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Posts Tagged ‘Free Speech’

Once again, I threw myself on a proverbial grenade. Yes, that means I watched politicians last night as part of the Cato Institute’s live-tweeting about issues that were raised (or not raised) in the CNN Townhall featuring Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Although painful, this exercise enabled me to share my thoughts on topics such as corporate inversions, Planned Parenthood, government-run healthcare, Obamanomics, and the morality (or lack thereof) of government-coerced redistribution.

But one issue I neglected was campaign finance, which was an oversight since both Sanders and Clinton made a big deal about the ostensibly corrupting mix of money and politics.

I confess that their arguments were somewhat seductive. After all, corrupt ethanol handouts and the cronyist Export-Import Bank only exist because politicians easily can raise tens of thousands of dollars by voting yes for these boondoggles.

Moreover, a law professor from the University of Minnesota made “The Conservative Case for Campaign-Finance Reform” yesterday in the New York Times. Here’s some of what Richard Painter wrote.

…big money in politics encourages big government. Campaign contributions drive spending on earmarks and other wasteful programs — bridges to nowhere, contracts for equipment the military does not need, solar energy companies that go bankrupt on the government’s dime… When politicians are dependent on campaign money from contractors and lobbyists, they’re incapable of holding spending programs to account. Campaign contributions also breed more regulation. Companies in heavily regulated industries such as banking, health care and energy are among the largest contributors. Such companies donate with the hope of winning narrowly tailored exceptions to regulations that help them and disadvantage their competitors. …conservatives…need to drive the big spenders out of the temples of our democracy.

I have no idea if Mr. Painter actually is a conservative, but he makes a superficially compelling case.

But then I remind myself of a very important point. The sun doesn’t rise because roosters crow. It’s the other way around. What Mr. Painter fails to understand is that there’s a lot of money in politics for the simple reason that government has massive powers to tax, spend, and regulate.

Politicians in Washington every year redistribute more than $4 trillion, so interest groups have an incentive to “invest” money in campaigns so they can get some of that loot. Those politicians have created a 75,000-page tax code that is a Byzantine web of special preferences, so interest groups have an incentive to “invest” money in campaigns so they get favorable treatment. And the politicians also have created a massive regulatory morass, so interest groups have an incentive to “invest” so that red tape can be used to create an unlevel playing field for their advantage.

By the way, I’m not saying that campaign contributions are improper, or even necessarily bad.

After all, political speech (and the money that makes it meaningful) is protected by the 1st Amendment. Moreover, some people give money simply for reasons of self defense. They’re not looking for handouts of favoritism, but rather are giving money in hopes that politicians will leave them alone.

Instead, I’m simply making the point that big government is what encourages unseemly and/or corrupt political contributions.

If I’m allowed to shift to a new metaphor, Sanders and Clinton make the mistake of putting the cart of campaign finance in front of the horse of big government.

There’s a great column in today’s Wall Street Journal on this topic. It’s motivated by corruption scandals in New York, but the lessons apply equally to Washington. Here’s some of what Tom Shanahan wrote.

…whenever a public official is found guilty of wrongdoing, there’s a call for new laws. Logic cannot explain the impulse. …If they’re not obeying the laws we already have, what makes anyone believe new statutes will change that? …a host of “good government” groups, such the New York Public Interest Research Group, proposed making the legislature a “full-time job” by limiting outside income.

Mr. Shanahan suspect these reforms will backfire.

That’s a major problem for limiting the size of government. An analysis of “The Length of Legislative Sessions and the Growth of Government” byMwangi S. Kimenyi and Robert D. Tollison, in a 1995 article in Rationality and Society, demonstrated that the more time Congress spent in session, the more bills were enacted, and the more expensive government grew. …A legislator with other work also has a better understanding of the economic conditions confronting the public than one who subsists on a government check. …Legislators with outside incomes are less susceptible to the pay-to-play temptation of campaign contributions. When your sole source of income is the public office you hold, the incentive is far greater to do anything necessary to get re-elected.

So here’s the bottom line is that there’s no reason to think new laws will reduce corruption. Indeed, more rules will probably lead to more sleaze since politicians will have an even greater incentive to exploit their positions of power.

The people who will get hurt, however, are the ordinary citizens who already lose out from the current system.

New York continues to suffer a net migration of citizens to other states, as people flee a growing tax burden. The last thing the state needs is a legislature working full time to spend even more taxpayer money.

By the way, I’m not under the illusion that “money in politics” is a solution. I’m simply saying that new rules about campaign finance and ethics won’t have any impact on sleaze and corruption.

Which is my message in this video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

Allow me to make one final point on this issue. I think the proponents of further regulation and control in some cases have good intentions, but they are being extremely naive. Why would anybody think that politicians would approve rules unless the net effect was to increase the powers of incumbency?

Since I shared my video on the topic, I’ll close by strongly recommending that you watch this George Will video.

P.S. I warned last month that governments were engaged in a war on cash. Well, the Germans are planning a Blitzkrieg.

The German government is considering introducing a limit of 5,000 euros ($5,450) on cash transactions in an effort to combat money laundering and financing of terrorism. Deputy finance minister Michael Meister said Wednesday that…there’s “…we also have the problem of how to clear up money-laundering offenses properly” when large transactions are conducted anonymously. …Opposition Green Party lawmaker Konstantin von Notz tweeted that trying to limit cash payments “is a new fundamental attack on data protection and privacy.”

Since criminals will be modestly inconvenienced – at best – by such an initiative, it’s important to understand the real goal is easier tax collection. Indeed, I suspect Herr von Notz will change his tune once he realizes that the German government will get more money to waste if cash is restricted.

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When I write about the importance of understanding the difference between a disease and its symptoms, I’m almost always seeking to help people understand why it’s important to focus on the problem of government spending rather than the side-effect of government borrowing.

But the same analogy is useful when looking at issues such as lobbying and campaign contributions.

It’s very understandable for people to get nauseated when we see things such as lobbying for corporate welfare or campaign contributions being given in exchange for things such as ethanol subsidies.

So would it make sense to outlaw lobbying or to restrict campaign contributions? Setting aside constitutional issues (the First Amendment protects our rights to petition the government and to engage in political speech), the answer is no.

Why? Because lobbying and campaign contributions are a function of government being too big and being involved in too many areas.

If we shrink the size and scope of the state, we reduce incentives to manipulate the system. But if we leave big government in place, laws to restrict lobbying and campaign contributions will simply lead to different forms of “rent seeking.”

Not surprisingly, leftists want the wrong approach. Here are some excerpts from Dana Milbank’s Washington Post column, which argues that campaign spending is the problem.

…the Supreme Court…has created a campaign-finance system that is directly responsible for the rise of uncompromising leaders on both sides of the Capitol. …Political money was again before the Supreme Court on Tuesday morning, and, judging from their questions, the conservative justices are poised to make things even worse. Milbank CorruptionNow they are prepared to expand on their 2010 decision that caused an explosion of independent spending by allowing the wealthy to give about $3.5 million apiece to candidates and parties in each election cycle. …The 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo made government for sale and created the arms race in campaign financing by equating unlimited spending with free speech. The John Roberts court in 2010 made the system dramatically worse in its Citizens United decision, loosening restrictions and spurring wealthy donors to make hundreds of millions of dollars in independent expenditures. …Justice Elena Kagan said those who give $3.5 million should expect “special treatment” from Congress — and Burchfield didn’t disagree. Under the Citizens United decision, he said, “gratitude and influence are not considered to be quid-pro-quo corruption.”

Milbank puts the cart before the horse. Big donors aren’t the problem. We should worry about big government.

If we had the type of limited central government envisioned by the Founding Fathers, there would be very little reason for billionaires (or the rest of us) to spend time or energy worrying about what happens in Washington.

I elaborate in this video on the real causes of political corruption in Washington.

P.S. In the title, I wrote that campaign contributions are a “possible” symptom. That’s because campaign contributions (like lobbying) don’t necessarily imply corruption. If John Doe gives money to someone like Rand Paul, he’s probably not looking for a government handout. But if the realtors cut a big check to someone like Chuck Schumer, it’s quite likely that they’re looking to obtain or preserve some undeserved goodie from Washington.

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I spend much of my time focusing on the dangers of a bloated federal government. And if you’ve ever paid attention to the name of this blog, you know I have a special interest in monitoring the ill-advised actions of foreign governments.

But that doesn’t mean I have a Pollyanna view about state governments or local governments. Malfeasance, waste, abuse, fraud, and corruption exist at all levels of government and should be condemned at all levels of government.

And few governments are more deserving of our contempt at this moment in time than the state of North Carolina.

You’ll understand when you watch this video.

The folks at the Institute for Justice do a remarkable job, as you already know if you’ve seen these videos about their fights against the IRS, their battles in defense of property rights, and their campaign against abusive asset forfeiture policies.

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Some ideas are so horrible that I’m almost at a loss for words. The United Nations is a grotesquely wasteful and corrupt international bureaucracy with a long track record of failure and incompetence.

Yet some people think this collection of looters, moochers, and kleptocrats should have authority over the Internet. I’m not kidding. Here are some of the details from an Australian newspaper.

The United Nations is considering whether to set up an inter-governmental working group to harmonise global efforts by policy makers to regulate the internet. Establishment of such a group has the backing of several countries, spearheaded by Brazil. At a meeting in New York on Wednesday, representatives from Brazil called for an international body made up of Government representatives that would to attempt to create global standards for policing the internet… India, South Africa, China and Saudi Arabia appeared to favour a new possible over-arching inter-government body. However, Australia, US, UK, Belgium and Canada and attending business and community representatives argued there were risks in forming yet another working group that might isolate itself from the industry, community users and the general public.

For what it’s worth, this proposal is so crazy that it appears that even the Obama Administration is opposed. I certainly hope so, because this proposal inevitably would lead to many bad results, including restrictions on freedom of speech.

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A Washington Post columnist is understandably disgusted that Congressman Jim Moran is a corrupt thief who swaps earmarks for campaign cash, but she draws the wrong conclusion. The problem is not campaign contributions. That’s just the symptom. The real problem is that government is far too big, and politicians are auctioning off undeserved money to people who don’t deserve it. Restricting the 1st Amendment by making it harder for people to participate in the political process, as the columnist urges, won’t solve the problem because people who think it is okay to receive undeserved money will figure out another route to bribe politicians. The only real solution is to stop the corrupt redistribution that drives the process, which is the point made in the video under the excerpt:

“You don’t have to drink. You just have to pay.” Has there ever been a better summary of how Washington works — and the need for campaign finance reform — than this line from a 2007 e-mail? The context: An executive at Innovative Concepts, a small defense contractor, was balking at going to a wine-tasting fundraiser for Rep. Jim Moran. The Virginia Democrat sits on the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls defense spending — and the executive’s boss made clear that attendance had nothing to do with the quality of the cabernet. Moran raked in almost $92,000 at the event, sponsored by the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group. And Innovative Concepts received an $800,000 earmark in the next defense spending bill. …There is nothing necessarily illegal in the Innovative Concepts transaction, which is, of course, the scandal. Washington operates on the tacit understanding that campaign contributions grease the way for access and influence. Both sides in this transaction, lawmaker and donor, perceive, or at least present, themselves as the victim: elected officials as captives of a system that demands incessant fundraising; donors as the target of a none-too-subtle shakedown scheme. …There is a simple way out of this swamp — public financing of congressional campaigns. …The estimated cost is $2 billion to $3 billion per election.

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