By Christopher B. Daly
Thanks to the NYTimes, we know a little more today about the doings of the Koch brothers — the secretive billionaires who are using the Citizens United ruling to spend unprecedented amounts of money to affect U.S. politics and policy. A major theme appears to be advancing their corporate interests by discrediting government, which attempts to regulate the fossil-fuel businesses that the Kochs profit from.
According to the Times:
Leaders of the effort say it has great appeal to the businessmen and businesswomen who finance the operation and who believe that excess regulation and taxation are harming their enterprises and threatening the future of the country. The Kochs, with billions in holdings in energy, transportation and manufacturing, have a significant interest in seeing that future government regulation is limited.
It occurs to me that there are countries where those very industries — energy, transportation and manufacturing — are encouraged and liberated from regulation. A paramount example would be China, which has achieved tremendous growth rates by unleashing those sectors.
But what China and the Kochs do not want to talk about are the social costs that de-regulation imposes on society. Here is a photo I took last year in Xian — a large city in China’s industrial heartland. Bear in mind, this was not taken on a cloudy or rainy day. It was just a normal day in China, with air so thick you could not read a cease-and-desist order through it.
A reminder: Spending money ≠ speaking.
To Messrs. Koch, I ask: can we keep our (relatively) clean skies, please?
Photo by Chris Daly (March 12, 2013)
By Christopher B. Daly
Today’s report about the influence of money in politics is the inevitable progeny of the 2010 Citizens United ruling. One of the worst parts of that ruling was the deep misconception at the heart of it: that spending money equals political speech. That flies in the face of common sense, human experience, and two centuries of constitutional interpretation. But we seem to be stuck with it, at least for now.
Today’s story in the Times also carries a whiff of “false equivalence,” because for every liberal zillionaire like Tom Steyer, there are probably dozens of conservatives like the Kochs. They are all seeking unaccountable ways to give unlimited amounts of money to shape our politics. It’s wrong, and we will regret it. Let these same people give all the speeches their throats can make. Let them write all the essays, pamphlets, and letters they like. As citizens, each of us is entitled to use our voices to persuade the others. But having a hundred million dollars does not make any citizen more virtuous, more patriotic, or wiser. It just makes you louder.
Spending ≠ speaking.
By Christopher B. Daly
Is political spending the same as political speech? Does it deserve the same constitutional protections? Is there anything that can be done to undo the 2010 Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court?
Those are some of the questions raised by the 2012 elections. In the Times, Nicholas Confessore has been doing a good job keeping an eye on the money in politics, and today he weighs in with a “political memo.” (Is that reporting? analysis? opinion?)
One point the memo makes is that if you have a huge number of donors each giving a small amount, you can raise all the money you need to counter the impact of a small number of huge donors. Look at it this way:
100 wealthy donors give $1 million each.
100 x 1,000,000 = 100,000,000
1 million ordinary donors give $100 each:
1,000,000 x 100 = 100,000,000
So, it’s a tie. That shows the power of a million people acting together.
A question remains: How are we better off as a society with all that spending?
By Christopher B. Daly
Now comes news that certain people have
1. created an organization that meets the technical definition of the kind of non-profit that can funnel unlimited amounts of money into U.S. politics without having to identify the donors.
2. perhaps (according to documents found in a meth house in Montana, fer chrissake) skirted the legal requirement that they steadfastly avoid coordination of their efforts with any actual politicians.
Hmmm…. does that seem: surprising? shocking? dismaying? inevitable? All of the preceeding?
I would say that ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s profoundly wrong ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case, this kind of thing was entirely predictable. (All except the meth house; that is a nice touch.) In brief: the story involves a conservative group opposed to clean energy is organized into something called the American Tradition Partnership. According to news accounts and Montana election officials, ATP may have violated campaign finance laws, based on documents found in the meth house.
For the full story, watch Frontline tonight on PBS (before public broadcasting’s enemies destroy it), or read about it at ProPublica. You can also follow it in the pages of the Missoulian, a newspaper based in Missoula, Montana, which (luckily!) still maintains a bureau in the state capital of Helena trying to keep an eye on government and politics. A hat tip to Mike Dennison of the Missoulian — and keep up the good work. Or, check out the coverage in the Billings Gazette.
p.s. Don’t miss this handy interactive info-graphic from ProPublica, which shows who is giving what amounts to which causes.
p.p.s. Memo to the conservative SCOTUS bloc: thanks a lot.
By Chris Daly
I don’t usually take frankly partisan positions in this blog, and I will try not to do that here, even in the midst of the Iowa caucus-ing.
What struck me in the last few days was the lament of Newt Gingrich about the flamethrower approach of the Romney camp, which has bombarded Gingrich with negative TV ads. For a Republican to complain about unrestricted negative campaigning is more than a bit rich. It’s like Dr. Frankenstein complaining about his monster.
Questions for the media to keep in mind:
1. Who elevated the dark art of negative campaigning to its highest level?
[Hint: Lee Atwater, Karl Rove. . .]
2. Who thought is was a good idea to allow unrestricted spending on political ads?
[Hint: Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Alito, Kennedy.]
In other words, the answer to both questions is REPUBLICANS. To the best of my knowledge, no mainstream media accounts of this election have mentioned this factual matter of background. I would say that reporters and editors should give this some thought. How will the media address this reality? Will journalists explain the factual history of the issue? Will they try to find a way to neutralize or offset it? Will television station owners in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and elsewhere reject those ads? Will the media interpret non-partisanship to mean that they must look the other way?
To be continued. . .
[Illustration of the Goethe figure the Sorcerer’s Apprentice by S. Barth, via Wikimedia]
By Chris Daly
Today’s Times includes a “sidebar” piece (column?) by legal correspondent Adam Liptak. I found it frustrating for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it is a bit of a mystery why it is running now (except for the thin reed of the anniversary of the Citizens United ruling from the Supreme Court). There is no discernible “news peg.” But that’s not really important.
What is more frustrating is that the piece provides so few links to the scholarly literature on this vast subject. That’s where the Times could have really used the Web to help its readers go deeper. I am going to try to find some of this material and post those links here.
Meanwhile, let me throw out a thought: At the time the Founders enshrined the idea of “freedom of the press” in the Bill of Rights, the press of the day was small, local, independent, and opinionated. The typical form of ownership was a “sole proprietorship” — that is, the printer who ran the press owned the business entirely himself. But even then, many “job printers” handled printing chores for all manner of customers, including customers whom they disagreed with. So, in that scenario, who enjoyed press freedom? The owner of the business that facilitated the mass communication? The author of the words? Both?
Keep in mind, the main goal of the founders was to prevent “prior restraint” — the use of government power to prevent certain facts or ideas from ever getting published in the first place. That seems like as worthy a goal as ever. Therefore, the rights of all individual human beings who want to communicate with other individual human beings should be protected from government interference. That, it seems to me, ought to be the operating principle here.