Money in Politics

CCP Disputes Economic Risks of Engaging in Political Speech

Today, CCP is releasing materials documenting the effort of some groups to engage in corporate democracy, a managed and directed attempt to convince corporations of the “economic risk” of engaging in political speech. The CCP Report on Activist Investing, as well as a supplemental report by George Mason University Law Professor J.W. Verret and an Issue Toolkit, represent our attempt to note the ideological slant of some of these groups and the dangers their efforts pose to free political speech. 

In short, while there is no evidence that corporate political speech hurts shareholders, there is ample evidence that certain individuals and groups are opposed to corporate political involvement for ideological and partisan reasons. Politics is supposed to be hard. With a handful of exceptions, there is no unanimity on economic and social topics. In a democracy, we deal with these disagreements through persuasion: we choose our leaders and enact our ballot measures only after a period of free debate and discussion, only after a campaign. 

But some people want to take a shortcut. They’ve realized it’s easier to persuade voters if you drive your opponent from the public square.

Filed Under: Blog, Corporate Governance, Corporate Governance Press Release/In the News/Blog, Money in Politics

‘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

Stephen Colbert’s SuperPAC gag getting a lot less funny for campaign finance ‘reformers’

Today promises to bring more attention to a meeting of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) than quite possibly all previous meetings combined. The cause of this is comedian Stephen Colbert’s appearance today to answer questions regarding his advisory opinion request.

Originally intended as an ongoing comedy skit to mock the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, the Colbert SuperPAC gag has spun into something of a headache for the self-styled campaign finance ‘reform’ community. Several media outlets have begun to report on this. From today’s Politico comes this story by Ken Vogel:

Stephen Colbert’s running PAC shtick creates sticky mess

Advocates of reducing the power of money in politics thought they had found a champion in the unlikely person of Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert, whose ongoing shtick about forming a political action committee brought more attention to their cause than all their press releases, testimony and legal briefs combined.

As part of his effort to highlight – and parody – the impact of a 2010 Supreme Court decision opening new avenues for corporate money in elections, the satirist plans to testify Thursday in front of the Federal Election Commission about a very real legal request he filed that would allow his planned Colbert Super PAC to push the envelope on corporate political spending.

But the joke seems to be backfiring.

Filed Under: Blog, Money in Politics, Maine

Report falsely claims Obama rewarding bundlers with jobs, contracts

Yesterday the web site iWatchnews, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, released a scathing report on the number of bundlers for the 2008 Obama campaign that have subsequently been appointed to administration positions.

Titled Obama rewards big bundlers with jobs, commissions, stimulus money, government contracts, and more, the report begins:

Telecom executive Donald H. Gips raised a big bundle of cash to help finance his friend Barack Obama’s run for the presidency.

Gips, a vice president of Colorado-based Level 3 Communications LLC, delivered more than $500,000 in contributions for the Obama war chest, while two fellow senior company executives collected at least $150,000 more.

After the election, Gips was put in charge of hiring in the Obama White House, helping to place loyalists and fundraisers in many key positions. Then in mid-2009, the new president named him ambassador to South Africa. Level 3 Communications, in which Gips retained stock, meanwhile received millions of dollars of government stimulus contracts for broadband projects in six states-though Gips said he was “completely unaware” of the stimulus money.

More than two years after President Obama took office vowing to banish “special interests” from his administration, nearly 200 of his biggest donors have landed plum government jobs and advisory posts, won federal contracts worth millions of dollars for their business interests or attended numerous elite White House meetings and social events, an investigation by iWatch News has found.

Pretty scandalous, isn’t it?

Except upon reading the full report, and applying a little common sense it becomes pretty clear that the Obama administration is being unfairly smeared by the accusation that they’re simply handing out government jobs and contracts as a reward for their top fundraisers.

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

Campaign finance ‘reformers’ silent about gathering of wealthy political contributors

Several months back, wealthy libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch held a gathering of likeminded people in California to discuss politics and public policy. The event was condemned by the more hysterical wing of the so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ movement, with Common Cause organizing a protest outside and bussing in hundreds of demonstrators.

The protest was in some ways the First Amendment at its finest, where citizens voiced their opinions on pressing matters. In other ways, it was troubling – the protesters were literally demonstrating against the right of the Koch brothers to spend their own money advocating their beliefs, and it took an ugly turn when several of the demonstrators were interviewed suggesting that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas be lynched or at least “put him back in the fields.” Thirty protesters actually were arrested when they attempted to break into the meeting.

One of the basic messages of this protest was that wealthy Americans spending money to promote their political views was somehow corrupting and a subversion of democracy.

Well, it turns out that there’s another group of very wealthy Americans that are gathering at this moment to discuss and plan how to spend millions of dollars in order to influence the political debate leading up to the 2012 elections. From I Watch News (a project of the Center for Public Integrity):

Democratic donors and operatives talk money at posh Laguna Beach resort

The palatial Montage resort in sunny Laguna Beach provided a luxurious spot for wealthy liberal donors to relax and listen to pitches from Democratic activists seeking big bucks.

Filed Under: Blog, Money in Politics

Government contractor money in politics

So-called campaign finance “reformers” apparently are alarmed at the idea that government contractors might spend money voicing their opinions on candidates for public office, hence the move initially to ban government contractors from doing so under the DISCLOSE Act and now the effort by the Obama administration to impose a disclosure regime that seems designed to discourage them from doing so.

At the same time, the “reform” community claims the answer to all of the unfettered political speech unleashed on the public by Citizens United is the Fair Elections Now Act, which would give hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars to political candidates, with this money coming directly from… government contractors?

I guess corporate-funded political speech is only a problem when the business get to decide how to spend it, not when the “reformers” get to funnel it directly to politicians’ campaigns.

Filed Under: Blog, Money in Politics

Hayward v. Lessig

Center for Competitive Politics Vice President of Policy Allison Hayward has a piece in the Boston Review today. The article is a response to an essay by Lawrence Lessig, “Democracy After Citizens United.”

Hayward’s piece, “The Flawed Iceberg Model,” takes on Lessig’s claims about money in politics:

Lawrence Lessig’s essay takes the familiar questions surrounding private money in politics and dresses them up with new flourishes. Before, people asked, “do campaign contributions influence legislation?” Now Lessig frets about “institutional corruption” where “an influence” in “an economy of influences,” um . . . exercises influence! Furthermore, in Lessig’s analysis, political money isn’t just what is raised and spent; there’s also an “iceberg” component we can’t see, but that is part of the economy of influence. We have heard similar things before, and have learned some hard lessons about the effectiveness of trying to “reform” the competing pressures of politics. We need to remember those experiences and not be misled into thinking that somehow a new representation of an old argument voids them.

Read the whole thing here.

The Boston Review’s forum on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, featuring commentary by Lessig, Hayward, David Bossie, Will Wilkinson and others is here. More posts will be added this week.

Filed Under: Blog, Money in Politics

Campaign spending and contribution limits

The results of Tuesday’s primary elections illustrate that money doesn’t always buy voters’ love. If that’s the case, though—money doesn’t buy elections—why do we still have a very low $2,400 contribution limit at the federal level?

Filed Under: Blog, Money in Politics, Alaska, Arizona, Florida

MoveOn.org “reformers” mask legal requirement as virtue

Today I learned via e-mail that there will be a “rally” in Albany, New York to urge Senators Schumer and Gillibrand to “Fight Corporate Corruption of Washington” (curious italicization choices in the original). The message appears to be part of a nationwide campaign led by MoveOn (formerly MoveOn.org, of course) to push for a handful of campaign finance and ethics “reform” measures. Other organizations supporting today’s “rallies” (you’ll see why I’m using quotation marks around that term in just a second) include the Service Employees International Union, People for the American Way, Public Citizen, and Democracy for America.

The release breathlessly announces that “Over 100 folks have already signed up” (114 according to this MoveOn site) for the Albany, New York event today.

The site also reveals that there are 167 similar events across the country today, and typing in random zip codes from across the country would seem to indicate that attendance at most will amount to tens and tens of citizens. A handful of events have managed to make it past 100 in the number of people signed up to attend, but there are more with expected participants in single digits.

These numbers would seem to fall somewhat short of expectations for a rally that proclaims that it represents the 98 percent of Americans who aren’t corporations (I’m not sure exactly what they mean by that, but then neither do they I’d wager). Using the term “rally” to describe the 11 registered attendees for today’s event at 255 E. Temple Street in Los Angeles seems not quite right, though. Ditto for the three individuals scheduled to show up at Representative Joe Wilson’s office in West Columbia, South Carolina, and the seven hardy souls signed up to go to Senator Olympia Snowe’s office in Augusta, Maine also seems to not quite justify the “rally” designation.  Maybe “basketball team with a couple of subs” would be a better descriptor?

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, Money in Politics, Maine

Campaign Finance ‘Reform’ and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Today was not a good day for advocates of so-called campaign finance “reform” and the DISCLOSE Act. In fact, it’s probably the worst day for “reformers” since the Citizens United decision came out back in January.

The day opened with word of a new special deal for a powerful organized interest group, this one designed to give the Sierra Club and possibly a few other groups the same exemption from the DISCLOSE Act that the NRA received this week.

For the “reformers” that actually believe that spending money in politics is corrupting and must be curtailed, whatever the source and agenda behind the money, it confirmed, after the ‘Shotgun Sellout,’ that their partners in “reform” were simply political opportunists, willing to cut whatever deal they needed to with any interest group necessary in order to hamstring their most significant opposition, the business community. This could not have been good news.

This was followed by the intended beneficiaries of today’s deal, which would lower the membership threshold to qualify for the NRA exemption to 500,000 from 1 million, rejected the deal: the Alliance for Justice, which yesterday sent a letter to Congress signed by several liberal-leaning interest groups opposing the deal (including the Sierra Club) over the NRA exemption, today sent a new letter reiterating their opposition:

…we must respectfully express our profound opposition to the effort to create an exemption from the disclosure requirements for large, powerful organizations, which, given the amendment’s language, in reality only applies to the National Rifle Association and a limited number of other organizations.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, Money in Politics, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act, Maine

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