If only we were ruled by philosopher-kings

The so-called “Super Committee” established by the recent debt-ceiling deal is drawing scrutiny by self-styled campaign finance “reformers,” particularly when it comes to their fundraising efforts while serving on the committee.

Needless to say, the commentary and reporting on this issue suggests that what needs scrutiny is the ‘reformers’ understanding of how a democratic Republic works. Courtesy of National Public Radio:

Supercommittee at risk with campaign donors

The 12 lawmakers on the new deficit-cutting supercommittee have their hands full. They’re under orders to bring Congress a plan for cutting the deficit by more than a trillion dollars, and to do it before Thanksgiving.

At the same time, they’re also raising funds for their next campaigns, and that could be a problem if the supercommittee members are under pressure to bite the hands that feed them money…

Who’s Giving

According to Sheila Krumholz, the [Center for Responsive Politics] director, the No. 1 source of contributions [to committee members] was The Club for Growth, a group that promotes smaller government and a deregulated market. Not surprisingly, every penny of its $1 million in contributions went to Republicans.

“Microsoft was second, with $944,000,” she says. That’s money from employees and its PAC.

Democrats on the committee got almost all of it, especially their co-chair, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), whose state is where Microsoft’s home base is located.

There are many other ways to parse the donor numbers: by industry, by party and so forth. But the point is, when the supercommittee meets, its members will be pressured to make changes that would affect some of those very groups that helped them get elected.

Murray, for instance, ran an ad last year during her re-election campaign that reminded voters how she helped Boeing land a controversial Air Force contract. In Washington state, 79,000 residents work for Boeing.

But now the supercommittee has to consider whacking billions out of the Pentagon budget, and Murray will help to decide whether big contracts, likely including some for Boeing, end up on the cutting board.

Shocking, no? Senator Patty Murray, representing a state with 79,000 employees of Boeing (and who knows how many family members, subcontractors, and other persons who also depend on Boeing for their livelihoods), might actually feel some obligation to look after the interests of the voters and citizens who put her in office!

That this observation is made at all is indicative of just how badly ‘reformers’ misunderstand and even mistrust the basic concepts of our system of government. Of course Senator Murray is going to be under some pressure to consider the how her decisions will “affect some of those very groups that helped them get elected.” That’s her job, for cryin’ out loud! Our democratic Republic rests on the idea that those elected to office are supposed to represent the interests of the citizens who elect them.

The idea of insulating government from the suspect interests and preferences of the populace is not a new one of course, but it seems worth noting that 235 years ago, give or take, the idea that government officials should be responsive to the citizenry got rolling in the country, and few seem eager to abandon it. Except, apparently, for some ‘reformers.’

Filed Under: Blog, Washington

White House now wants corporate America to speak?

Today I read an interesting article in the Washington Post about the debt ceiling debate and the role played, or rather not played, by the business community.

‘Embarrassed’ CEOs Silent on Debt Debate Driven by Republicans

With the U.S. government on the verge of a historic default, the country’s largest business lobbying group took to the halls of Congress last week to press lawmakers to support the Panama Free-Trade Agreement.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sponsored a “door knock,” with 80 members handing out Panama hats to tout a trade deal with a country that has a smaller economy than Akron, Ohio. To critics, the Chamber event illustrates what has been a deafening silence from U.S. executive suites on the gridlock in Washington over raising the country’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling…

At a closed- door meeting with Chamber lobbyist Bruce Josten last month, Democratic Senators Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Warner of Virginia upbraided the group and its member companies for not twisting arms hard enough to get a compromise package worked out, according to two people familiar with the discussion who spoke on condition of anonymity* because the meeting was private…

This is interesting because, if I recall correctly, Begich and Warner were among those Senators backing the DISCLOSE Act and expressing opposition to the Citizens United decision last year, falling in line with the general hysteria over the idea of corporate political speech.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act

Responses to a few ‘reform’ voices

Every so often I run across an item from the so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ community attacking the Center for Competitive Politics for things that are just false or absurd. I’m not talking about the normal sharp disagreements between us and groups like Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21, and countless other ‘reform’ groups over what the First Amendment means, how campaign finance laws should be interpreted, the role of money in politics and public policy discussions, and similar matters.  

No, I’m referring to flat-out false statements about our positions on issues, or serious distortions and omissions that don’t hold up to even the briefest scrutiny.

I rarely address these things on the blog, because we try to use this space to promote our ideas and vision of a robust and free political system unhindered by government restraints on citizens’ First Amendment political rights. Occasionally I might send a private e-mail to a reporter responding to something, or even a letter to the editor to be published. But I’m usually not interested in getting into exchanges with bloggers who have 3 readers or who are clearly uninterested in facts.

But, with the crash of American society apparently imminent according to some if the debt ceiling isn’t raised next Tuesday (CCP of course takes no position on what should be done or not done on this issue, but much like Y2K, 2012, and the Zombie Apocalypse, we’re not oblivious to such matters either), and with a few recent false statements about CCP floating around out there I thought I might as well take what may be one final opportunity to set the record straight on these items before heading to my own personal undisclosed location to wait things out.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog

Attacks on political donors demonstrate dangers of excessive disclosure

This morning I read that the group of hackers collectively known as ‘Anonymous’ targeted web sites associated with Koch Industries. The story is in many ways a perfect example of the dangers of the type of excessive disclosure so-called campaign finance ‘reformers’ are demanding, and why it’s so important to protect citizens’ right to privately associate and speak out in politics and on public policy issues.

Launching what is known as ‘distributed denial of service’ (DDoS) attacks, Anonymous apparently  attempted to shut down web sites by overwhelming them with traffic (I’m something of a neo-Luddite myself, so please forgive any technical errors in my description of a DDoS).

From the Smoking Gun web site:

FBI Targets 12 In Koch Industries Online Assault

As part of its multi-front assault on “Anonymous,” the FBI has identified 12 “targets” it alleges participated in coordinated online assaults earlier this year against business web sites operated by Koch Industries, the Kansas-based conglomerate owned by billionaire brothers–and leading Republican benefactors–Charles and David Koch, The Smoking Gun has learned…

For example, Koch Industries records showed that one blogger accessed the firm’s Angel Soft toilet paper web site nearly 16,000 times during one nine-minute period in March. The DDoS attacks, according to the affidavit, also involved the Koch Industries web site (kochind.com) and a web site for Quilted Northern, another of the firm’s toilet paper brands…

The online confederation of hackers and activists targeted the Koch brothers in connection with the pair’s support of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who earlier this year launched a crackdown on public employees unions that included the elimination of collective bargaining rights for state workers. In retaliation, “Anonymous” launched Operation Wisconsin, an effort aimed at exploiting “online loopholes and vulnerabilities into the systems and servers related to” the Koch brothers and Walker…

I’ll set aside here the irony that a group known only as Anonymous is attacking  wealthy libertarian brothers Charles and David Koch, whom ‘reformers’ endlessly complain about because of their supposedly secret and untraceable political and public policy spending.

What has my interest this morning is the concept that enraged activists would target someone’s business because they don’t like the politics of the person who owns the business. This represents yet another front in the ongoing war against citizens’ right to donate to candidates and causes, by having the government create and make accessible to everyone, through intrusive disclosure requirements, a ready-made Enemies List that conveniently identifies where people work and what businesses they own.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act

New ‘reform’ group forms, brings public officials and private money together

Apparently not satisfied with the current constellation of so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ groups out there (I’d start listing them, but I suspect I’d wind up sounding like Private Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue listing all the ways shrimp can be prepared), opponents of a free and unfettered First Amendment recently launched a new group called Citizens for Accountability in Political Spending (CAPS). From Ben Smith at Politico:

Fighting Citizens United

The Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending, founded by New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio in 2010, is staffing up in advance of a 2012 campaign that is shaping up to be full of anonymous money and outside spending on both sides.

Kate Coyne-McCoy, a former EMILY’s list regional director, will be executive director of the coalition of officials who oppose undisclosed political spending. In addition, the organization announced that their operations would be partially funded by a two-year, $400,000 grant awarded by George Soros’s Open Society Foundations.

“I am eager to put my skills and the relationships I have across the country to work at CAPS,” said Coyne-McCoy . “Fighting for concrete changes in corporate policy and behavior in political spending is essential for improving and protecting our democracy. It is a fight CAPS will win.”

The ‘reform’ side is filled with organizations filling particular niches in the movement to restrict First Amendment political rights, and CAPS is apparently meant to be a group composed of elected officials giving them an organization to speak through. It was formed in late 2010 by Bill de Blasio, New York City’s Public Advocate.

No word yet on whether ‘reform’ groups will denounce CAPS for bringing public officials together with private interests to advance a particular public policy view, as many of them have done with the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Filed Under: Blog

‘Reformers’ begin to recognize who benefits from contribution limits

There was a fascinating article in Thursday’s Washington Post concerning the scandal that has erupted in the United Kingdom over the practice of hacking into private voicemails by the now-shuttered News of the World.

Fury at Murdoch reflects pent-up anger of intimidated politicians

The phone-hacking scandal that has driven Rupert Murdoch and his empire into retreat and gripped audiences on both sides of the Atlantic is playing out against the backdrop of a combustible political-media culture vastly different from that in the United States…

In Britain, money plays a smaller role in politics than it does in the United States, and politicians have few ways to communicate effectively with the public outside the media filter. Television advertising plays no significant role in campaigns; for the most part, it is not allowed.

An American politician who feels aggrieved by the media can buy television spots to answer them. His British counterparts have no such option. Elected officials must depend on the good graces of newspapers for favorable coverage…

This is something that we have pointed out time and time again, that restricting the ability of candidates (and private citizens either individually or through organizations) to speak to the public necessarily enhances the voices of others who are not restricted, primarily the media.

Surprisingly, and in a very welcome development, writers at two left-leaning media outlets who have in the past generally lined up with the so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ community have recognized the peril of limits on money in politics.

Filed Under: Blog, Money in Politics

Crusade against ALEC continues with pointless report

Earlier this week I noted that self-styled campaign finance and government ‘reform’ group Common Cause had filed a complaint with the IRS demanding that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) be stripped of its tax-exempt status as a 501(c)3 organization. The complaint is unlikely to get far as it’s based on a frivolous interpretation of laws defining lobbying activity, and is simply the latest effort by Common Cause and their ‘reform’ allies to harass ideological opponents.

What I didn’t mention was that it was becoming evident that the Common Cause complaint was part of a well-coordinated campaign against ALEC by the ‘reform’ community and others who simply oppose ALEC’s ideological agenda, which favors limited government, free markets, and conservative ideas. A few days before the Common Cause complaint, the liberal group Center for Media and Democracy launched a campaign against ALEC called ALEC Exposed.

Among other things, the project apparently involved obtaining and putting online copies of ALEC’s model legislation. As the web site of ALEC Exposed states:

On July 13, 2011, the Center for Media and Democracy unveiled this trove of over 800 “model” bills and resolutions secretly voted on by corporations and politicians through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). These bills reveal the corporate collaboration reshaping our democracy, state by state…

The Center obtained copies of the bills after one of the thousands of people with access shared them, and a whistleblower provided a copy to the Center…

Please join us in helping to expose ALEC, its corporations and politicians, and how money has corrupted the democratic process.

The term “whistleblower” is kind of interesting, given that it’s usually used to describe someone who reveals illegal activity, and as yet it’s not illegal to discuss and advocate for conservative ideas, or any other political ideas for that matter. Our system of government is in fact based on the idea that we are free to communicate with our elected officials, even if we’re advocating ideas that Common Cause doesn’t much agree with.

The most recent element of the attack on ALEC seems to be a report by another member of the ‘reform’ community, the National Institute on Money in State Politics (NIMSP). One of the more obscure groups in the vast constellation of ‘reform’ groups, NIMSP compiles and makes accessible to the public campaign finance disclosure data from all 50 states.

And so on Wednesday it was NIMSP’s turn to take a whack at ALEC:

Filed Under: Blog

American Enterprise Institute turns skeptical eye towards Obama executive order

For some time, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has stood out from other respected think tanks generally favoring free markets and limited government in that its lead scholar in the area of politics and elections, Norman Ornstein, has generally been favorable to the so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ perspective. Other leading free market think tanks, such as the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, have taken a view closer to ours here at the Center for Competitive Politics, regarding limits on a citizen’s right to spend or contribute money to the candidates or causes of their choice as a grave infringement of First Amendment rights.

So it was a pleasant surprise to read a new report from AEI challenging the key arguments of President Obama’s proposed executive order that seeks to roll back the First Amendment rights recognized in Citizens United. Written by former Department of Justice official and current law professor John Yoo and former U.S. Attorney David Marston, the piece rightfully begins by quoting Nixon staff on their ‘Enemies List.’

Overruling Citizens United with Chicago-Style Politics: Federal Contract Bidders Must Disclose Political Giving

“This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration. Stated a bit more bluntly-how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies. . . . The project coordinator should then determine what sorts of dealings these individuals have with the Federal Government and how we can best screw them (e.g., grant availability, federal contracts, litigation, prosecution, etc.).”

Excerpt from memorandum dated August 16, 1971, from John Dean to Lawrence Higby

A few additional excerpts:

…Moreover, as a weapon to silence political speech, the proposed executive order is striking in its sweep and boldness. Nixon aide John Dean proposed a modest beginning, suggesting “not more than ten” targets for his first enemies list. In contrast, the draft executive order requires every one of the millions of federal contractors5-whose business totals more than half a trillion dollars per year-to disclose their political contributions and expenditures to advocacy groups.

…Anonymous political speech is as American as Publius, the nom de plume used by Alexander Hamilton, JohnJay, and James Madison for their anonymous series of newspaper articles, now known as the Federalist Papers. For American debate on political issues both before and after ratification of the Constitution, anonymous political speech was the rule, not the exception.

Yoo and Marston have put together a fantastic report here, and the entire piece is a must-read.

Filed Under: Blog

Common Cause demands baseless IRS investigation of ALEC

Self-anointed ‘good government’ and ‘reform’ group Common Cause has launched yet another witch hunt against those who dare to hold different views than them, this time demanding that the IRS investigate and punish the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Like their failed crusade against Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas for allegedly being involved in a plot with wealthy libertarian brothers Charles and David Koch in the Citizens United case (which, among other things, would have required both Justices to have access to Hermione Granger’s nifty Time Turner in order to conquer the Gregorian calendar), there’s little reason for Common Cause to be taken any more seriously on this than reports of Crumple-Horned Snorkacks.

There is an awful lot of hysteria, hyperbole, conspiracy theory, and of course a Koch brothers connection in the complaint by Common Cause, but the basis of their demand for an IRS investigation of ALEC is explained in a Los Angeles Times story this morning:

Common Cause accuses conservative group of lobbying, seeks IRS probe

The government watchdog group Common Cause has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the tax status of the nonprofit American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, an association of conservative state legislators and private sector officials that churns out hundreds of bills and resolutions annually to pare back regulation and promote business…

In a letter to the IRS, Common Cause argued that a review would help determine if ALEC’s tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) status should be revoked due to “excess lobbying or, alternatively, because ALEC appears to operate primarily to further private business interests and not to advance a charitable purpose.”

The letter from Common Cause to the IRS goes into further detail, but the horcrux of their complaint is that developing model legislation is lobbying, ALEC claims it does no lobbying, as a 501(c)3 organization ALEC is not permitted to have lobbying as a substantial portion of their activities, therefore ALEC is violating its tax status and filing false returns with the IRS.

Apparently Common Cause was hit with a Confundus Charm, because their argument simply doesn’t make sense.

Filed Under: Blog

New legislation offered to limit corporate speech

Congressman Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) will today introduce legislation to curb the First Amendment rights of for-profit corporations that were recognized and restored (along with those of unions, nonprofit organizations, and other forms of association) in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

One thing should probably be noted upfront – while most of the self-anointed campaign finance ‘reform’ community engage in verbal gymnastics worthy of Mary Lou Retton to avoid sounding like they want to silence certain voices in the political process, Congressman Michael Capuano is refreshingly straightforward on this subject. During hearings for the thankfully-failed DISCLOSE Act last year, Capuano had the following to say about the chilling effect the bill would have on speech:

“I hope it chills out all-not one side, all sides! I have no problem whatsoever keeping everybody out. If I could keep all outside entities out, I would.”

While Representative Capuano’s commitment to the First Amendment may be suspect, his honesty on the subject is not.

The so-called “Shareholder Protection Act” is less forthright, although it isn’t hard to discern what the intent is.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act

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