How to Fix the Campaign Finance Problem


Unfortunately, it looks like the only way to fix the campaign finance problem that is preventing the solution to practically every other problem is to pass a constitutional amendment, something that is incredibly difficult to do. Lawrence Tribe has proposed this amendment:

Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to forbid Congress or the states from imposing content-neutral limitations on private campaign contributions or independent political campaign expenditures. Nor shall this Constitution prevent Congress or the states from enacting systems of public campaign financing, including those designed to restrict the influence of private wealth by offsetting campaign spending or independent expenditures with increased public funding.

I like that wording. Is it going to happen? It’s about a one in a million shot, I’d say. The same big money corporations and rich people who benefit from the system being the way it is would almost certainly be able to spend enough money to prevent the passage of this amendment in at least 13 states, which is all it would take to kill its passage. This despite the fact that a large percentage of Americans, according to polls, support restricting campaign donations and corporate influence.

Comments

  1. Trebuchet says

    It’s about a one in a million shot, I’d say.

    And I’d say you are being wildly optimistic!

    Here in “the other Washington”, I’ve been asked a couple of times lately to sign a petition for an initiative to get big money out of politics. Since the Supreme Court has just explicitly prohibited that, it’s a lost cause.

  2. doublereed says

    Well, that’s what Wolf-PAC is aiming for. And they’ve already got something like 10 states with resolutions calling for an Article V Convention. They need 38 to ratify the amendment, but only 34 to call for the convention.

    The influx of big money hasn’t really reached the state level yet. It’s really the Federal Government that’s gotten seriously bad. They’ve got plenty of stories of average citizens convincing state legislators. Like for instance this video from Maryland of a young man with a broken jaw calling for proposal HJ 7.

  3. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    How about a tax on advertising spending with the proceeds going to public funding of elections?

  4. Trebuchet says

    Completely off-topic: There’s been a mass school stabbing in Pennsylvania. Cue Larry Pratt screaming that if the students had been armed it wouldn’t have happened in 3…2…1….

  5. eric says

    Just playing devil’s advocate, but the proposed language doesn’t protect some minimal allowable contrbutions, which it ideally should. As written, the current amendment would allow a state to pass a law saying “ALL contributions are forbidden in this state.” Which would be functionally equivalent to only the richest of the rich will ever be elected. Yeah, the current system favors rich candidates already, but an amendment that allows for the elimination of campaign contributions altogether would make this inequity far worse, not better. The 7th gives a specific dollar figure. I don’t see why we can’t cut to the chase and do the same thing again, maybe with some added language to adjust for inflation. Proposed alternative:

    “Campaign contributions and independent political campaign expenditures shall be limited to a total of $20,000 per person or corporation per year, adjusted for inflation.”

    IIRC the news was reporting that only about 600 Americans exceed those sorts of contribution numbers (i.e., around $40k per House election cycle), so the cap would have no negative impact on the political “speech through money” of 99.9999% of the population. It would only prevent corporations and rich private donors from essentially buying candidates.

  6. eric says

    I also l like @3’s suggestion. Let people spend what they want, but impose a 90% tax on contributions above the first $10k or whatever.

  7. doublereed says

    I’m pretty sure you can’t tax speech like that. Remember, the argument being made is that political financing is speech.

  8. dingojack says

    Trebuchet (#4) – No doubt that formal Naval aviator and Rethuglican Senator from the great state of Texas, Pete Olson, will be offering up prayers, getting offended when someone suggests doing something useful, then ranting like a fool on the Steve Malzberg show. Oh and Dullard will show up spruiking genocide for all Muslims, innocent or not, let god sort ‘em out.

    ‘It’s a beautiful world we live in
    A sweet romantic place
    Beautiful people everywhere
    The way they show they care…’

    ;/ Dingo

  9. unre9istered says

    @5
    Potential Bonus: if political parties are considered corporations, then this would effectively kill the 2 party strangle hold on the US.

  10. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    The same big money corporations and rich people who benefit from the system being the way it is would almost certainly be able to spend enough money to prevent the passage of this amendment in at least 13 states

    And they will do so while lamenting how “special interest lobbyists” have ruined the system. Fuckers.

  11. dogmeat says

    The influx of big money hasn’t really reached the state level yet.

    Sure it has. The recall effort with Walker in Wisconsin is a perfect example. Walker received massive outside support, his campaign outspent his opponent $85 million to $53 million; most of the numbers suggest outside supporters outspent supporters of his opponent 7 or 8 to 1 total. The other members of the state senate who were recalled all lost, Walker won, becoming the first governor in US history to survive a recall attempt.

    Think that through for a second. The guy was doing so poorly that members of his own party supported the recall effort, one of his supporters who campaigned for him played a significant role in getting the necessary signatures. He raised massive amounts of money, much of it coming from out of state, and actually increased his margin of victory from when he was elected back in ’10 at the same time *all* of the other members of the legislature who were recalled with him lost.

  12. Abdul Alhazred says

    Nothing anyone does can ever get money out of politics, because money *is* politics.

    And all the so-called reforms are never used against incumbents. And it’s never billionaires who run afoul of these laws.

    Content neutral? Not possible.

  13. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    double reed,
    Ah, but one is not taxing speech. One is taxing advertising expenditure–not just political ads, but ads for cereal, beer and viagra… The Networks would hate it, but that is all the more reason to try.

  14. doublereed says

    Sure it has. The recall effort with Walker in Wisconsin is a perfect example. Walker received massive outside support, his campaign outspent his opponent $85 million to $53 million; most of the numbers suggest outside supporters outspent supporters of his opponent 7 or 8 to 1 total. The other members of the state senate who were recalled all lost, Walker won, becoming the first governor in US history to survive a recall attempt.

    Think that through for a second. The guy was doing so poorly that members of his own party supported the recall effort, one of his supporters who campaigned for him played a significant role in getting the necessary signatures. He raised massive amounts of money, much of it coming from out of state, and actually increased his margin of victory from when he was elected back in ’10 at the same time *all* of the other members of the legislature who were recalled with him lost.

    That influx of money was a massive anomaly. This may become the norm later on, but it is not the norm now. Also, I’m less talking about governors and more legislators.

    You can find out information on your state legislators and call them up and they will often listen to you. Because they actually see it as their job to represent you. Are there corrupt state legislatures? Of course. But not like on the federal level where even something simple like the DISCLOSE Act couldn’t get through Congress.

    I really have no idea why people find cynicism to be so ‘sophisticated.’

  15. D. C. Sessions says

    You can find out information on your state legislators and call them up and they will often listen to you.

    I live in Arizona, you insensitive clod.

  16. says

    If everyone decided to vote for whichever campaign raised the least money, we’d have a president from the Green Party or the socialists. It’s just as likely.

  17. eric says

    @7 – nope, it should still be legal: income tax becomes the precedent. My company “speaks” to me on a monthly basis, and I pay a tax on that. Likewise, if I “speak” to NBC or the New York Times, they can pay a tax on that.

  18. mauriletremblay says

    What’s an “independent political campaign expenditure”? Does it include showing Hillary: The Movie? I’d argue that it does not, since the movie was not part of any political campaign — which means that Tribe’s proposed amendment would not overturn Citizens United.

  19. Nihilismus says

    @2 doublereed

    They need 38 to ratify the amendment, but only 34 to call for the convention.

    Arguably, over the time the Constitution has been in force, over 34 states have petitioned Congress to call a general convention. Some states did so explicitly. Some states mentioned a particular issue as the reason for wanting a convention, but the language they used did not make their “vote” for a convention conditional that it be limited to just that issue. Some states did explicitly petition for a limited convention. Counting only the first two groups of states, there were more than 34 active petitions for a general convention, and Congress should have called one.

    However, since the turn of the century, a number of states have explicitly repealed all their outstanding petitions for conventions. The current number of active petitions is 33 — just one short. So, Wolf-PAC would really only need one more state to petition for a convention, and then raise the issue that Congress must call one, or have a petitioning state sue in federal court to require Congress to call it.

    Of course, such a general convention would not be limited to just campaign finance issues, and there is a real risk that bad amendments might be proposed (e.g., weakening the establishment clause, banning flag burning, etc.) that might have popular but misguided support. There are no rules spelled out in the Constitution about how representation to the convention is handled and how amendments are proposed, so it might be possible each state only gets one representative and a majority of delegates can send an amendment back to the states for ratification. That would allow for red states to have a lot of influence in proposing amendments. They would still need three-fourths of the states to ratify the amendments, but most ratify by a simple majority of whoever comes out to vote — meaning heavy campaign spending could really tip the scales even in blue states (look at California and Proposition 8).

    So, assuming that petitions for limited conventions are valid and actually would limit any convention that actually gets called, Wolf-PAC should pursue that route, even if it requires a lot more work to get enough states to submit petitions.

  20. doublereed says

    @21 Nihilismus

    I got the impression that most of those petitions are for specific issues, and really don’t apply to a general convention. Do you have a source for that? If that were true I would expect there to be a lot more sensationalist media propaganda about it. The most I’ve seen are hilarious youtube videos. Wolf-PAC is going for a limited convention from what I can tell. But I don’t know how specific the language needs to be.

    However, your fears of a ‘runaway convention’ are really unfounded. There is really only one issue that Americans are massively in favor of on both sides and that is Money in Politics. Over 80%+ of Americans think that money has corrupted government officials. Unlike Equal Rights Amendment, or Balanced Budget Amendment, or a Personhood Amendment, or whatever, Money in Politics unites both Democrats and Republicans. Especially Republican state legislators who love sticking it to the federal government. Remember, we’re bypassing Congress by doing this.

    Also, as shown with the 17th Amendment, one does not actually have to go to convention but has to threaten it. Once Congress realized that a convention was imminent, they passed an Amendment themselves. But that’s not going to happen without a serious threat.

  21. Nihilismus says

    @22 doublereed

    From the Wikipedia page for Article V Convention, I found a link to this paper: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1856719.

    It explains the rationale of counting some of the seemingly limited petitions as general petitions, and gives the status of each state on whether a petition is active or not. It also provides a few examples of things that might have enough support, which mostly consists of limitations of Congress.

    I don’t fear a runaway convention proposing things that don’t have majority support — any proposed amendments would still have to be ratified. I fear proposals that have majority support but not supermajority support. Don’t let the 2/3rds and 3/4ths language fool you. It only takes a majority of a particular state’s legislature to petition for a convention. Sure, it takes 2/3rds of the states, but only a majority in each of them, which is nowhere near as hard as getting 2/3rds of the people within a state to agree on something.

    Many states already have statutes that specify how delegates are chosen for a convention, and there is no guarantee that such a delegation will actually be representative of the diversity of the state’s population. It might very well be that ALL of the delegates sent by a state will be chosen by the simply majority of the legislature.

    There is no clause in the Constitution that specifies how an Article V Convention proposes amendments, so it might just be done by a simple majority of delegates, or a simple majority of states, or even less — that is, any amendment that reaches a threshold of, say, 1/3rd, gets submitted to the states to see if it can get 3/4ths support.

    And even though 3/4ths of the states are required for ratification, only a majority of the legislature or the people of each of those states is actually needed. Again, this is much easier than getting 3/4ths of the people of a state to agree.

    At least the usual method of proposing Amendments requires 2/3rds of House Representatives and 2/3rds of Senators, a much harder threshold to meet. The flag-burning amendment has had a majority of representatives and senators vote for it, but it was the two-thirds requirement that defeated it. It might very well pass with the alternate method.

Leave a Reply