I vote a solid no – A no to the surface level conversation, and a no to the implied acceptance of the system that is the true source of the problem.
On the surface, the question is whether some kinds of speech, and some speakers, are more constitutionally protected than others. It would be wrong to donate massive amounts of money to a campaign, but if you want to spend even more money and create an entire news organization with a political slant – well now you are protected by not one, but two shields of the first amendment. I don’t often agree with anything Ted Cruz says, and while he doesn’t say it in quite the right way, he has partially captured the true dichotomy of the system these changes are trying to create. Recognizing that money can be spent in different ways, and one way should not be granted more protection than another.
Additionally, if you, as an individual, want to take profits out of a company (paying the appropriate taxes of course) and give the net to a candidate – well that’s just clean and pure American speech. However, if you want to bypass one step and just donate directly from the corporation (that you started from scratch, and which represents your labor and spirit as much as the money in your bank account) – well that’s a dirty, disgusting sin that we need to stop as a freedom loving country. Ridiculous.
Ultimately, the vote was never about progress or change. Just one more chess move as each side jockeys for the enviable position of the side most stymied by political stalemate. Should the question be asked, then, is it really stalemate if neither side is honestly trying to make progress? Clearly Senate democrats are making this move knowing that it’ll never pass, in what is purely an attempt to vilify their right leaning counterparts. The sad truth is that democrats gain just as much advantage from the current setup (with the only big losers being the newcomers to the political scene – their future primary challengers).
So what’s below the surface, what should we really be discussing? Perhaps we should wonder why political campaigns have become a multi billion dollar industry. After all, what other industry has people spending 7 figure fortunes just to get a job. The real problem is not where the money is coming from, the problem is that the money is coming at all.
Washington, all sides of the spectrum, has created an unfair and arbitrary set of laws for the country. This entangled mess allows loopholes to be hidden for political donors and friends. Sure, on the surface, our elected officials represent us. The red guys argue real loud about the evils of homosexuality or welfare, the blue ones: contraception, equality. They yell back and forth and they create great tag lines for their million dollar campaigns. But what they are really there to do is sneak in as many favors as they can for their largest donors.
So the question is not how we should limit political donors. The question is how we should limit politics. The answer is to remove as much of the back room deals as we can. It’s to create laws that are as universally applicable as possible. It’s to create taxes that are as uniformly enforced as possible. Once companies (and individuals) realize that they can’t get million dollar tax breaks by donating $35,000 to a candidate, their money is going to disappear from politics. You will be left only with people who are truly passionate about their beliefs and that’s exactly who we want funding campaigns.
Latest posts by Jacob Morgan (see all)
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First, I like your bio tag line.
Second, I think you’re right that much of the money comes in as attempts to manipulate the complex tax code. But changing that wouldn’t necessarily solve the incentive to donate in order to influence a whole host of other laws (tariffs, environmental regulations, financial regulations, etc.).
Personally, I’m not convinced that there’s too much money in campaigning. If looked at from a job-seeker standpoint, you’re right that it seems ridiculous. But if we think of it as a form of advertising – convincing someone to select Product D instead of Product GOP – they money isn’t that big. P&G spent $9.3 billion in ad sales worldwide in 2012. If we extrapolate based on 1/3 of their sales being in the U.S., we can estimate the total U.S. ad spending at around $3.1 billion. That’s more than the total amount ($2.3 billion) spent that year in the presidential contest and half as much as the total spending for ALL U.S. elections that year ($6.3 billion). I think, in perceptive, that’s not an overly-large price tag for deciding what kind of government we’ll have at all levels.
I think I agree wholeheartedly with Jacob on this one.
My only issue with Jason’s P&G analogy is the purpose of the ad money. Sure, Proctor & Gamble spent a lot on TV commercials, but the also did $84 billion in net sales in 2012. What is the ROI of political ad spending?
Good question, Seth. Many political scientists suggest that there’s very much a diminished RIO (for the candidates, as measured my votes) once you reach a point of broad name recognition. This is especially true for top-of-ticket races in a general election, where almost everyone is making their decision based on party cues more than individual candidate profiles.
But then, you have lots of campaign professionals who believe that every cent of spending is (potentially) worthwhile. Of course, their jobs literally depend on believing this. I suspect that a fair amount of political spending is basically a poor investment, which is part of why I’m less concerned about carefully regulating it.
In the larger sense, the RIO is (potentially) control of the U.S. government for an expended period of time. How much would you pay for that?
I would say you would pay very little for it, if there were no hidden benefits. Currently people are willing to pay to control the government because it allows them to make more money – there is a very real return on investment. (A recent contributor paid 35k to receive a 1 million dollar tax break. That’s a huge return on investment).
I agree that it does not end at taxes, but I think it does begin there. Simplify the tax code, remove loopholes, standardize rates and you will see a lot of the corruption disappear.
I don’t think you stop there, you continue onward – adding transparency to government contracts, regulations and regulatory committees, etc. Each will have a smaller impact than taxes but will continue to push the government in a healthier direction.
Ultimately, when our country was founded, serving in the government was just that – serving. You didn’t do it to become rich or get set for life. You served because you believed in the ideals of America and wanted to help the cause. My guess is that very few current representatives fall into this category.