Its always fun to tease out the poorly-supported assertions, strawmen, and unsubstantiated claims of the pro-regulation bloc. Fortunately, they make it very easy.
One of the most commonly asserted assumptions, though rarely stated, is the idea that the rich shouldn’t be allowed to spend money on campaigns because they are somehow different from the rest of us. They apparently live on another planet, perhaps populated by only other super-rich, where they wear the finest robes of spun gold, swim in their money bins and engage in recreational time travel while of course looking for new ways to oppress the rest of us simple fools.
A few weeks back Demos came out with one of the few acknowledgements I’ve seen that claims to explicitly state how exactly the rich think differently from us. Derived from a Russell Sage Foundation opinion poll of “higher wage earners,” the claims are as follows:
- Wealthy respondents were nearly 2.5 times more likely than average Americans to list deficits as the most important problem facing our country.
- In spite of consistent majority public support for raising taxes on millionaires, among wealthy respondents, “[t]here was little sentiment for substantial tax increases on the wealthy or anyone else.”
- In spite of recent scandals on Wall Street, “more than two thirds of [survey] respondents said that the federal government ‘has gone too far in regulating business and the free enterprise system.”
Wait. That’s it? So the rich are… the Tea Party?
Obviously, we could fill this blog post with counterexamples: from George Soros to the Tides Foundation there are legions of progressive organizations and millionaires who support progressive causes, including raising taxes on the wealthy (like Warren Buffett). President Obama is expected to have record-smashing campaign contributions this election year.
But the counterexamples aren’t the point here. Demos reveals a bias that is all too common among so-called reformers. Campaign finance reform really isn’t about the structure of campaign finance at all for these groups; its about achieving partisan political dominance by using regulations to shut out voices from opposing viewpoints.
This tendency is apparent throughout the history of the campaign finance reform movement. The Tillman Act of 1907, for example, was an attempt by South Carolina Senator “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman to embarrass Theodore Roosevelt and halt the anti-segregation influence in federal politics by wealthy yankees and their corporate money. Then, as now, restrictions on political donations had more to do with hurting opponents and protecting incumbency than somehow purifying the political process of these mysterious “special interests.”
As previously reported here, other attempts at “reform,” such as the constitutional amendment proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), state explicitly that not only should corporations be prohibited from advocating for themselves, others should be prohibited from advocating for business interests as well.
Little surprise then, that in spite of a variety of fluffy reports detailing the apocalypse about to be wrought by the power of Super PAC, these groups seem to have very little actual data confirming their claims. Who needs pesky data when you are just trying to out-muscle your political opponents?
You can see the Demos report here: http://www.demos.org/publication/auctioning-democracy-rise-super-pacs-and-2012-election