This is very much going to be a thinking-out-loud post, one where if you tell me it’s an idiotic post there’s a very good chance I’ll end up agreeing with you. A couple days ago, Ed wrote:
I have become convinced that the influence of money in politics is the single most important issue today. It is the issue that underlies all the other issues, that so distorts the incentives in our political system that we are, for all practical purposes, no longer a democracy. Government is responsive primarily to the rich, not to the people.
The question is what to do about it. The Citizens United ruling became something of a cause celebre among liberals, but I could never muster the outrage. Halliburton may not technically be a person, but neither is the ACLU. Do we really want to say that because the ACLU is not a person, the government can pass laws to screw over the ACLU willy-nilly? As Glenn Greenwald wrote at the time:
But the speech restrictions struck down by Citizens United do not only apply to Exxon and Halliburton; they also apply to non-profit advocacy corporations, such as, say, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, as well as labor unions, which are genuinely burdened in their ability to express their views by these laws. I tend to take a more absolutist view of the First Amendment than many people, but laws which prohibit organized groups of people — which is what corporations are — from expressing political views goes right to the heart of free speech guarantees no matter how the First Amendment is understood. Does anyone doubt that the facts that gave rise to this case — namely, the government’s banning the release of a critical film about Hillary Clinton by Citizens United — is exactly what the First Amendment was designed to avoid? And does anyone doubt that the First Amendment bars the government from restricting the speech of organizations composed of like-minded citizens who band together in corporate form to work for a particular cause?
Also, talking about the fact that the law that had been struck down exempted media corporations:
That’s what restrictions on political speech almost always do: whether intended or not, they favor the views of certain factions while suppressing others. In this case, it allowed the views of News Corp., GE, and Viacom to flourish (through their ownership of media outlets) while preventing the ACLU and Planned Parenthood from speaking out.
Underlining the point about media corporations: Stephen Colbert has put a lot of energy into mocking the ridiculous system that has come out of Citizens United with his own Super PAC, but it’s been pointed out that the real reason he can get so much attention for what he’s doing is not the Super PAC’s ability to spend unlimited money, but the simple fact that Colbert has his own TV show (duh).
A better solution, it seems to me, would be to simply publicly fund campaigns. I don’t have a firm opinion on how to do the details, but I understand other countries do this and it works reasonably well. It wouldn’t “get money out of politics,” but it would mean a politician who flipped off money would still have a chance at winning the election.
While we’re at it, let’s give congressfolk much more money for hiring congressional staff. One theory of the role of lobbyists and congress is the legislative subsidy theory, which basically says that congressfolk have no idea WTF is going on, don’t have large enough staffs for the staffs to give them all the help they need figuring out WTF is going on, so they rely on lobbyists to tell them WTF is going on. That problem could be solved by giving them much more money for staff, and also maybe bringing back things like the Office of Technology Assessment.
(Note: when I first got the idea for this post, I didn’t say to myself, “I’m going to link to Ed and Greenwald and Yglesias because I said they were may favorite political bloggers.” It’s just what happened. Hmmm… I know myself better than I realize?)