Archives for November 2008

Big Contributor/Small Contributor

Barack Obama’s fundraising prowess has been much discussed of late.  One question discussed is whether President-Elect Obama, by foregoing government funding of his campaign, betrayed his own stated principles in favor of tax funding of campaigns.

Many of Obama’s supporters have justified his decision to rely on voluntary contributions rather than taxpayer subsidies by arguing that the Obama campaign was different.  It was a new type of "public financing," by  bringing in millions of small contributors, so Obama was still not beholden to special interests.  This is a nice dance tune, but it’s not entirely true: yes, Obama did bring in unprecedented numbers of new donors, and did raise unprecedented amounts in small contributions, but he also raised unprecedented amounts in large contributions, at least as those have typically been defined in the field of campaign finance law, and his percentage of small donations is not much different than that of George W. Bush in his two presidential runs. 

But wait a minute: does the concept of "large donors" and "small donors" make any sense under the current campaign finance contribution limits?  And if it does not, can those limits be constitutionally justified at all? 

Click the headline for more…

Filed Under: Blog

Clean Governor/Dirty Governor?

The name of Janet Napolitano, currently Governor of Arizona, has been circulated as a possible selection to head the Department of Homeland Security in the incoming Obama Administration. Governor Napolitano, of course, was a "clean elections" candidate, rejecting voluntary contributions from private citizens in favor of taxpayer dollars.

As a two-time "clean elections" candidate, Governor Napolitano of course has a long record of positive statements about the benefits of putting politicians on the dole. Here’s one example:

"…special interests had nothing to hold over me. I was lobbied heavily by all sides of [the prescription drug] issue. But I was able to create this program based on one and only one variable: the best interests of Arizona’s senior citizens… I think we all share an ideal vision in which elected officials come to their capitols free of the encumbrances of special interests."

            Web site of Public Campaign

Apparently, however, Governor Napolitano isn’t quite the anti-private-money-in-politics devotee that some might have thought. From an AP article written just the other day:

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, President-elect Barack Obama’s top pick for Homeland Security secretary, heads a fundraising committee that collected thousands of dollars from special interests and gave money to Democratic House campaigns nationwide for the fall elections.

To read more about "Clean" Governor Napolitano’s "dirty" money, click the headline above

Filed Under: Blog

Nutmeg state shortchanged in effort to get money out of politics

Taxpayer-funded political campaigns, also known as “clean elections” or “voter-owned elections,” are supposed to be the next wave of campaign finance “reform,” judging from the excitement and energy focused on these schemes from the “reform” community. Plying politicians with taxpayer cash is supposed to reduce campaign costs, end corruption, level the playing field, and generally put “the people” back in charge.

With their customary rhetorical restraint, “reformers” stop just short of promising that so-called “clean elections” will, to borrow from P.J. O’Rourke, “make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn.” I think I did hear them promise that shoveling taxpayer dollars into candidates’ campaign coffers would lead to a “puppy in every pot and a car in every garage” (I may have gotten the quote a little off, it may not have been a car).

Anyway, the state of Connecticut was the latest to be roped into this scam, offering welfare for politicians through a “clean elections” program for the first time in 2008. For your reading pleasure, the following is a letter to the editor in the Stamford Advocate reporting on the entirely predictable shortcomings and failures of “clean elections.”

To the editor:

During this past election cycle, a total of $4.2 million in taxpayer dollars were spent on state Senate races alone. The campaign finance reform law was intended to make races competitive, which was achieved in less than a third of all races. Only 11 of 36 total races were decided by a vote margin under 60 percent… The final result was that only one seat changed parties, a seat which was expected to change, with or without campaign finance laws.

The most disturbing aspect to the new campaign finance laws is that they allow candidates facing no opponent to collect funds at the expense of taxpayers… state Sen. Andrew McDonald of Stamford did [this] when he collected $24,000. Four other colleagues, including the Senate majority leader, collected a total of $105,000 to prop up their image absent a general election challenger.

…State Senator Toni Harp of New Haven… had a mediocre challenger, she was entitled to collected $85,000 in taxpayer dollars, which she did. Her race concluded with her taking 90 percent of the vote…

If this is the reform that the state legislature promised, then we have been shortchanged greatly…

Ralph D’Angelo


I can’t  add much to that…

Filed Under: Blog, Connecticut

Early clues on Obama administration and the First Amendment

We at CCP are looking for early clues on what an Obama administration means for the First Amendment and the rights of citizens to freely speak out in politics and support the candidates and causes of their choice. Much to our delight, Obama seems to be abandoning his "lobbyists are bad" mantra from the campaign (reporting and carping about this here, here, and here, among other places), embracing not only experience (both good and bad, I suppose) but also the simple fact that lobbyists represent the vast and varied interests of the American public, and having done so should not be a bar to service in his administration.  

On the downside, however, are comments by Attorney General nominee Eric Holder on the subject of regulating speech on the internet. In the wake of the 1999 Columbine tragedy, Holder had this to say in an NPR interview:

"The court has really struck down every government effort to try to regulate – we tried with regard to pornography. It is going to be a difficult thing, but it seems to me that if we can come up with reasonable restrictions, reasonable regulations on how people interact on the Internet that is something the Supreme Court and the courts ought to favorably look at."

At a time when the majority party in Congress is eagerly looking to enact "reasonable regulations" on who is allowed to speak over the airwaves, how much time they can speak, and on what topics they can speak, under the guise of "fairness" in talk radio, it can hardly be reassuring to find that the man likely to be the next Attorney General appears to look favorably on government control over online speech as well.

Filed Under: Blog

Now the speech police are deputizing themselves

Apparently Arizona’s so-called "clean elections" program has led at least one Arizona State University  student to deputize herself in order to combat "illegal" political speech, which she defines as "privately funded and… not paid for by [a] political party"

From the Web site of the Sonoran Alliance:

"Detective Miller recounted the episode in an official memorandum to Lieutenant Danny Wilkinson.  The memorandum reads, in part: "… at about 1045 hours… I watched a young white female remove a campaign sign from the Southeast corner of Baseline and Rural.  The female then carried the campaign signs over to the Northwest corner and into the Jack In The Box parking lot.  She placed the signs, along with several others into the trunk of a newer model Honda…

At this point I contacted the subject and identified myself.  When asked what she was doing, she told me she was collecting unauthorized campaign signs.  When asked why they were not authorized, she explained they were privately funded and were not paid for by the person’s political party.  When asked her name, she identified herself as Lori Lieberman.  Lori told me the University Young Democrats had instructed them to collect the unauthorized signs…"

to read more about Speech Police Deputy Lieberman’s story, click on the headline above.

Filed Under: Blog

If a “clean elections” report falls in the woods…


Late last week, the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University in New Jersey released a report, Clean Elections: Public Financing in 6 States including New Jersey’s Pilot Projects. The report was unveiled at a press conference on November 13, and as yet has not garnered any press coverage. In fact, Googling the title or the authors reveals it does not seem to have gotten any attention anywhere, as there is not a single hit other than those from the Eagleton Institute announcing the press conference and the report itself.

In many ways, this lack of interest is a positive sign – the issue seems "off the table" in New Jersey, at least for now. Having read through much of the report, however, it’s something of a shame it hasn’t gotten any attention as it’s actually fairly well done. The report mostly documents the history of various schemes to divert taxpayer dollars to politicians’ campaign coffers (I don’t think the authors use that language, however!), and describes the programs in place in several states as well as New Jersey’s own smartly-abandoned pilot projects.

The authors are undoubtedly fans of taxpayer-funded political campaigns, but manage to keep from outright cheerleading for most of the report. At the end, however, their Joe Friday disappears and they suggest state legislators in New Jersey face two fundamental questions: "should Clean Elections funding be made available to candidates in all forty legislative districts, or should the program’s expansion continue only gradually?" and "should Clean Elections be extended to the primary election cycle, where much of the electoral competition in New Jersey takes place, or should it remain confined to the general election cycle?"

In their eagerness to push forward with taxpayer-funded political campaigns, the authors seem to have neglected an even more fundamental question: Why are we even thinking about doing this, when it’s been shown to have failed repeatedly in achieving most of its goals? (see here, here, and here for a sampling of the failures of so-called "clean elections" programs)

Fortunately for the taxpayers, the legislature in  New Jersey appears to have already considered this more basic question, and decided not to think about it.

Filed Under: Blog

Destructive Disclosure

  Disclosure of donors, we’ve been told, is a vital part of campaign finance "reform" so the public can know who is behind candidates and political messages.

We’ve always been skeptical of this argument, for a variety of reasons. In July 2007 Gigi Brienza, a donor to John Edwards presidential campaign, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post detailing how her name and address wound up on the web site of an extremist animal rights group considered by the FBI to be a serious domestic terrorist threat. The page was a "target" list, and her name appeared under the ominous message "now you know where to find them."

Disclosure essentially amounts to the government making a list of citizens’ political preferences, then making that list publicly available to everyone – your family, your employer, your neighbors, the media, even extremists with a penchant for violence. While there is possibly some benefit to disclosing larger donors to candidates, no similar rationale exists for disclosing donors to issue groups or organizations involved in initiative or referendum campaigns.

The Sacramento Bee yesterday reported on Scott Eckern, formerly the artistic director of the California Musical Theatre. I say "formerly" because his donation to the group behind California’s Proposition 8, a ban on same-sex marriage that passed last week, was the direct cause of his resignation.

Click on the headline above to read how Scott Eckern lost his job because of disclosure

Filed Under: Blog

“Reformers” stomp on “reformer”

President-elect Obama has, throughout his political career, said many of the things that the so-called "reform" community demanded – for taxpayer-funded political campaigns, against lobbyists, against independent organizations running ads during campaign season, and so forth.

At the same time, Obama has adopted what some might call a "pragmatic" streak when it comes to his own campaign. By rejecting taxpayer funding and instead relying on the private, voluntary contributions of fellow citizens, he broke from the "reform" orthodoxy, and may have persuaded some number of "reformers" to abandon their support for this ill-conceived and poorly-designed welfare for politicians scheme. Former Senator Bob Kerrey, for one, is clearly having second thoughts, which is especially notable given that he serves as honorary chairman of a group that advocates for taxpayer-funded elections.

It seems a fair assumption that Obama does not feel the least bit "corrupted" by the $600 hundred million or so that he raised, even though large amounts of his money were brought in through bundlers raising $50,000, $100,000, or more. To the "reform" community, of course, volunteers who bring in big bucks are the very essence of "corruption." today has a story revealing that several of the Obama campaign’s volunteer fundraisers are serving on his transition team. In response to this, Public Citizen’s Craig Holman all but accuses the Obama team of selling out: "If an Obama administration is going to sell influence, these are the ones who have bought it."

Nice. Hopefully, President-elect Obama’s pragmatic streak will resurface and he will understand that, quite simply, the "reform" community is not his friend, and will do everything it can to tarnish his every action (or lack of action) by connecting it his bundlers and donors. Help out Detroit? Of course, look at all the labor contributions and UAW lobbyists swarming Congress. Don’t help out Detroit? Of course, look at all the contributions from private equity looking to swoop in and pick up assets in bankruptcy.

If anyone in the Obama team reads this site (and I have a hunch at least one does), I hope they’ll pass along to him the very obvious lesson here, and persuade him to abandon whatever thoughts he may have of enacting a "reform" agenda.

Filed Under: Blog

Spending even more taxpayer money on campaigns, really?

You gotta give the campaign finance "reformers" some credit — they never give up and have a lot of chutzpah.

Less than 48 hours after America elected its next President and Congress, the campaign finance "reform" community was already after our not-yet-official leaders to "fix," yet again, the federal campaign finance system.  Even more surprising is that, in the midst of a global economic crisis and facing record federal deficits, what the "reformers" think America needs right now is to spend even more taxpayer money to finance campaigns.

To read more, click the headline.

Filed Under: Blog

The value of an endorsement

On Wednesday night ABC’s Nightline reported on the research by a couple of social scientists whose research  had concluded that but for Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Senator Obama, Hillary Clinton would have won the Democratic nomination for president.  The researcher’s placed the value of Oprah’s endorsement as over one million votes.

So let us envision two conversations:  

Oprah Winfrey enters Senator Obama’s office.  "Senator Clinton is better known than you.  I’ve never endorsed a candidate before, but you’re the one.  I’m going to endorse you for president.  That should be worth over one million votes for you."

At the same time, John Doe, wealthy entrepreneur, enters Senator Clinton’s office.  "I’ve seen reports that Senator Obama is outspending you by a large amount.  I’ve never endorsed a candidate before, but you’re the one.  I’d like to support you for President.  So I’m prepared to give your campaign $20 million dollars, which, spent wisely on ads and voter turnout, should swing over one million votes in your direction."

The first endorsement is legal.  The second is not.  And this is how campaign finance regulation promotes equality.

Filed Under: Blog

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