Class Warfare Blog

May 2, 2010

A Novel Way to Regulate Corruption and Campaign Financing

Currently Wall Street banks are shelling out $1.4M per day trying to block the federal government’s effort to regulate their business. Some legislators have gone so far as to say “Sure, we will block that legislation. Now are you going to donate to my re-election campaign?” This is plain and simply corruption in our government and it’s legal! If we do not correct this flaw in our government, will just be accelerating our decline as a nation. The flaw is that we have made influence peddling legal and we have to make it illegal to save our representative government from the distorting influence of money. There are a great many approaches one could take. This one is simple and could very well succeed.

Previous attempts to regulate political campaign financing have run afoul of the constitutional right of free speech and the right to petition the government. Time and again Congress has passed promising reform legislation only to have it declared illegal/unconstitutional.

Since the recent Supreme Court decision to allow corporations unlimited spending on political campaigns, the need for some limitations on campaign financing has become even greater than it was. And ordinary people were complaining about the influence of rich people’s and corporations’ money on the political process long before the Court’s decision. Elected officials complain about the need to do nonstop fundraising. And now, taking the fiction that a corporation is a “person” for business purposes and extending that fiction into political arenas, the Supreme Court has aggravated the situation.
In some ways, the Supreme Court decision is a log jam breaker. Unless we want corporations to be running the country (more than they do now, in any case) we need some limitations on political spending. This is the impetus for the following proposition.

The founders of the country established that each of us had the right to petition the government and to speak freely. (These, after all, are the rights of individuals.) The Supreme Court has ruled that spending money on political campaigns is a form of free speech and that corporations have the same rights as people when it comes to spending on campaigns. But, it is still illegal to “peddle influence.” Influence peddling is to sell one’s influence in government in the form of “you give me money, I give you a political solution to your problem.”

What I contend is that any government official who asks for money from a person they do not represent is peddling their influence and that this should be illegal. When they do this they are essentially saying “give me money and even though I do not represent you, I will make it worth your while.” The flip side of this idea is if I offer a government official money and that official doesn’t represent me, I am soliciting that influence illegally. If this principle is followed to its logical conclusion, a great deal of good can be had. Basically such a new regulation would restrict the passage of political money only to between those people who have a representative relationship.

All U.S. citizens have a primary residence which determines who their state and federal representatives are. For example, each of us has a congressman and two senators on the federal side based on the state and congressional district in which our primary residence is located. These are the people who represent us and we should be able to petition them freely (which is why they maintain offices in their districts) and we should be able to support their campaigns or their political challengers campaigns financially. The same restriction should apply to “corporate people” if the Supreme court continues to persist in their opinion that corporations are not only persons for the purposes of business but politics, too. I suggest that the location of the corporate headquarters of a company should establish who the representatives of those “individuals” are.

Anyone offering money to an elected official or candidate for office who is not (or will not become) their representative is trying to buy influence, so those contributions should be illegal. Candidates for President of the United States would be able to solicit funds from everyone insofar as the President represents all citizens, but U.S. Senators would only be able to solicit and accept funds from legal residents of their states and U.S. Representatives would only be able to solicit and receive funds from people (corporate and otherwise) who live in their districts. The same restriction would apply to all local and state office holders and candidates for office.

Many also decry the influence of corporate lobbyists. Their influence under this plan would be greatly diminished because, while under this plan a single lobbyist could still represent the interests of a corporation to, for example, all of the members of a Senate committee under the free speech provisions of the constitution, but money could only be given to the representative of the state which houses the corporate headquarters. The reason there are so many lobbyists in Washington is the same reason given by the bank robber for why he robbed banks (“That’s where the money is.”): in this case Washington is where the influence is that can be bought. We have allowed our centers of representation, state and federal, to become clearinghouses for influence peddling. And while these lobbyists could still make the points their sponsors want them to, they couldn’t back up those points with unlimited “campaign donations.”

This approach is not an infringement on free speech because individuals would still be able to write, call, email, and speak to any member of any state or federal legislative body they chose. We are just making a distinction between political gifts of funds, one of which says “I want you to represent my interests instead of any of the other candidates in my district for whom I can vote,” and another which says “You don’t represent me but I want you to do me a favor anyway.”

The right to petition the government is not infringed because everyone has their representatives who are reachable in local offices and because campaign funds can only be solicited from people one represents there is a strong incentive for these representatives to listen to “their” people rather than to others. The courts and other systems of government are also represented locally and can be petitioned. By letting rich people and corporations unlimited access to all of our local, state, and federal officials, we are undermining our form of representative government. Currently, if I am poor or even of ordinary means, I have a few representatives, but if I am rich I have hundreds or thousands of representatives.

Foreign corporations with just one American subsidiary corporation would not have unfettered access to the entire political system, their money could only flow directly to candidates in the districts of the subsidiaries headquarters and not to every other office in the land.

This regulation will not totally right the campaign financial ship: the monied interests will be likely to create “separate” PACs in each state to be able to donate to all U.S. Senators’ campaigns and other subterfuges, but these will be easier to regulate than the current system. Using a PAC to “launder” donations to representatives not one’s own, should also be illegal, though, because it is a longstanding legal principle that one cannot eliminate one’s legal culpability by just using a middleman.

The question is: do we want to save our representative governments from the corruption of “legalized” influence peddling?

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