the additional salary and continue taking bribes?

I should also point out my own answer to these questions has to do not just with the strict institutional design of the state or the bureaucracy in question, but in the nature of politics in the case. These relationships seem to operate differently in patronage based political systems (Russia, Mexico, etc( and program based systems (United States). Corruption and patronage are not the same thing, and no system is either purely patronal or purely programmatic, but I suspect these hypotheses about institutional design and wages and sanctions operate differently in these different context. Just another variable to think about.

Colin said...

Ben, I really don't see a lot of conflict among those statements. OK, maybe someplace, somewhere, someone tried to bribe a dog catcher. But the point I think I was clearly trying to make is that someone with more power is likely to be the target of corruption/an influencing campaign than someone with less power.

And I'm also not going to go read a book as a prerequisite for having a blog discussion.

Jason said...

Yes, at the moment of birth, our ability to engage in speech is equal... but so what?

Having the inherent ability to speak freely is entirely the point of having Freedom of Speech in the Constitution. That's the "so what."

Speech, as the term is commonly understood, is more than just the ability to utter words. A painting is speech. A newspaper advertisement is speech.

I 100% agree, which is why I linked freedom of speech to the freedom of ideas.

Both require money to create

False. I'm sorry but the inspiration that leads an artist to visualize some dreamscape doesn't require money. The inspiration that leads an ad executive to come up with a clever slogan doesn't require money.

The idea exists in the absence of money, and particularly in the instance of art there are plenty of times people use mediums to express that idea that don't require money be it grass, feces, or trash.

Again, you've proven money can determine the size of the megaphone, but not that money is the message, the idea, or the speech.

Ben said...

Colin, I see a significant difference between the absolute statement that no one is going to bribe someone in a relatively insignificant position and the statement that bribes (either the amount expended or the amount of bribery) will be proportional to the relative power of the office. The absolute statement is an argument for weak government; the proportional statement is an argument for distributed government. Moreover, the proportional statement--while it is a nice and intuitive model of behavior--is not necessarily the case. I think Bret could shed some light on this; my guess is that there are some idiosyncratic characteristics of bribery--that is, the amount someone is willing to pay in a bribe is likely tailored to their particular needs and the obstacle the object of bribery poses at a given time. This may or may not be coupled to the relative strength of the office.

As far as refusing to read to engage in a discussion, that strikes me as an odd position for you to take. You want to argue about politics, elections, and the role of money. It would seem to me that the relative utility of advertising (both in terms of polling points and duration of effect) would be of interest to you. Particularly if you're going to dissect a hypothetical I offer up based on little more than your gut.

So, let me help you out. You're right, money is not the only thing that influences elections. I've conceded this point to you in the past because, well, (1) I agree with it; (2) it's damn near a truism. That said, money does in fact influence elections. While the business man in my hypothetical may be able to cast only one ballot--assuming that those election laws are enforced--his ability to spend huge quantities of money on advertising will almost certainly have an outsized effect on the election if he spends in the last two weeks of the election. As Gerber & Green demonstrated, positive advertising has a huge impact on voters' electoral preferences but that impact dissipates rapidly overtime. For anyone who has actually worked in political campaigns this makes intuitive sense--it is also why campaigns spend tremendous amounts of money in the last two weeks of an election on advertising.

Bret said...

yeah you'd have to be very careful in your a priori definitions of "power" or "strength of the office." There are supply and demand sides to bribery, obviously. So while the Minister of Internal Affairs in Russia for example is a very powerful position in terms of its position in the executive hierarchy, he would probably only be able to collect a few hundred thousand dollars in exchange for hiring a particular person as a police colonel, both because he's dealing with individuals with a limited ability to pay, and individuals might be able to buy a similar position in another ministry. The head of Gazprom or the equivalent of an energy minister might be able to charge a lot more for a drilling permit because of the size of the potential return on that investment for the briber, and because oil is a fixed resource. So the potential for extortion is higher. So the energy guy would collect higher bribes, even though he's not as "powerful."

But if you decide that a person is ipso facto more powerful because of their ability to command higher bribes, then power and corruption are directly proportional by tautology. I don't think this is the way to go.

That was entirely a hypothetical scenario, and it would be interesting to find out the quantity and size of bribes in different positions within the hierarchy, but I think it illustrates a case where bribery is disproportionate to power.

Also, keep in mind that the principal-agent model of corruption is based on the idea that agents engage in corruption because of the information asymmetries relative to their principals. So in this case, the agents, while less powerful, engage in corruption precisely because they are less powerful. They have to worry about only their own behavior, while a manager has to obtain and assimilate information on all his agents. So if you think this is a good model for corruption (and I think it works very well in programmatic politics contexts), then corruption and power might actually be inversely proportional.

Colin said...

Having the inherent ability to speak freely is entirely the point of having Freedom of Speech in the Constitution. That's the "so what."

The fact that the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the fact that the great majority of us are born with the ability to form words are unrelated. Why is the fact that we are born with a relatively equal ability to form words relevant? After all, speech is more than just the ability to form words.

False. I'm sorry but the inspiration that leads an artist to visualize some dreamscape doesn't require money. The inspiration that leads an ad executive to come up with a clever slogan doesn't require money.

We aren't talking about inspiration, the ability to visualize or the act of synapses firing. That is thinking, not speech. The communication of those ideas -- aka speech -- often requires resources as in the art and advertisement examples.

Colin said...

The absolute statement is an argument for weak government; the proportional statement is an argument for distributed government

In all governments power will be unevenly distributed. Some might be less uneven than others, but it will still be uneven.

It would seem to me that the relative utility of advertising (both in terms of polling points and duration of effect) would be of interest to you.

There is a great difference between saying "you may find this of interest" and saying that a discussion cannot take place until someone reads a book.

That said, money does in fact influence elections.

And I never disputed this. Rather my point is that it is false to assume that simply because one guy spends $1 billion that he wins.

Jason said...

Why is the fact that we are born with a relatively equal ability to form words relevant?

It's not just the ability, it's the freedom to express those ideas. Every American is born with the ability to speak freely, no matter the idea. Not to state the obvious, but plenty of people are born into places where the have the ability to speak, but not the ability to speak freely. That's the freedom of speech addresses in the Constitution.

The communication of those ideas -- aka speech -- often requires resources as in the art and advertisement examples.

Often, but not always. At it's purest speech does not require resources. It doesn't take money to go stand on a street corner and speak freely, therefore how is money equal to speech?

I've never debated that money influences the size of the megaphone, but that would seem to make the Citizens United decision all the more wrong-headed as it limits the "free exchange" of ideas.

Ben said...

There is a great difference between saying "you may find this of interest" and saying that a discussion cannot take place until someone reads a book.

Indeed. But I didn't say that. I did suggest--albeit flippantly--that you read their work before persisting in asserting something that is at least demonstrably incorrect.


Rather my point is that it is false to assume that simply because one guy spends $1 billion that he wins.

That's not really the point, is it. The point is that money impacts elections. Having more money spent on your behalf means that you enjoy greater influence over the outcome (and an increased likelihood of success, particularly if it is spent smartly) than otherwise. Because you desire reelection and would like to enjoy the favor of your benefactor (and the attendant improved chances of election) next time around, you may be more likely to alter your behavior to suit your benefactor's desires. If these desires include not enforcing the law vis-a-vis his unleashed dog, then that is corruption--but not quid-pro-quo corruption. And that is the point of my hypothetical and this discussion.

The point is not, nor has it ever been, whether having access to money guarantees success.

Colin said...

It's not just the ability, it's the freedom to express those ideas. Every American is born with the ability to speak freely, no matter the idea. Not to state the obvious, but plenty of people are born into places where the have the ability to speak, but not the ability to speak freely. That's the freedom of speech addresses in the Constitution.

How is this relevant or germane to your original statement that "[speech] is inherently apportioned equitably across the populace." When we are all small children, perhaps this is true. But we are not a nation of small children, and -- like money -- speech most certainly is not apportioned equitably.

Often, but not always.

Then you concede the point.

At it's purest speech does not require resources. It doesn't take money to go stand on a street corner and speak freely, therefore how is money equal to speech?

And if speech was simply the ability to physically speak you might have a point. But it isn't.

...that would seem to make the Citizens United decision all the more wrong-headed as it limits the "free exchange" of ideas.

Really? Having more political speech limits the exchange of ideas? And I suppose with less political speech we would have a greater exchange of ideas? That is nonsensical.

Colin said...

I did suggest--albeit flippantly--that you read their work before persisting in asserting something that is at least demonstrably incorrect.

My assertion is that superior campaign expenditures do not guarantee success. I can guarantee you there is no research that proves my assertion incorrect.

That's not really the point, is it. The point is that money impacts elections.

Yes, it is the point. You asserted, or at least strongly implied, that simply because a guy spent $1 billion that he would win. My position is that his success is not guaranteed.

Just like your assertion that my likely preference is for zero government, there is nothing I have said that indicates I believe money plays zero role in an election.

Ben said...

there is nothing I have said that indicates I believe money plays zero role in an election.

Actually, over the long history of you commenting on this blog, there is a lot to imply this statement.

Putting that aside, however, I'm glad you agree with me that money impacts elections. It's not controversial. It also has a significant impact on elections--an impact that you may not fully realize--but regardless, and again, the point of this discussion is whether such impact raises the specter of corruption. I'd really like to get back to that discussion.

Jason said...

Having more political speech limits the exchange of ideas?

Having more in quantity doesn't necessarily increase the diversity of ideas. Unlimited money can mean a lot of political speech, but could result in very little exchange of ideas.

My point saying "[speech] is inherently apportioned equitably across the populace," is that we all get the same opportunity to formulate and share a message. Certainly some people are more effective at speaking then others, but that opportunity is the same.

However, when you equate money to speech the opportunity isn't the same. Suddenly the barrier to entry gets raised as the richest guy in the room out bids everyone else for a limited amount of airtime. In that case, you've made speech a commodity to be bought and sold by the highest bidder in effect making speech quite expensive, not free.

Colin said...

Actually, over the long history of you commenting on this blog, there is a lot to imply this statement.

I'd love for you to support this statement, along with anything I have said that implies a belief in anarchy and zero government.

Colin said...

Having more in quantity doesn't necessarily increase the diversity of ideas.

So now we have progressed from your statement that Citizen's United "limits the exchange of ideas" to that it "doesn't necessarily" increase the diversity of ideas.

Well no, it doesn't. It's entirely possible that we will simply hear all the same voices as before, only louder. But it's also possible that we will hear more voices and ideas.

But even if I accept that there is no increase in the diversity of voices and only the volume of existing ones, it still doesn't follow that there will be less (or even the same) exchange of ideas. After all, because of the raised volume someone it is entirely plausible that someone can now be exposed to an idea that was previously too quiet or had insufficient resources to get their views across.

My point saying "[speech] is inherently apportioned equitably across the populace," is that we all get the same opportunity to formulate and share a message.

By this same rationale, we all get the same chance to make a lot of money, so your logic still doesn't hold. And if you disagree with me, and argue that some people have a better shot at wealth than others (something I am inclined to agree with), then you also have to admit that not everyone gets an equal shot at becoming editor of the NYT, or president, or any other position that grants someone a particularly high profile venue from which to engage in speech. You can't have it both ways.

However, when you equate money to speech the opportunity isn't the same.

It's not about me equating it or not, it's simply acknowleding reality. Money buys someone more speech -- that's just a fact (one that you have tacitly admitted, as you have noted that more money buys a bigger megaphone and thus more speech).

Suddenly the barrier to entry gets raised as the richest guy in the room out bids everyone else for a limited amount of airtime.

Really? You live in fear of someone buying up the airtime on every radio and TV channel in the country (or even one district) for all hours of the day? Is this a serious example?

Jason said...

It's not about me equating it or not. "Stating that money is not speech does not make it so." -Colin, yesterday

That reads to me like you believe money is speech.

Money buys someone more speech -- that's just a fact

Mostly right, I agree it buys a bigger megaphone. But is that a desirable outcome?

It's entirely possible that we will simply hear all the same voices as before, only louder.

Again, is this a desirable outcome and one conducive to a vibrant democracy?

By this same rationale, we all get the same chance to make a lot of money, so your logic still doesn't hold. And if you disagree with me, and argue that some people have a better shot at wealth than others (something I am inclined to agree with), then you also have to admit that not everyone gets an equal shot at becoming editor of the NYT, or president, or any other position that grants someone a particularly high profile venue from which to engage in speech. You can't have it both ways.

We're talking about designing a system that is the most fair. Again, back to the veil of ignorance. How do you design a system that gives everyone the opportunity?

In practice, people are born with advantages and disadvantages, but how do you design a fair system?

Surely a strong capitalist libertarian like yourself appreciates a system where the government protects property rights? Has established contract law and all the other systems that allow commerce to happen and investment to be rewarded? Surely commerce benefits from the restrictions and regulations the government proposes?

Ben said...

See DCExile, http://dcexile.blogspot.com, in passim.

Colin said...

That reads to me like you believe money is speech.

As do you, as you have said that money both controls the amount of speech (megaphone example) and even if people can engage in certain forms of speech (your admission that resources are "often, but not always" required to engage in speech). Glad we finally agree on that.

Mostly right, I agree it buys a bigger megaphone. But is that a desirable outcome?

Personally, yes, I think that more speech is a good thing and something that contributes to a vibrant democracy. But my personal feelings are irrelevant on this matter, as -- as you have noted -- the "ability to speak freely is entirely the point of having Freedom of Speech in the Constitution." Thus, restrictions on free speech violate the Constitution.

Again, is this a desirable outcome and one conducive to a vibrant democracy?

Again, irrelevant. It's the Constitution that matters, not my personal feelings or yours.

We're talking about designing a system that is the most fair.

No, we're not. We're talking about a system that upholds the Constitution. The Supreme Court didn't rule as it did in Citizen's United because it thought the ruling was best for democracy -- which is not its job -- it did so because it was attempting to uphold the freedom of speech (as it did with the Stolen Valor ruling yesterday).

Surely a strong capitalist libertarian like yourself appreciates a system where the government protects property rights?

I appreciate when the Constitution, including the freedom of speech, is upheld. You should too.

Colin said...

See DCExile, http://dcexile.blogspot.com, in passim.

If this is true, it shouldn't be hard for you to find a single example. The fact remains, I have never -- not even once -- claimed or implied that either money is an irrelevant factor in elections or have advocated anarchy.

Ben said...

Colin, you imply money is irrelevant every time Jason or I bring up the effect of money on elections. Your go-to rebuttal is to point out cases where vastly wealthy (but deeply flawed) individuals are beaten by the opponents they've outspent by significant margins. While you may claim you're pointing out that money is not the be-all, end-all of electoral campaigns, what you are actually doing is setting up a strawman--neither Kennedy nor I argue that it is the only thing that influences elections--and inviting the inference that because money was not the deciding factor in this handful of elections, money must never be the deciding factor in elections. This approach both discounts the influence of money in elections and implies that it irrelevant.

Colin said...

Ben, the only one setting up a strawman is you. Time and again I have noted examples of candidates spending superior amounts of money, only to lose in the election. This is used to counter your implied narrative that, with Citizens United, contests will simply be decided by whoever has the superior fundraising.

While you claim that this is a strawman, in this very discussion thread you conjured an example of a guy spending a billion dollars to win office, so it's hardly a fantastical leap on my part to think that your logic consists of "whoever spends more wins."

It's also not the case that those who have outspent their opponents but fallen short are just a handful of flawed individuals. As this Washington Post story notes:

The Center for Responsive Politics calculates that out of 58 candidates who used $500,000 or more of their money on federal races in 2010, fewer than one in five won. Eight of the top 10 self-funders this cycle lost, with only GOP Senate challenger Ron Johnson of Wisconsin ($8.2 million) and House candidate Scott Rigell of Virginia ($2.4 million) emerging victorious.

The results continue a long tradition of ambitious but failed bids for political office by self-financing tycoons from Ross Perot to Steve Forbes, who frequently have difficulty translating their financial advantages into votes. Since 1990, only five of the top 20 self-financed candidates have won, according to the center's data.


Granted, self-funders don't necessarily have a financial advantage, but they usually do.

Lastly, since you declined to do any research and cite specific examples of me claiming that money has no role in determining electoral success, I did some for you. Check out my quote from this thread:

The more money a candidate has, the better that candidate can advance their ideas and get the message out (where would Ron Paul's ideas such as End the Fed and drug legalization be without his numerous money bombs?).

How is that at all consistent with a belief that money is irrelevant?

Further, in the same thread we find this statement by Jason:

Citizen’s United undermines democracy and the competition of ideas by destroying the forum, replacing the competition over the merits of ideas with a competition over the biggest collection of money.

I don't think it's an unfair reading of this statement to believe it implies that electorial success is a product of who has more money. And yet I am the one attacking strawmen?

Ben said...

While you claim that this is a strawman, in this very discussion thread you conjured an example of a guy spending a billion dollars to win office, so it's hardly a fantastical leap on my part to think that your logic consists of "whoever spends more wins."

Except for the fact that I consistently note that money isn't everything but it is an important thing in elections. You are simply willfully ignoring this to argue against a point I've not even set out. Moreover, the hypothetical I offered was meant to demonstrate the danger of corruption outside of the quid pro quo context and it does not turn on whether spending necessarily returns victory. Simply assuming that sometimes money is impactful--which I believe you have acknowledge--is sufficient for the hypothetical to serve its intended purpose.

I'm glad you agree (again) with me that money plays a significant role in elections. As I've said a few times before, it's not controversial.

You may consider that the failure of self-financed candidates has less to do with the impact of money than with the impact being rich--or at least being so rich you've decided not to fundraise--has on one's electability; remember, fundraising is a form organizing. It helps in coalition building.

Finally, I stand by this idea that twisting freedom of speech from a concept of ideas competition to a competition of bullhorn size is bad for democracy. But that does not mean that money necessarily yields victory. Like I've said over, and over, and over. And again, I'm happy to have you agree with me on that point.

So long as you continue to argue against a position I've consistently not taken you are indeed arguing against strawmen.

Colin said...

You are simply willfully ignoring this to argue against a point I've not even set out.

Re-read the thread. You said "...the business man spent $1 billion to crush his nemesis, the incumbent dog catcher." Let's not play dumb here -- you are clearly implying that victory was due to superior funds. So again, I did not attack a strawman, but what you actually said.

I'm glad you agree (again) with me that money plays a significant role in elections.

That's some impressive spin. First you assign me a position I do not hold, then you declined to provide evidence that I hold that position, and then when I demonstrate your assertion is false you decline to acknowledge your error but rather simply say that you are glad I agree with you.

Ben said...

Colin, let me lay out for you clearly, once again, what I believe.

1. Campaign spending significantly influences election outcomes in single member district races throughout the American system. If you would like, I would happy to provide with you numerous journal articles supporting this.

2. Campaign spending does not necessarily determine election outcomes.

The hypothetical I offered, again, was meant to demonstrate the danger of non-quid pro quo corruption. The causal relationship between spending and outcomes need only be tenuous for this hypothetical to work. I'm not sure why you're arguing with this after swearing up and down that I was wrong to accuse you of implying that campaign spending does not play a role in election outcomes. Let me accept at face value--and despite the clear implications you've made in the past--that you do believe that campaign spending impacts elections. Assuming this, it doesn't matter if money necessarily yields victory. All that matters is that you accept that money sometimes, even rarely, will yield victory. If so, then assume that the hypothetical takes place in that rare circumstance. Now, we can get talk about corruption in a non-quid pro quo setting.

As to your last point: I fairly well deconstructed your argument. You didn't rebut it. I'm satisfied by that.

Colin said...

I'm not sure why you're arguing with this after swearing up and down that I was wrong to accuse you of implying that campaign spending does not play a role in election outcomes.

Why wouldn't I argue with it? It's perfectly within bounds to both believe that money matters while noting that one cannot assume victory simply because they outspent their opponent. Revisit what I said: "Your example, meanwhile, is problematic as it assumes that election victory is simply a product of money spent, despite numerous examples of this not being the case."

How my pointing out that there are numerous examples to the contrary means that money is irrelevant is a massive logical leap on your part.

Let me accept at face value--and despite the clear implications you've made in the past--that you do believe that campaign spending impacts elections.

No, sorry, I have never made any implication in the past that money doesn't play a role in elections (or that I believe in anarchy), and if you are going to keep making these accusations I'd appreciate some evidence to support them. That you cannot, or refuse to do so, is poor form.

I fairly well deconstructed your argument. You didn't rebut it.

If you point out this alleged deconstruction I'd be happy to rebut it.

Ben said...

No, sorry, I have never made any implication in the past that money doesn't play a role in elections (or that I believe in anarchy), and if you are going to keep making these accusations I'd appreciate some evidence to support them. That you cannot, or refuse to do so, is poor form.

Colin, I agree that that would be poor form. But I've not done those things. Instead, while I did not provide you an exhaustive list of every time you've made this implication, I highlighted the argument I believe you make and why I believe it implies that conclusion. I then deconstructed it. Let me reiterate:

Your go-to rebuttal is to point out cases where vastly wealthy (but deeply flawed) individuals are beaten by the opponents they've outspent by significant margins. While you may claim you're pointing out that money is not the be-all, end-all of electoral campaigns, what you are actually doing is setting up a strawman--neither Kennedy nor I argue that it is the only thing that influences elections--and inviting the inference that because money was not the deciding factor in this handful of elections, money must never be the deciding factor in elections. This approach both discounts the influence of money in elections and implies that it irrelevant.

I agree with you that pointing out anecdotal evidence that money does not decide elections does little to describe the relative impact of money on elections. Yet, whenever we point out the fact that money does influence elections, you rebut with these anecdotes. Of course this invites the inference that you believe, because these individuals have lost their elections, money does not influence elections. Otherwise your continued use of these anecdotes is merely muddying the waters and avoiding the actual debate.

And to return to the hypothetical once again. Yes, you're right that it is within the bounds of reality but still you've missed the point entirely. Never--regardless of the strength with which you wish it--did I argue that $1 billion absolutely yields victory in every case, ever. It was merely the premise of this hypothetical that, in this particular case, a huge amount of outside money influenced the outcome of the election. And that really shouldn't be controversial.

Now, dear Colin, if you're done arguing around the question at hand, could we please return to the question of corruption? You know, the question the sparked this conversation initially.

Colin said...

Your go-to rebuttal is to point out cases where vastly wealthy (but deeply flawed) individuals are beaten by the opponents they've outspent by significant margins. While you may claim you're pointing out that money is not the be-all, end-all of electoral campaigns, what you are actually doing is setting up a strawman--neither Kennedy nor I argue that it is the only thing that influences elections--and inviting the inference that because money was not the deciding factor in this handful of elections, money must never be the deciding factor in elections. This approach both discounts the influence of money in elections and implies that it irrelevant.

Actually I already ripped the heart out of that argument by noting Jason's statement that "Citizen’s United undermines democracy and the competition of ideas by destroying the forum, replacing the competition over the merits of ideas with a competition over the biggest collection of money." That pretty much rebuts that I have been fighting with a strawman argument, as the argument actually has been advanced on this blog that elections will devolve into a contest of who has the most money.

Let's deconstruct your deconstruction.

1. You claim that I am arguing with a strawman, when I fact I am not.

2. You then assign a strawman to me, by claiming that I invite the inference or imply that it is irrelevant, when I have done no such thing. Pointing out that money does not guarantee victory -- which is a relevant fact when people are talking about elections simply becoming a contest of who has more money or $1 billion being used to crush an opponent -- is not the same as stating its irrelevance.

3. I have supplied quotes that serve as evidence that I neither believe what you have said I believe (that money is irrelevant) and also demonstrate that I am not fighting with a strawman, but rather actual sentiment expressed on this blog. You have supplied none, but rather have resorted to vague allusions.

Consider yourself rebutted.

Never--regardless of the strength with which you wish it--did I argue that $1 billion absolutely yields victory in every case, ever.

You are, yet again, arguing with something I never said. Again, my quote: "Your example, meanwhile, is problematic as it assumes that election victory is simply a product of money spent, despite numerous examples of this not being the case."

Note, I said "your example...assumes." I never made a blanket statement that you always and in every case assume money is the only factor that matters.

Ben said...

Note, I said "your example...assumes." I never made a blanket statement that you always and in every case assume money is the only factor that matters.

Again, my example does not assume that "election victory is simply a product of money spent." Instead, my hypothetical asks you to assume: (1) a fictional dogcatcher election; (2) the existence of an outside funder spending money on behalf of one candidate; (3) that the outside funder spends the money with the intent that target of expenditures lose; (4) that he spends $1 billion; and (5) that the target in fact loses. None of these assumptions indicate that victory is assured by expenditures. Nevertheless, as you admit, money does impact elections. And, in some cases, significant funding disparities between candidates may in fact result in the advantaged candidate winning. Regardless, whether or not the funding disparity impacted the election, if the victorious candidate believes the independent expenditure did influence the outcome he may feel beholden too (or fearful of) that outsider funder. This, then, may result in corruption that doesn't fall within the aegis of quid pro quo corruption.