Money and Politics

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Over at Washington Monthly, Ed Gilgore laments about last night’s Kentucky primary:

The one interesting result from last night was a surprisingly easy primary win for a protege of Rand Paul’s in an open Republican congressional district in Kentucky. But Paul had some outside help. You think Super PACs are having an impact on presidential politics? Check this out from the Louisville Courier-Journal . . .

Here’s Kilgore’s excerpt from the Courier-Journal article:

[Thomas] Massie came into the race largely unknown in the district’s population center of Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties but was able to overcome his lack of name recognition by scoring a couple of big name endorsements and getting the backing of several tea party organizations.

He also got more than $500,000 worth of backing from a super PAC called Liberty for All, which was funded almost entirely by a 21-year-old Texas college student with an inheritance. The group ran ads supporting Massie and criticizing Webb-Edgington and Moore.

Marc Wilson, a supporter of Webb-Edgington, criticized the group after the ballots were counted.

“It’s a shame that a Texas libertarian super PAC could come in and invade the Republican Party to buy a congressional seat,” he said.

Kilgore comments:

Wow. Wonder if the kid down in Texas turned in a term paper to his poli sci class entitled “How I bought a congressional seat in Kentucky.”

Hmm. Well instead of tossing off unhelpful descriptors like “Rand Paul protege,” let’s look more closely at the candidates’ actual records and positions. Mike Riggs profiled Thomas Massie for Reason a few months ago. Some highlights:

Immediately after winning the election for judge executive in 2010 (a position similar to county manager), Massie began eliminating waste. “None of that necessarily included any layoffs or anything,” Hogan says. “It was just going through the phone bill for phone lines that weren’t connected anymore, electrical meters that weren’t hooked up.” Massie also cancelled a deal between Lewis County and a railroad company after learning that the county was paying to lease land that the railroad had sold nearly 20 years ago. “The county had just been paying this money to the railroad company,” Hogan says. “Thomas could never get a response out of them. So he didn’t pay the bill.” When the railroad called asking for rent, Thomas asked for the county’s money back.

So he put an end to his local government handing free money over to a corporation. And he made sure the local government wasn’t paying for phone lines and utilities that were no longer functional. He also stopped a county treasurer from using taxpayer funds to replenish the gravel in her driveway. What a right-wing nut!

More from Riggs:

Massie’s small-government instincts extend far beyond keeping a tight grip on the checkbook. He’s also opposed to the PATRIOT Act, warrantless wiretapping, the police state, the drug war, and military adventurism.

Huh. If you’re a progressive, on these issues Massie is a sight better than most Democrats in Congress, no?

So what about establishment GOP candidate Alecia Webb-Edgington, the party favorite from whom Massie and his super PAC money allegedly stole this nomination?

A former member of the Kentucky State Police and the Department of Homeland Security, Webb-Edgington also helped launch Kentucky’s DHS-funded Fusion Center and told the crowd at a 2010 Lincoln Dinner, “We don’t need any more socialists, communists, or libertarians in the Republican Party.”

Webb-Eddington has also made deporting more immigrants a central part of her campaign.

On social issues, the two are virtually the same. Both are pro-life, favor fewer gun restrictions, and oppose gay marriage. So let’s call that a wash.

So what happened last night, then, is that instead of an establishment, party machine GOP operative who supports the Homeland Security-industrial state, Kentucky got a waste-cutting opponent of the PATRIOT ACT and other war-on-terror government power who also wants to end pointless wars, repeal drug prohibition, and has a record of tackling corruption. Given that the GOP nominee will be the favorite in November, you’d think Massie’s victory would be something a progressive like Kilgore could appreciate.

Kilgore is right on one point. Without the half million dollar infusion from the super PAC, it’s doubtful Massie would have won. And that of course is precisely the point. Strict limits on campaign contributions only further entrench the two major parties. If your views aren’t in line with establishment thinking, if the party machinery has backed a more traditional candidate with predictable positions, you’ll be starting your campaign in a hole. They have the phone lists, the donor lists, the existing office holders and the perks of their offices, name recognition, and the campaign infrastructure. It takes money to overcome all of that. It takes money to merely be heard. Take all the money out of politics (assuming you could—you can’t) and the two-party machinery advantages don’t go away. It just makes it more difficult to challenge them.

So I’d ask Ed Kilgore: Let’s assume the GOP nominee wins this seat in November. Aren’t progressives better off with Thomas Massie in Congress than with Alecia Webb-Edgington? And if super PAC spending is the reason why that’s now likely to happen, how does particular race illustrate the perils of unlimited campaign spending?


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75 Responses to “Money and Politics”

  1. #1 |  freedomfan | 

    BTW, there is a world of difference between agreeing with FDR that a someone with a taxpayer-funded job should be not be able to get the special bargaining privileges that a union provides and saying that that person (or his union) should not be able to contribute to a politician’s campaign.

  2. #2 |  Aresen | 

    My bad.

    The impeachment campaign was 1998. Apologies for the error.

  3. #3 |  supercat | 

    #48 | Leon Wolfeson | “Either people have the right to organise and speak, or it’s a limited, government-given permission.”

    The problem is not that employees (whether inside or outside of government) have the right to organize and speak. The problem is that unions claim the “right” to prevent other would-be employees from competing with them by accepting terms of employment which the unions would not. If the managers of a private company wish to sign a contract with a union agreeing to only hire people under such condition as the union may find agreeable, such a contract may result in the company becoming unprofitable and going out of business, but people who buy shares in the company accept the risk that management will do something stupid that renders their shares worthless; shareholders do not take on any risk beyond the loss of equity.

    Although private-sector unions are somewhat limited in the damage they can do, by virtue of the fact that a company’s equity is finite, public-sector unions have no such check. If a union working at a private-sector company makes demands that are so unreasonable that a company could not agree and remain profitable, the directorship may decide that the best way to protect shareholder value is to cease operations, sell off all assets, and divvy up the proceeds among the shareholders. A government has no such ability. Further, corporations only get to play with the money of those who freely gave them the authority to do so; governments get to play with money coercively taken from the citizenry.

    BTW, one problem not yet mentioned is that unions will claim the “right” to prevent others from working under terms they don’t approve of, if 51% of present workers and 0% of would-be workers favor such a demand. That level of power, while it is nominally supposed to improve the plight of workers, actually works to the detriment of nearly everyone except the people in charge of the union.

  4. #4 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @50 – Mailing list? You’re talking cash (and lots of it) to access a some of those. I happen to have /very/ wide access since I work for several universities.

    And it’s saying in many cases it DID succeed, and with better organisation (now fully legal), it could have been far more successful still.

    It’s not a “game”, it’s using the evidence. Remember I’ve said that this case (internal party selection) shouldn’t be touched by regulation in any case, since it’s a private issue. The problem is, again, FPTP and not money.

    @51 – You’re making basic rights of organisation and speech (if THIS group or THAT group is acceptable) contingent on your employer, with no actual requirement in the job (certainly some senior civil servants should not be making political statements, but generally? Er…) for this to be so.

    That’s not free speech, it’s free speech for people based on your criteria, just as other arguments are for free speech based on other people’s criteria. Once you’ve abandoned universality, you can’t then claim it!

    (I still haven’t said what I would do for actual elections…)

  5. #5 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @53 – Then the problem is allowing closed shops, not allowing unions.

    Again, unilaterally restricting rights where no such *requirement* exists for good functioning (as it does for certain very senior civil servants or in the military) is very much restricting free speech.

    The Universities I work for have NO idea if I belong to a Union or not. It’s not their business, that’s between the Unions and myself. If there’s a strike, I need to fill in a form stating if I’m striking or not. Being a member of one of the (several) teaching unions is entirely voluntary!

    (And, for reference, I am not – my Union membership is with Unite, for my contract work in IT and I wouldn’t strike short of a general strike (which may well be coming))

    Incidentally, the most economically successful EU countries (Nordics and Germany) are precisely those who allow *sector-wide* bargaining, which you may wish to consider.

  6. #6 |  Chris Mallory | 

    Leon,
    I say damn straight, if you work for the government you should not have the freedom to unionize. I go even further, if you work for the government I don’t think you should be allowed to vote. And it is based on the job, if you want to have the full rights of a citizen, don’t live off the sweat of the taxpayer’s brow. When you put a gun in my face to meet your paycheck, what taxation is when it is all said and done, you deserve to lose the basic rights of a citizen. If you want to unionize, vote and other things, get a job doing something productive where people pay you voluntarily. If you want to live off the taxpayers, fine you should give up something too.

  7. #7 |  GinSlinger | 

    Leon,

    I too work for a university, in fact I’ve taught a class using that very Levitt paper you linked to. It does not say what you say it says. Levitt says, very clearly, that once you control for incumbency, money has virtually no effect on the outcome of an election. His point about cost controls is about entry, but as Massie in the article shows, that’s not really as big a problem.

    The rest you link to don’t support the argument you seem to be making about money and parties and elections. The one about Indian elections examines the behavior of politicians using spending to court votes (IOW, the incumbency effect), and the JBEM is about advertising and its effects or lack thereof, which may be close tangential to your argument, but it’s not really support.

    In the future, you need to make sure that the studies you refer to control for incumbency, as it is leg up in both funding and votes.

  8. #8 |  freedomfan | 

    Leon, you are acting as though a union is a simple association of people when, in fact, unions have special legal rights and immunities that go beyond a simple association. Have you ever wondered why it’s okay for union members to get together and collude on what price they are going to charge for labor, but it’s illegal for Famous Amos and Mrs Fields to get together and decide how much to charge for cookies? Ever wonder why large companies who provide a large fraction of the market for a given product or service are subject to antitrust regulation, but one union (or it’s wholly owned subsidiaries) can provide a large chunk of the labor in a given field and not be subject to the same rules. Freedom of association and unionization are not identical things.

    Frankly, I don’t know what Radley’s exact position on government employee unions is, but it isn’t accurate to portray unions as a simple association such as one that might get together to discuss a town council resolution. Radley may be saying something as straightforward as, “Union members can associate and discuss whatever they want, but governments aren’t obliged to consult with a union before entering into an employment agreement with an employee, whether or not he is part of that association.”

    But, even that issue is a distraction because the basic argument you make is that lack of support for (your interpretation of) one right implies lack of support for another one. For instance, the government has all sorts of rules concerning what constitutes a church. And, if I decide that I am part of The Church of Libertarius, God of Freedom and apply for tax-exempt status, you can bet that when I don’t get it, a judge will laugh me out of court if I claim that the IRS is denying me my right to political speech.

  9. #9 |  Les | 

    Radley’s carefully explained that because he personally feels that it’s candidates on his side who will benefit, there’s no problem and no principle.

    If you’re going to be dishonest and deliberately misrepresent a person’s position, why would you expect people to care what you have to say.

    Here’s what FDR had to say about public sector unions (I’m going to directly quote him and not make anything up about his position on the matter).

    All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

    Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that “under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government.”

  10. #10 |  Aresen | 

    freedom fan

    ….if I decide that I am part of The Church of Libertarius, God of Freedom and apply for tax-exempt status….

    OTOH, if you win the case, can I join your church?

  11. #11 |  Arthur | 

    For me, the real problem with campaign finance regulation is this:

    Anyone who speaks of getting the money out of politics is not to be taken seriously. All policy moves toward this goal are ultimately partisan and self-serving. The only effective way to control the influence of money on politics is to keep the politics out of our money. Our Constitution, as written and ratified, achieved this (temporarily) by restricting the delegated sovereign (federal govt.) to the powers expressly given in the document, as amended. Ratification would not have happened without this enumerated powers limit. Of course, that limit has been eroded to a point of near non-existence and we live in an age of MASSIVE incentive for monied parties to put their money into politics as a means of taking your money by force.

  12. #12 |  Fascist Nation | 

    You people sure run your elections funny. In Arizona, they would have just had a recount and more than enough ballots would mysteriously show up giving Webb-Edgerton an easy victory. Then they’d fire whomever was supposed to rig the ballot for embarrassing elections officials into scrambling on election night.

  13. #13 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @58 – Because, absent closed-shops (which shouldn’t be permitted), there isn’t a shortage of labour. It’s no coincidence that you’ve allowed Unions to create effective closed shops, where large Unions (essentially Old English *Guilds*, rather than true unions) then exist.

    There’s a half-dozen teaching unions* in the UK, for instance…three major transport ones and so on. The biggest Unions are the ones which cross many fields.

    (*Many of which represent both government and private workers)

    And yes, it’s a simple absolute. The moment you have people worthy of basic rights, and people unworthy, without it being a necessary prerequisite of their job (again, the armed forced is a great example of where it IS necessary to give up certain rights), you’re making those rights conditional.

    (What about employees of a company which outsources to the public sector? Private companies, who have a contract with an education authority….you end up having to stretch the definition though a massive percentage of the workforce)

    And if you think some people won’t use that as a basis to attack basic rights…hah! You’re giving the stateists (it’s downright FUNNY when people accuse me of being one, given my views) a massive wedge.

    And labour organisation, as I said, is one of the keystones of the most successful EU countries. It’s a counterbalance to corporatist interests, but frankly you never seem to worry about those.

  14. #14 |  hilzoy fangirl | 

    What power are you talking about? The power to spend his own money to inform other people about his political views? If he were actually buying votes, that would be one thing. The voters still retain the power to make up their own minds.</i.

    If spending $500,000 on that campaign had such a negligible impact, then what's the harm in forbidding it?

    But seriously: most voters make their decisions based on limited information – no, scratch that, all voters make their decisions based on limited information. Emphasizing or introducing certain information, obscuring or omitting other information, is power over what voters will do because it is power over the basis for how they “make up their own minds.”

    When the gatekeepers for that information are disproportionately absurdly wealthy people with an axe to grind, that, to me, is a problem. (And yes, before you ask, when the gatekeepers are disproportionately journalists who frequently act on their own overt and implicit biases, that is also a problem.)

    Why are you not just as worried about the political machinery that ensures incumbents get reelected at a rate o 90 percent and higher?

    I’m worried about that, too. Elections and campaign finance are, to me at least, a complicated issue for which there are no simple answers. (Getting rid of incumbents en masse can be just as bad as retaining them indiscriminately, of course; when most of the elected legislators are inexperienced, the permanent class of unelected staffers and lobbyists who are experienced become all the more influential.)

  15. #15 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    hilzoy fangirl,

    “Elections and campaign finance are, to me at least, a complicated issue for which there are no simple answers.”

    My choice of starting points may be simplistic, but I’d still like to try;

    Repeal all limitations on U.S. citizens spending on political expression, wait through at least one four year cycle, and see where the hell we are. I think that most people concerned with campaign finance reform would agree that the laws we have now do not work as we would like them to. So let’s return to basics, and start again.

  16. #16 |  Rojo | 

    @Les

    So, you quote Roosevelt on the hallowedness of the “operations of government”? I’m a left-winger, but I’m a left-winger libertarian (small l), so Roosevelt’s not really an authority I tend to pay attention to.

    I would like to hear Radley’s distinction between public sector and private sector unions and not because I’m ready to disagree with him automatically (although I think that I’m rather more sympathetic to unions, particularly teachers’ unions than he is–not that I don’t think they’ve devolved into wallowing pits of self-interested corruption) but because I’m generally curious.

  17. #17 |  Delta | 

    “… under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government.”

    Yes, by all means it’s critical that we not allow civil workers to resist, or strike against, or opt to stop doing the job of government.

  18. #18 |  Windy | 

    #62, Fascist Nation “In Arizona, they would have just had a recount and more than enough ballots would mysteriously show up giving Webb-Edgerton an easy victory.”

    Which is exactly what happened in WA, twice, giving Gregoire the win. I think this practice is rampant among most of the States.

  19. #19 |  Tom Woolf | 

    @Bradley – RE #3…. my apologies, I forgot whose blog I was commenting on. As you stated in your reply to my note, you have been consistent in your objection to campaign finance restrictions. Although I do agree with you on many topics, campaign finance is one we will continue to disagree on.

    (I can’t even blame #3 on a lack of coffee – I know I’d had at least two cups by the time I wrote it…)

  20. #20 |  parsimon | 

    Radley Balko at #12:

    if you think my support for the First Amendment with respect to campaign finance is dependent on who wins elections, you haven’t been reading me very long. I believe people should be able to spend money to criticize politicians because I think political speech is sacred.

    Radley, I can’t speak for Kilgore, but the objection in progressive quarters to Citizens United is that it allows for the spending of very large quantities of money by very few people in order to influence voters, or, more charitably, in order to criticize (or valorize) politicians.

    One would prefer that Massie have been bankrolled by 5,000 Kentucky residents donating $100 each, rather than by (chiefly) one guy from out of state putting up $500,000. The latter situation amounts to one guy buying the largest megaphone; I, at least, am not in favor of a society run by the moneyed few. It’s not at all clear to me that it’s an improvement over the influence held by establishment politicians.

  21. #21 |  parsimon | 

    I’ll go further, and ask: if you are also in favor of a society not run by the moneyed few, how do we accomplish that?

  22. #22 |  b-psycho | 

    If the real problem is that people vote on the basis of limited information, then the real solution is clearly to provide and obtain way more information. Perhaps a media that didn’t hold the status quo in a death grip, and instead covered all sides, fact-checked people, and didn’t automatically assume that the well-established were always correct would help. Also, on the other side of the coin, emphasize the gravity of these decisions and encourage people to do their own research before casting a vote, as if it’s important to do so then it’s important enough to seek out as much information as possible to inform it.

    Until then…well, with the information that was available, they voted for this guy.

  23. #23 |  parsimon | 

    b-psycho gets it right. In light of that, Radley’s insistence that a $500,000 influx of money from a single person out of state constitutes the sacred exercise of free speech looks a little blinkered.

  24. #24 |  Greg | 

    I read another article that quoted a political scientist from Kentucky. He criticized the PAC because he didn’t like any outside interference in local political matters that should be LOCAL! In the the very next sentence he said Massie was an extremist because he wanted to stop D.C. influence ( money) on local affairs.

  25. #25 |  We need more money in politics « Blunt Object | 

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