Hysterical “Reformers” Challenged on DailyKos, OpenLeft

One of the things I’ve noted in the past is that so-called campaign finance "reformers" tend towards the hysterical and uncritical, willing to accept almost any argument at face value and latch onto any scandal and somehow twist it into a reason for further limits on citizens First Amendment rights of speech, assembly, and petition.  And if it isn’t a scandal, then by the time their press operation is through it will be!

By and large I believe this is true, with a very few notable exceptions. So it was with a great deal of enjoyment today that I ran across the latest exercise in hysterical rabble-rousing by Lawrence Lessig on a few left-oriented blog sites and saw the responses of many who were clearly not buying it, even though many of them appeared to be themselves favorable towards so-called "reform."

A little background: Lawrence Lessig has announced his partnership with Joe Trippi in a group called Change Congress. The basic theory appears to be this: because it’s bad for politicians to listen to and favor the interest of donors, they’re going to organize a boycott of donors who won’t give to politicians until they promise to stop listening to and favoring donors, and also support taxpayer-funded political campaigns (so-called "clean elections"). Once politicians make the appropriate pledges, the donors promise to begin giving again.

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. You can read my original take on this at "Reformers" promise to bribe politicians favoring "reform" as well as the follow-up at "More on the insane, troll-like logic of "reform"

Yesterday, Lessig posted at the Huffington Post about a "scandal" involving Bank of America: "Huffington Post Breaks Huge Corruption Story – And We Must Do Something About It"

From Lessig’s post:

You can’t make this stuff up. Breaking news from The Huffington Post:

Three days after receiving $25 billion in federal bailout funds, Bank of America Corp. hosted a conference call with conservative activists and business officials to organize opposition to the U.S. labor community’s top legislative priority.

Participants on the October 17 call — including at least one representative from another bailout recipient, AIG — were urged to persuade their clients to send "large contributions" to groups working against the Employee Free Trade Act (EFCA), as well as to vulnerable Senate Republicans, who could help block passage of the bill.

…Donations of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to Republican senatorial campaigns were needed, they argued…"If a retailer has not gotten involved in this, if he has not spent money on this election, if he has not sent money to [former Sen.] Norm Coleman and all these other guys, they should be shot. They should be thrown out their goddamn jobs," Marcus declared.

Of course, a scandal of this magnitude clearly calls for action – specifically, to join Lessig’s effort to refuse to give to politicians until the agree to do what these donors want! As he put it,

If there was ever a time to join Change Congress’s political "donor strike" in support of fundamental campaign finance reform, this is it… at this moment of outrageous news, all of us can do our part. Please join the fight for reform today by clicking here, and then forward this news to some friends today.

Of course, the report has it wrong – this was an analyst conference call regarding retailer stocks, and the purpose was to discuss how the Employee Free Choice Act (also known as "card check") might affect retailer stocks like Home Depot and Target, among other things. Marcus clearly was making a pitch for political support, but that’s hardly "corruption" by even the most generous (strict?) definition of the term.

DailyKos and OpenLeft, two prominent blogs that have a generally left/progressive slant on politics, also picked up the story. While the comments at Huffington Post generally showed what can only be called a mindless acceptance of the idea that a corporation having an opinion on public policy is somehow "corrupt" (especially corporations that received TARP funds!), many of the activists on DailyKos and OpenLeft were not nearly so gullible. A sampling of their reactions:

OpenLeft:

Damitajo1first amendment = corruption? tarp did not come with strings which say that the participants cannot engage in first amendment activities!  what if liberal recipients of federal assistance could not advocate a viewpoint that we appreciated….!  sorry, but this is neither a scandal nor corruption.

SpitBall – Is it "morally corrupt" to donate to political campaigns? …Does this anger extend to an autoworker whose job was saved by bailing out the car companies sending money to the Democratic candidates that supported the bail-out and telling his buddies that they should be contributing, too?

… I’m trying to understand why it is surprising, or an example of corruption, when companies try to push, promote, or quash legislation that that interests them. I’m not defending their corporate actions that seek to increase their profits at the expense of their workers (unionized or otherwise). Clearly, they have a political agenda that differs from mine, but I can’t say that they are corrupt for trying to work the existent political system to attain their desired outcome.

Telephasic – I’m sorry… But as someone who has worked in the labor movement my entire adult life, I fail to see the scandal here.   Virtually all businesses which do not have a substantial proportion of their employees already unionized are die-hard anti union.  I’m not shocked to see they are participating in a conference call – even leading one.   However, there is no indication that they are using bailout money to help defeat the EFCA…

Hopeful in NJ: so I guess this is the plan

1. I stop donating to politicians with my views.
2. * Magic *
3. Public financing passes
4. * Magic *
5. Good government.

I don’t believe in steps 2 or 4, so I’ll pass.

DailyKos

DHinMithe idea that special interests will no longer have disproportionate influence in our democracy if we change campaign financing is utopian.  And the idea that everything good will be blocked unless we have public financing is ahistorical.  

The complaint that TARP money is being used for political purposes… has NOTHING to do with public financing of candidate campaigns.  What they’re doing… is essentially issue advocacy, and has nothing directly to do with elections, and would not at all be effected by creating a public financing system of candidate elections.

Bardy – The Huff Po headline is ridiculous and misleading.  I listened to the clips they posted – and it is fairly clear that it is Marcus on a call with retail stock analysts.  

Both BofA and AIG have stock analysts on their payrolls.  To suggest that because they had a rep listen to the call that it was an endorsement of the ideas is one heck of a leap.  The HuffPo story doesn’t even suggest whether the BofA or AIG rep did anything but log into the call.  Did they actually contribute any money in response to the call?  Did they take any action?  To throw them under the bus because some unnamed employee of the company, who may have had no authority to act, dialed-in is shoddy journalism at best.

This is a colassal over reaction – regardless of what you think of the legislation it addressed.  

Brainwave – this diary’s title is blaring about corruption, but the news item it "breaks" (not) isn’t about corruption at all. And then it turns out that the news item is really bait to lure people into supporting this dubious donor strike.

Tunesmith – where’s the linkage that shows that the bailout money is being used?  Like, where is it shown or even implied that this call or these actions would not have been possible without the bailout money?

Hlinko – …I don’t see the link here. People may oppose them, for sure, or even think it’s wrong in general for them to oppose EFCA, but… if there’s corruption here, I’m missing it. Is there a link to the bailout money I’m not seeing here?  Or something truly improper, as opposed to something we happen to disagree with?

Not saying there’s not a good reason to do [join the "donor strike"], but… then just go ahead and make the argument on its merits, not through corruption allegations that really don’t seem to be backed up by the facts.

Oaktownadam – so, what then? Ban conference calls for bailout recipients? Because that’s all the article says that BoA and AIG did, host a conference call where EFCA was discussed. It doesn’t say they had spent any money beyond the cost of the phone call.

GenXWho – Much Ado About Nothing. These types of diaries simply make us look bad. Naive. Uninformed. Reactionaries.

A few points:

– It is unclear from the article what "hosting" even means.  BofA hosts calls like this all the time with a variety of business groups, investors, industry leaders, and so on…

– The TARP money that BofA received was in the form of an equity investment by the government… To think that this gives the government, or even worse one political party, control over the business practices of BofA is misguided.  The bank still has a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders (including us now) to act in its own best interest.

Are the diarists really such simpletons to believe that receiving TARP money now entitles "The Left" in this country control over the business practices of the recipients?  That all of a sudden bankers, for **** sake, are going to… start supporting unions?  <catches breath from laughing so hard>

…Oh, and the donation strike is not a good idea–whatever that has to do with the topic.

Phil in Denver – This sucks but… It’s not corruption. Sorry to burst the bubble, but they did not have to spend a dime of taxpayer money to do this, and proving they did would be virtually impossible.

They are businesses and they have their agenda, which we can and should disagree with most vociferously, but they have every right to do so, yes even if we have bailed them out. It does not mean that we have bought them, we can not control them.

Leevank – the article doesn’t say they used bailout money… Not quite the "huge corruption story" that it’s being portrayed as in this diary.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.