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Habeas Corporate

After last week's Supreme Court decision striking down significant portions of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act, some folks are talking about passing a Constitutional amendment limiting the rights of corporations to express their interests in political campaigns. In fact, some are even saying that they want an amendment that will make it explicitly clear that corporations simply don't have First Amendment rights at all.

I think this might be worth considering.

The particulars of the case that triggered this are rather important. Some folks put together a documentary film about Hillary Clinton that was, to put it mildly, unflattering. Some folks thought the advertising campaign for the film was a veiled anti-Hillary campaign action, and filed suit to block the ads. They won in the short term (preventing the film from garnering too many eyeballs), but lost in the end.

So the crux of the argument is that corporations have too much money and can hold too much sway on elections, overwhelming that of individuals, and need to be shut out of the process to preserve the essence of democracy. How will that work?

I think it'll work wonders -- but not in ways the backers want to admit.

OK, so some amateur filmmakers get stifled. That might be a small price to pay in the big picture, if we can also prevent some other corporations from doing anything that might influence elections in the future.

Corporations such as, say, the New York Times Corporation.

Or the American Broadcasting Corporation, the National Broadcasting Corporation, and their various subsidiaries.

Now that I think about it, I believe ACORN and Media Matters For America are not-for-profit Corporations. And I strongly suspect that unions such as the SEIU and the Teamsters are also incorporated entities.

So Keith Olbermann wants to go on another nutter and slander politicians? Fine. Let him do it without the sponsorship and resources of that evil corporation that signs his paychecks. Keith Olbermann, private citizen, has the right to say whatever he wish. Keith Olbermann, employee and agent of MSNBC (and, by extension, NBC and General Electric), has no right to engage in political matters while he is "on the clock."

There's a simpler solution. Simply strike down all restrictions on financing of elections. Anyone can give whatever they want to any candidate who's willing to take it.

But it's coupled with truly draconian campaign finance disclosure laws.

All contributions have to be filed electronically with the government within one week of receipt, and all campaigns must maintain a very user-friendly visitor-accessible database of their contributors, also updated no less frequently than weekly.

Attempting to hide contributions will be punished by fines in the magnitude of ten times the amount attempted to conceal, assessed against the party or parties who did the concealing.

An idea I had a while ago could also be debated: at all public appearances, candidates must wear a NASCAR-style jacket emblazoned with the names or logos of their top ten contributors, sized in proportion to their contributions.

There's an old description of an honest politician: one who, once bought, stays bought. This might not quite guarantee honest politicians, but it'll at least let us know who's trying to buy them.


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Comments (23)

I concur. When friends have... (Below threshold)

I concur. When friends have pressed me on "campaign finance reform" after I've made my disgust with such idiocies as McCain-Feingold and "public financing," my response is four words: No limits, full disclosure.

My favorite response to my liberal friends who call for public financing is, "Oh, so you want your tax dollars to go to Pat Buchanan's campaign then."

The NYT & NBC has a media e... (Below threshold)

The NYT & NBC has a media exception just Like Michelle Moor had one when his film was made, so under that rule we had some Corps were more equal than others.

Disclose monies donated and be done with.

Exactly what BlogDog said. ... (Below threshold)

Exactly what BlogDog said. Some have complained loudly that corporations should not have a voice in the political arena. And in principle I agree. However, if any of us thinks for one moment that Congress won't carve out a whole slew of exceptions for the "correct" corporations as a result then we're deluding ourselves. I say open the gate and turn on all the lights.

I have to admit, although I... (Below threshold)

I have to admit, although I know I'm in a minority here, that I'm still conflicted about this issue.

My take on it is even more simple than Jay Tea's: I don't think that organizations should have any voice at all in campaign finance. I think that campaign contributions - both cash and in kind contributions - should be strictly restricted to individual voters, and those contributions should be capped at a relatively low level, say $2,500 per person. I don't think that spending billions of corporate and organizational dollars does anything other guarantee corruption in the election process.

I think that corporations, lobbyists, political action committees and labor unions should be forbidden from throwing unlimited amounts of money at political campaigns or buying influence in Washington. If their members want to contribute, fine. But the organizations themselves, or more correctly, their management, should not be permitted to throw piles of corporate money at politics, because they almost always want something in return. And they typically get it if they buy the right public servants.

Witness the enormous amount of money paid in by the labor unions in the last election cycle, and what the unions got in return. Did their membership have a say in where that money went? Absolutely not. Did they agree with it? Maybe so, maybe not, unless every union member is a leftwing Democrat. I belonged to the Teamsters back when I went to college, and I know how this shit works. A few self-interested union leaders decided what the entire union was going to do, and they all died rich. Now we've got unions on the board of GM, thanks to Obama. And a proposed exemption from Cadillac Healthcare taxes, thanks to a grateful Obama. And card check, thanks to a grateful Obama. And union leaders getting a private entrance to the White House. I can only wonder if Obama would be president if he was restricted to individual contributions. I suspect the election would have turned out differently, and I would guess our legislators would listen a lot better to voters than they have. It wouldn't take a near revolt by voters to get them to listen up.

Pointing out that media is "corporations" is an unconvincing argument to me. Journalism and even editorializing is their job, and that's exactly the role the Constitution envisions. That's not saying that New York Times Corporation should be permitted to contribute millions to their favorite candidate.

But organizations don't vote, and shouldn't be allowed to buy influence in Washington.

I'm sure I'm missing something, but I can't figure out what.

I favor an entirely differe... (Below threshold)

I favor an entirely different approach: anyone can contribute, any amount, with only one condition: the money can only come from entities within the electoral district in question. That is, a candidate for Representative can only raise money within the district s/he would represent. A candidate for Senate can only raise money within the state. A candidate for President can raise money nationwide. Corporations can only donate in proportion to their presence in the district in question. No presence, no money.

The original intent of the Constitution was that congressfolk and senators would represent the district/state from which they came, and nothing and no one else. A congressman from Massachusetts shouldn't care about the desires of a business that has no presence in Massachusetts.

Before the ink was dry on M... (Below threshold)
recovered liberal democrat:

Before the ink was dry on Mc-Fein. lawyers had figured out how to get around it. This is the idiocy of John McCain in this matter. He should have known it would make matters worse. It did with all the 527's that sprang up. "O" spent more money than any other candidate had before him. The law that McCain was so adamant about getting passed helped defeat him and many Republicans. I'm glad it's been overturned.

IMO, the underlying cause o... (Below threshold)

IMO, the underlying cause of the issue is being missed. McCain-Feingold attempt to solve a problem by fixing a symptom. This approach can solve nothing because it only results in the problem manifesting itself in new ways.

The reason that there's so much money in politics is that the money is following the power. As the level of power increases, so does the bidding for favors from that power.

If you want to reduce the amount of money involved in attempting influence politics, the only solution is to reduce the amount of power that the government holds over people. Reduce that power and the money will dry-up correspondingly.

Someone may have to correct... (Below threshold)

Someone may have to correct me, but I was under the impression that the SC's ruling does not affect limitations on corp donations to candidates. It does, however, allow them to make donations toward issues ads. Now they don't have to incorporated as a 527 to make political statements.

The NASCAR-style jacket ide... (Below threshold)
George Author Profile Page:

The NASCAR-style jacket idea is pure genius!

You're in good company Jay ... (Below threshold)

You're in good company Jay - George Will had been advocating something similar for years: Unlimited (US) donations, NO cash, fully exposed by posting on the internet. The idea that campaign funding can be limited is friggin insane - money will always chase power and people that want to "own" that power will find a way get the money to their puppets. Best is full exposure so we know who politicians may be beholden to.

And I'd like to see ambulan... (Below threshold)

And I'd like to see ambulance chasing thugs like John Edwards be forced to pay 1/2 of the amount his client sued for to the DEFENDANT, should a phony class action suit be lost, as decided by a conservative--that is HONEST--three judge panel, not a bank jury. Unfortunately I doubt THIS will become law anytime soon either. But it's great to keep thinking the right way.

I don't think it's fair to ... (Below threshold)

I don't think it's fair to say that Keith O wants to go on his nutter rants and slander anyone he doesn't 100% agree with. He is compelled, like an addict or someone with a compulsive disorder.
He needs our support and our understanding, not our scorn. Maybe leavened with some pitty and light mockery.

Right now we have a permane... (Below threshold)
Upset Old Guy:

Right now we have a permanent class of (professional) politicians. Only strict term limits will rid us of this problem. The likelihood of our getting a law creating strict terms limits is somewhere near zero.

If you want to have a permanent class of (professional) candidates let the politicians mandate public financing for all campaigns. Once public funding is established we'll never be rid of the (professional) campaigners either.

The Court has already equated free political speech with money, so it should not be limited. Now we need full disclosure, which is to say not just the name of an organization but who they are and where they got the money.

"...and all campaigns must ... (Below threshold)

"...and all campaigns must maintain a very user-friendly visitor-accessible database of their contributors, also updated no less frequently than weekly."

Barry ain't gonna like that! Given that his campaign turned off all verifiers on his web site. Pretty hard to track down "Lov'in U", "I'm Yours", etc. That and the odd dollar/cents amounts of their contributions. Barry is all about "transparency"....but not that TRANSPARENT.

The Liberal Party of Canada... (Below threshold)

The Liberal Party of Canada did this kind of finance reform andm coupled with a $3000 limit from individualsm it killed their ability to build a war chest to fight elections.

It's only conservatives that have the real grass roots support of the tax paying populace and the Leftists in Canada found that their supporters talk a good game but are unwilling to part with the money to back up their ideology.

Sure a lot of individuals don't contribute the whole $3000 up here, but the way it shakes out, the actual grass roots financial support gives conservatives a huge lead through the sheer numbers of small contributions.

The Liberals here are now in perpetual debt and afraid to fight elections because they can't afford them.

Seems to me if we took the ... (Below threshold)

Seems to me if we took the big money out of campaigns, maybe some of the big money politicians would get out of politics to make room for people who want to actually serve the voters instead of their biggest campaign contributors, like unions and companies like Checchi & Company Consulting, who just got handed $25 million in contracts without a bid.

But I know that's a pipe dream. I suppose that's the way it's always been and the way it always will be.

But I do know that Roland Burris withdrew his plans to run for election to "Obama's Seat" due to a nearly complete lack of donations. When he withdrew, it was reported that he had received only $16,000 in contributions since he was appointed by Blagojevich.

If you look at where the big guns get their campaign funding, you'll see that the majority of it comes from big money sources. Campaign contributions are available on the web, if you care to look. That's what keeps them in power.

I'd like to see that changed.

bobdog:"But organizations d... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

bobdog:"But organizations don't vote, and shouldn't be allowed to buy influence in Washington. "

I'm not sure what I think of this decision yet. Something has always bothered me about this 'corporations should be treated like people' idea.
If we treat them as having the rights of a citizen, shouldn't we allow them to vote? I don't think I would agree with that.

I think this latest decision is correct, but I'm not 100% sure.

Something has always bother... (Below threshold)

Something has always bothered me about this 'corporations should be treated like people' idea.

Yeah, like when was the last time a 'corporation' went to prison? It's bullshit. SOMEONE in the organization made a decision to do/not to do something. Yet when the shit hit the fan, NO ONE goes to prison.

Les, that's really where I ... (Below threshold)

Les, that's really where I come out on this.

My opinion isn't based on leftie/rightie partisanship, but on the fundamentals of our constitution. You know, the "one man, one vote" thing. It seems to me that big campaign money buys undue influence in how public policy plays out. I want our elected officials to tune into the individual voters a whole lot more than they do now.

I don't want some politically connected organization - like a union, or a big PAC - to try and tell me what to think by distorting every issue that hits the legislative docket.

And I don't like the idea of a big corporation spending its money to influence legislation or the outcome of elections, as if it speaks for the shareholders. It's the shareholders' money, not management's.

But I'm as conflicted about it as you are, and I admit it.

GarandFan, good point. Corp... (Below threshold)

GarandFan, good point. Corporations are immune from criminal prosecution, they can't vote, but yet they can spend millions pushing legislation, like GE and Al Gore quietly throwing millions on lobbying and jiggering public opinion for Cap and Trade. My objection goes beyond just the scope of the Supreme Court case.

There's something unsettling about it, and it's been going on for a long time. US Grant once commented that he couldn't walk through the lobby of Willard's Hotel in Washington without scraping off opportunists and office seekers of every sort. He was just as disgusted with the process as I am.

Barry's NASCAR style jacket... (Below threshold)

Barry's NASCAR style jacket would be covered with acorns surrounding a UN thug emblem..

Bobdog, Obama raised $650 m... (Below threshold)

Bobdog, Obama raised $650 million and no one can say where it came from. We all know at least some of the names on the donations are fake. That's what happened under current law.

Corporations can't go to prison but they can be completely destroyed by the government. Ask Arthur Anderson, LLP.

The problem is too much government, not too much power by corporations. No corporation can force you to do anything. Government can force you at the point of a gun if necessary.

You're looking at the wrong part of the problem for a solution. That's what you're missing.

Maybe so. I can't disagree ... (Below threshold)

Maybe so. I can't disagree with you about too much government. Or Arthur Andersen, RIP.






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