Monday, November 10, 2014

Money in Politics

By Michael Dorf

One already-standard account of the midterm election results points to the role of largely unlimited anonymous cash in elections following the Supreme Court's invalidation of various provisions of federal campaign finance law over the last several years. An election night segment on The Daily Show in which "money" celebrated its huge victory over "ideas" nicely captures the trope

I think the Court's campaign finance cases are too restrictive in at least two ways: They employ a too-narrow conception of "corruption"; and they unrealistically assume a great difference between the impact of direct campaign contributions and "independent" expenditures. That said, I want to register some skepticism about both the scope of specifically campaign money's influence and the ability of campaign finance regulation to address the broader corrupting influence of money on politics without infringing even a more modest view of free speech.

Let's begin with the obvious. The main difference between, on the one hand, 2008 and 2012, and on the other hand, 2010 and 2014, was the demographic makeup of the electorate. Younger voters and minority voters turned out in larger proportions in the Presidential years than in the midterm years, while turnout for older and whiter voters dropped much less from the Presidential to the midterm years. A flood of money and GOP efforts to disenfranchise the core of the Democratic constituency probably helped the Republicans at the margins, but the composition of the electorate--in combination with a long-term trend of a two-term President's party losing badly in the midterms in his second term--were pretty clearly the dominant factors.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street paymasters of the Republican Party have less influence over policy than one might initially think. Let's consider four issues.

1) Immigration. At least since the beginning of the George W. Bush Presidency, comprehensive immigration reform has been a priority of the business community, in order to ensure steady legal access to cheap labor. If the money behind the GOP bought influence on this issue, immigration reform would have passed easily years ago, because the self-interested right would have joined forces with the humanitarian left. But it didn't happen because bags of money were insufficient to overcome nativist ideologically driven anti-immigrant sentiment among the conservative base and thus the people who represent them in Congress.

2) Fiscal Brinksmanship. On multiple occasions between mid-2011 and early this year, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party came within hours or days of crashing the global economy by attempting to use the debt ceiling as leverage for other policy goals (such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act). This brinksmanship was viewed with horror by Wall Street bankers, who understood that failure to pay existing obligations would do enormous damage to the financial sector and the real economy, even if they shared some or all of the long-term goal of shrinking the federal budget. It's true that each time the Wall Street wing eventually won, but only just barely, at the last minute, and mostly because of support from Democrats. In a world in which money really talks, the Tea Partiers would not have been able to push the issue nearly as far as they did.

Now consider two issues where the positions of the moneyed interests are very much in line with the the GOP party line.

3) Taxes. Rich people care an enormous amount about keeping taxes low. The GOP represents their interests very effectively.

4) Regulation. Groups like the (national) Chamber of Commerce and other powerful business interests fight all sorts of regulation. Here too the GOP voices and votes their concerns very effectively.

Looking over that list, one might think that campaign money is batting .500, which is pretty darn good. But I think the appearance is deceptive. We need to ask why the people and corporations with money have an easier time getting Republicans to vote how they want on some issues than on other issues. And I think the answer is that the Republican Party stance on taxes and regulation is not simply (and not even mostly) a response to the influence of campaign money. I think that on these two issues the GOP base holds ideological commitments that are in synch with the agenda of the moneyed power brokers; conversely, the base's ideological commitments go the other way on immigration and, insofar as relevant to brinskmanship, fiscal issues. If that's right, then the campaign money isn't doing that much work.

Lest I be misunderstood, I should make clear that I am not saying that campaign money has no influence. It clearly has considerable influence. My point is simply that campaign money has a hard time buying political influence that runs contrary to strongly held ideological beliefs.

That raises the question of where those ideological beliefs themselves come from. Some come from largely outside politics. For example, many people hold views about abortion or gay rights that derive from--or at least are strongly influenced by--their religious views. Other ideological beliefs grow out of what we might call lifestyle or region. For example, rural voters tend to be more strongly in favor of gun rights than urban dwellers.

But ideology does not simply grow out of people's pre-political lives. Of course people can rationalize just about any belief in terms of their pre-existing views (e.g., global warming is a hoax because God promised Noah that there wouldn't be another flood; when Jesus said sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, he really meant that it was important to repeal the capital gains tax; whatever), but that does not provide a causal account of ideological beliefs. Those beliefs are formed in a complex environment that includes a great deal of general political speech and commercial advertising. The Koch brothers don't need to spend all that much during political campaigns to convince the GOP base to oppose taxes on the wealthy in large part because that base is constantly exposed to that message via FoxNews, right-wing talk radio, and other avenues.

Accordingly, although I think that the Supreme Court's campaign finance cases are mistaken in some fundamental ways, I think that even a much more permissive First Amendment regime would still leave enormous room for money to affect politics. That's because so much of the work done by money occurs outside of the campaign context, in circumstances in which just about everybody concedes that the First Amendment forbids substantial government restrictions. (I made an extended version of this point in a symposium article on Citizens United in 2011.)

To paraphrase John Roberts, the way to stop the influence of concentrated wealth on politics is to stop wealth from concentrating. I realize that's not a currently feasible political goal but if it were to become one, the relevant redistributive laws would pass constitutional muster even from the Roberts Court because such laws would not target speech at all; the political impact of a flatter income and wealth distribution would merely be a beneficial side effect of speech-neutral policies.

12 comments:

David Ricardo said...

One of the more interesting aspects of the recent election will be whether or not the new Republican Congressional majority reinforces Mr. Dorf’s point about how the billionaire supporters of the Republicans have not bought the influence they think they have. With respect to Mr. Dorf’s four issues, Immigration, Fiscal Brinkmanship, Taxes and Regulation, then certainly the last, Regulation will be where the interests of conservatives and their mega-wealthy backers are most in sync as Mr. Dorf acknowledges. (And exactly when the did Chamber of Commerce become a partisan political organization?)

But on immigration there is no clear alignment, except to expand access to the U. S. by high tech workers. On taxes once Republicans find out that when they are forced to substitute actual policy for their vague commitment to “eliminate loopholes, stop corporate welfare and simplify the tax code” things will not go very well. And should they succeed in dismantling much of ACA they will find that the medical industry, deprived of government dollars and support for reform will turn against them. (Democrats are horrified over the Supreme Court’s decision to take the case involving subsidies and Federally run Exchanges, but politically it is Republicans who have the most to fear from an adverse decision on ACA by the Court.)

But the most immediate issue will be what Mr. Dorf calls Fiscal Brinkmanship. Republicans must pass spending bills and actually identify the “unidentified savings” and they must pass a debt ceiling increase with Republican votes. It is difficult to imagine there are more than a few Republicans willing to vote for a debt ceiling increase, certainly not enough to join with the Democrats to pass a clean bill in the House. The likelihood of a shutdown over the debt ceiling is huge (barring a fold by Mr. Obama, a real possibility) and at that point the Wall Streeters, who profited massively under Democratic rule may find out that one must be careful with what one wishes for, as one may actually get the wishes granted.

And finally, Democratic leaning billionaires may have to stop doing things like trying to improve healthcare, get better education, reduce violence, promote world peace and other things that conservatives think are a waste of resources and start supporting the Democrats lest the movie The Incredibly Shrinking Democratic Base starts getting Oscar buzz.

Unknown said...

"To paraphrase John Roberts, the way to stop the influence of concentrated wealth on politics is to stop wealth from concentrating." -- This is one of the things I like about the current Chief Justice: He, from time to time, emphasizes getting to the root of the problem, which is more than I can say about other certain Officials sometimes acting as if the means are the ends in and of themselves.

amine lahragui said...


thanks so much for that great blog and thanks also for accepting my links thanks
طريقة عمل الدونات طريقة عمل البان كيك طريقة عمل الكنافة طريقة عمل البسبوسة طريقة عمل الكيك طريقة عمل عجينة البيتزا فوائد القرفه

aminos lahragui said...


thanks so much i like very so much your post
حلى الاوريو الفطر الهندي صور تورته حلى قهوه طريقة عمل السينابون طريقة عمل بلح الشام بيتزا هت كيكة الزبادي حلا سهل صور كيك عجينة العشر دقائق

obat herbal said...

cara mengobati kemaluan keluar nanah kenapa kemaluan lelaki keluar nanah kemaluan keluar cairan nanah obat penyakit kelamin kencing nanah

wasirdenature said...

cara mengobati penyakit wasir obat wasir herbal denature obat wasir ambeien herpes kelamin denature

herbal medicine said...

cara mengobati penyakit wasir obat wasir herbal denature obat wasir ambeien herpes kelamin denature

obat herbal said...

cara mengobati penyakit wasir obat wasir herbal denature obat wasir ambeien herpes kelamin denature

lionelmessi10 said...

nanah keluar dari penis penyakit penis keluar nanah obat penis keluar nanah cara menngobati kencing nanah pada pria herbal gonore cara mengobati kelamin keluar nanah kencing perih dan keluar nanah

lionelmessi10 said...

Gonorrhea is one of the most common diseases passed from one person to another during sexual activityInfection with gonorrhea is more common in certain groups of people The highest reported infection rates occur in the following groupsGonorrhea is caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria The infection is transmitted from one person to another through vaginal oral or anal sexual relations

Nay Denature said...

Gonorrhea is one of the most common diseases passed from one person to another during sexual activityInfection with gonorrhea is more common in certain groups of people The highest reported infection rates occur in the following groupsGonorrhea is caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria The infection is transmitted from one person to another through vaginal oral or anal sexual relations

obat herbal said...

Obat kencing Nanah De Nature Obat Herbal obat Kutil Kelaminobat gejala herpes kelamin dan pengobatan herpes kelamin dan cara mengobati kanker payudara dan cara mengobati kanker paru dan cara menyembuhkan kanker dan pengobatan kanker dan pengobatan kanker dari china dan obat kanker serviks dan obat kanker herbal dan obat kanker alami ampuh dan obat kanker ampuh dan obat ampuh kanker usus merupakan solusi pengobatan herbal dari denature indonesia