Follow the Money
Recent court decisions (re)affirming corporate personhood and premise that campaign contributions are (protected) free speech punctuated the fear of some that politicians—biennially for sale to the highest bidder—would increase in cost and become the exclusive province of the rich, which would give truth to the sobriquet, “the ruling class”.
It is unfair, however, to think only of politicians for sale, when it is politics in its broadest dimension that is for sale. In the instance of campaign contributions, for example, follow the money: campaigns are conducted to amass votes—to urge voters to cast their ballots for the campaigner or, at least, refrain from casting a vote for the opposition. So, is the tsunami of campaign contributions buying votes?…or, in kind, buying not (only) politicians but voters?
If we consider that campaign contributions are (in some way) buying votes/voters, it is awe inspiring to calculate the cost (value?) of a vote or, alternatively the price of a voter [an exercise left to the reader].
Once (in a Chicago-minute, when all politics was truly local) it was more direct to simply pay people for their vote—cash or spirits, take your pick. This stimulus to the economy really did trickle down. Thanks, in part, to exposure by the high-minded media, we have (largely) curtailed this practice. Too bad, perhaps: many citizens, struggling economically, would be delighted with such a biennial windfall. And, if the (contributing) power of unions has declined and shifted to the rich, all the better: doesn’t this represent a compelling expression of transfer payments—something to which every citizen is “entitled”?
Eschewing direct payment for votes leaves us to influence voters by information. Follow the campaign money to the media who, remember, vigorously exposed (and opposed) the practice of buying votes directly and then stepped into the brokerage role. True, the media (read Manchester Union Leader, et al) had traditionally played the influence card, but it seems they have raised the price, to their credit.
In some ways, the process of media influence has been made more transparent, thereby. Previously, revenue for ads for products from corporations who favored one or another candidate, party, or policy dictated (to one degree, or another) the stance of particular media outlets. But, in streamlining the process so that campaign money flows more specifically to ads to influence voters more directly, the hands of the media are cleaner and the (corporate) campaign contributors have better control over information (or, disinformation) content. Notice that the candidate running for office is increasingly out of the loop.
In fact, given the preference for “negative ads”, which need only mention the opposition, the need to actually have a candidate may be purely structural, and of lesser consequence.
To date, there seems to be no constitutionally acceptable legislative remedy that can reign in campaign spending and/or contributions. It appears to be beyond the control of the government. The right to buy political influence is (for the nonce) protected.
And, in the more pernicious case of negative ads and disinformation, The Constitution does not permit the government to address the problem more directly: the legislative branch tries by holding hearings; except for the “bully pulpit”, the executive branch is prohibited from using appropriated funds to lobby the (U.S.) public; and the judiciary more or less confines itself to principles and facts, not motives (Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 2000, notwithstanding.)
There are some (questionable) instances where the federal government provides some (more or less) neutral campaign funding, but post-Obama-2008, that funding seems increasingly irrelevant. Nor would we want to establish a(n apolitical) Ministry Of Information, would we?
To return to the lucre, the insult to the system, from a populist point of view, is that voters are not getting true value for their vote—their entitlement. Their fair share of campaign contributions is siphoned off by the fourth estate.
What to do? What to do?
Phi Beta Iota: Yoda observes that the executive is not supposed to “lobby” the public. Whether or not that is the case, the fact is that a democratic government should be committed first and foremost to creating an informed engaged public through education for all–continuous education. It is the public that should be creating public intelligence in the public interest, at the same time that the government intelligence function should be so imbued with integrity that most of what passes today for policy (ideological idiocy combined with craven corruption) is made transparent to the public, and consequently rejected.