Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Campaign Finance Triage - You Can Safely Ignore a Broken Arm When You've Got a Sucking Chest Wounnd

Last week the Center for American Progress released a report accusing the US Chamber of Commerce of using money donated by foreign corporations and individuals to fund attack ads supporting Republican candidates in the upcoming mid-term elections.  Now, this is mostly just a case of Democrats and Progressives seeking an issue that would resonate with the public and peel some voter support away from the Republicans.  And boy, have Democratic activists jumped on this, shouting from the rooftops that the Republicans are taking foreign money and allowing foreigners to influence American elections.

Now, to me, there's a lot wrong with this Outrage of the Week™, most especially that to whatever extent this is a problem, it's both enabled and made possible, if not legal, by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.  Under that most undemocratic and destructive ruling, there is nothing wrong with the Chamber donating millions to Republican causes, and there is no requirement for them to disclose the names of the donors.  They're acting within the law as it exists today, and no one can stop them from continuing to do what they are doing.  As a result, this is one of those campaign "issues" that resonates with activists (who feel wronged) and pundits (who just want to consider the angles and implications) much more than with voters.  They just see the commercials the Chamber is buying.

I am also uncomfortable with the underlying concept, that "foreign" equates to "evil".  Sure, it's wrong for nations to interfere in the politics of other nations, but the message here is not that nuanced.  We just shriek FOREIGN over and over, in what appears to be a distinctly illiberal attempt to play into America's increasing xenophobia.  It's also worth keeping it all in proportion.  Under the Citizen's United decision, the Chamber is spending unprecedented millions on political campaigns, of which some very tiny percentage MAY be from foreign donors.

Perhaps, from a political values perspective, the most important issue to me is the partisan influence on opinions about ethics.  I have no doubts that if this were a case where the Chamber was donating exactly the same money to Democratic candidates, the outrage would be ALL on the other side of the aisle, with Democrats claiming both that there is nothing illegal being done and there is no necessity for disclosure of donors.  To me, in any case where I believe the ethical outrage to be partisan, I see the whole issue as false.  Ethics and outrage should apply to everyone in the race, equally.  And if they don't, there very likely is not an actual ethical issue.

But mainly, the outrage should be over the disease, not one of it's more benign symptoms.  In a world where campaign finance is ruled by Citizen's United, if the worst offense was a few hundred thousand dollars in foreign money, we'd be a LOT better off.  But instead, it's the torrent of corporate money flooding into the campaigns that is so toxic and destructive.  The outrage should be focused on the Citizen's United decision and campaign finance in general, loudly and continuously, in an attempt to force congress to pass meaningful campaign finance laws that at LEAST undo the damage the Roberts Court did with this ruling.  Of course, that's a forlorn hope, because, as always is the case with campaign finance legislation, the people who can fix it are the people who benefit from the status quo.

It's time to return to issues for the remainder of this political system.  Screaming about foreign money and Republican hypocrisy isn't going to win any votes, and there are REAL reasons why electing Republicans and returning them to power is a dangerous and destructive outcome.  There is a depressed economy, wars, failing, bankrupt cities and states, climate change, all manner of real issues reaching crisis stage that should be the topic of conversation in the run up to November 2nd.  Remember who benefits the more we are driven to talk about silly, unimportant side issues - it's the party that has no agenda to talk about.

No comments:

Post a Comment