More on the insane, troll-like logic of “reform”

It appears I’m not the only one who noticed that the recent undertaking of Lawrence Lessig and Joe Trippi to offer large sums of campaign cash to politicians who pledge to support "reform" is, to borrow from Aud’s old flame, based on logic that is "insane and happenstance, like that of a troll."

Ben Scheffner over at his blog Copyrights & Campaigns writes:

…what’s truly fascinating is the means by which Lessig is attempting to convince Congress to pass his favored legislation: getting supporters to threaten to withhold political contributions to lawmakers who refuse to sign on to the bill, in what he calls a "strike for change."

…So let me get this straight: Lessig doesn’t like the influence of money on politics. So his solution is to have his followers tell legislators: "Support my cause, and I’ll give you money. Don’t, and I’ll cut you off." Um, maybe I’m missing something, but doesn’t his tactic increase the influence of money on politics? And smell an awful lot like out-and-out bribery? And what if his "strike" tactic works? Would Lessig feel comfortable with a Senator who said, "Of course I voted for Lessig’s campaign finance bill. It was either that, or my constituents would stop contributing."? Would he feel any differently if the Senator said, "Of course I voted for the MPAA’s copyright bill. It was either that, or the studio execs wouldn’t come to my LA fundraiser."?

One’s mind reels…. The world was so much simpler when campaign finance reformers wanted to ensure that lawmakers weren’t influenced by campaign contributions.

To which I’d add – what if the "strike" tactic doesn’t work? Any chance Lessig and Trippi will conclude that politicians actually do vote based on perceived constituent interests, party affiliation, and ideology, not campaign cash, which is what the research generally shows?

I won’t be holding my breath.

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“Reformers” Offer Bribe to Politicians Favoring “Reform”

Basic intellectual confusion is in many ways the norm among campaign finance "reform" advocates, as the latest effort of Lawrence Lessig, professor of law at Stanford Law School , and Joe Trippi, the mastermind behind Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign (we first wrote about this a few days ago).

From the AP:

Lessig and Trippi set up a "strike for change" at that launched Thursday night, where ordinary people… can sign a pledge refusing to give any money to politicians unless they support legislation to publicly finance House and Senate races.

It’s usually wealthy contributors and well-heeled lobbyists who dole out lavish campaign contributions to politicians and hope the recipients will return the favor by embracing donors’ pet interests. The new idea is to get small givers to withhold their cash until they get their way.

The words "fish," "barrel," and "shooting" come to mind right now.

So, basically, Lessig and Trippi and those who go along with this are going to let candidates know there’s campaign cash available to them if they adopt their preferred public policy. And lots of cash, too – as the AP article notes, the "…group will tally the amount of donors withholding their money, along with the total they have contributed to political campaigns in the past, to show candidates how much cash they’re leaving on the table if they refuse to support a citizens’ financing measure."

I see. Umm, isn’t this exactly the sort of thing the "reformers" are supposed to be opposed to? Interest groups putting cash on the table, promising candidates and elected officials that they’ll get some of it if they vote their way? I would say I’m confused, but obviously but Lessig and Trippi are way ahead of me on that score.

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Senator Al Franken – friend or foe of broadcast freedom?

It now looks as though Al Franken, former Saturday Night Live funnyman and Air America talker, will be the next Senator from Minnesota. Many First Amendment advocates and opponents of the so-called "fairness doctrine" in talk radio are welcoming Franken’s arrival in the Senate.

Franken has made it plain that he opposes revival of what is more accurately termed the Censorship Doctrine, and as a former talk show host he could be expected to seen as a valuable and knowledgeable expert on why putting government bureaucrats in charge of political talk radio would be a bad idea.

David Fredoso of National Review Online welcomes Franken with the following:

House and Senate Republicans who are fighting reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine hope to enlist the support of Al Franken (D.) should he become the next junior senator from Minnesota. "If he comes in, I’m sure we’d get him on board right away," Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) told NRO today…

…Republicans hope that Franken, formerly a broadcaster for Air America and currently in litigation over his victory in November, will join their cause. A Franken spokesman confirms that he opposes reinstatement of the Fairness doctrine – his radio show could not have existed in a world where the Fairness Doctrine was in effect…

Franken’s position as an outspoken progressive who recognizes the threat to free and unfettered political speech that the Censorship Doctrine represents will undoubtedly be welcome in the coming debate over the effort to stifle dissent on the airwaves, given that the push to bring back the Censorship Doctrine is largely coming from the left.

But before Franken is welcomed with open arms into the debate over government censorship in radio, he has what another funnyman might have described as "some ‘splainin’ to" do regarding his comments about regulating political talk over the air.

to read about the Franken threat to free political speech on the radio, click the headline above

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Broadcast Freedom Act introduced in the House and Senate

On Wednesday a coalition of lawmakers introduced a bill in the House and the Senate to thwart efforts to bring back the ‘Censorship Doctrine,’ which was repealed in 1987.

CCP’s release on the development is here.

The Free Speech Alliance, of which CCP is a member, has been active on this issue.

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A very appalling way of thinking about constitutional rights

A few weeks ago the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut ruled constitutional provisions of Connecticut’s Campaign Finance Reform Act banning contributions from lobbyists and those with state contracts. Such bans are all the rage among "reformers" these days, fueled by the notion that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich would have been an exemplary public servant if only it wasn’t for those darn lobbyists and contractors trying to corrupt him. I’ve written here before on why Connecticut’s so-called "pay-to-play" ban, had an identical law been in effect in Illinois, wouldn’t have prevented Governor Blagojevich’s alleged attempt to extort campaign contributions from the head of Chicago Children’s Hospital, probably the most sensational of the charges against him.

Now, I’m going back through and reading the Connecticut District Court’s decision upholding their ban on lobbyist and contractor contributions. There is much to object to, or even snicker at. One of my favorites is the decision’s noting that "Contributions from registered… lobbyists and state contractors in Connecticut has never been historically substantial… lobbyists, state contractors, and their immediate family members contribute only a small percentage of a candidate’s overall campaign funds."

Combine that nugget with Connecticut’s extremely low contribution limits of $250 for state representatives and $1,000 for state senators, and you have to ask yourself "So what’s the point?" If lobbyists and contractors don’t contribute much in the aggregate and can’t contribute much individually, how exactly is banning them from contributing going to reduce corruption or even the appearance of in Connecticut? It’s yet one more example of how, even if the "reformers" are right about how contributions corrupt politics, their proposed solution has no chance of working.

To read the full post, click the headline above

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CCP submits comments for FEC hearing

The Center for Competitive Politics has submitted comments to the Federal Election Commission in advance of a wide-ranging hearing on agency policies and procedures. The FEC invited the comments for the Jan. 14 public hearing on the commission’s compliance and enforcement practice.

A link to CCP’s comments by Legal Director Reid Cox is below:


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Comments of the Center for Competitive Politics on Federal Election Commission’s Policies and Procedures

The Center for Competitive Politics has submitted comments to the Federal Election Commission in advance of a  Jan. 14 public hearing on the commission’s compliance and enforcement practices.

Filed Under: Blog, External Relations Comments and Testimony, External Relations Sub-Pages, Federal, Federal Comments and Testimony, Comments and Testimony

Anti-big-money-in-politics political group doesn’t get big money, may fold

Big contributions in politics, we are told, are bad for a variety of reasons and must be eliminated. Democracy 21, for example, says that their mission is to "…eliminate the undue influence of big money in American politics and to ensure the integrity and fairness of government decisions and elections."

So it was with some interest that I read about the troubles of the Clean Elections Institute (CEI), the Arizona organization focused on defending and promoting the Copper State’s scheme of taxpayer-funded political campaigns. Christian Palmer of the Arizona Capitol Times writes about the financial difficulties of CEI, reporting that

The Clean Elections Institute, a privately-funded interest group, is reportedly broke and has issued a call for contributions to help protect the state’s system of publicly-funded political campaigns.

To read more about this anti-big-money-in-politics political group’s own big money problems, click the headline above

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New push for taxpayer-funded campaigns

Lawrence Lessig recently announced on The Huffington Post he intends to wage a new campaign of "combating corruption in Congress."

As Lessig sees the problem, renewed campaign finance restrictions are necessary to achieve larger ends. "…progress will be stifled on every big issue until we solve the threshold problem: big-money interests having disproportional clout in our public debates," he writes.

Never mind that Lessig, like most so-called reformers, just trots out buzz words like ‘big-money interests’ with absolutely no justification or context. Activists complaining about supposedly nefarious special interests often cannot see beyond their own hypocrisy on the issue. Congress is not a direct democracy. Organized interests, including the newly created Change Congress Lessig formed with Democratic activist Joe Trippi, are an essential part of our political system. Issue groups, unions, trade associations and other groups combine resources to advocate for policies they support in Congress. Each member of a teacher’s union or small business owner cannot spend her time in Washington, so they hire people to advocate for them or raise money for politicians that support their principles.


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The Lobbyists are Coming

In a recent post on his indispensible blog, Bob Bauer poked a bit at Newsweek columnist Robert Samuelson, who had written that big government gives birth to lobbying.  A thrust of Samuelson’s column was that we should expect to see a lot more lobbying in the next few years, given Barack Obama’s announced goals to greatly expand the role of the government into our lives, and in particularly to greatly increase government spending, beginning with an enormous porkbarrell spending er, stimulus bill. 

Bauer makes a legit point that not only does big government create lobbyists, but that sometimes lobbyists create big government. Bauer goes on to note that an administration that favors "ambitious goals" and "strong government" must be especially attentive to appropriate regulation of lobbyists, including adequate disclosure and avoidance of conflicts of interest. 

But we should not let Mr. Bauer’s legit point about particular lobbyists blind us to the bigger picture.  Click the headline for more.

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