And Now, The Misguided Represent.us

You’re going to watch this video, and then you’re going to wonder how on earth we can say it’s a bunch of crap. But stick around and we’ll tell you…

Who can be against the idea of getting money out of politics?

Everybody, if they’re honest. “Getting money out of politics” is one of those dumb nostrums people pass around as though it’s a truism that money in politics is a bad thing.

Other than producing a truckload of TV ads during election season, most of which are excruciating to watch, the answer is that money in politics is neither good nor bad.

The problem isn’t too much money in politics. The problem is too much politics in money.

We repeat this story, which we got from Jonah Goldberg in his outstanding book Liberal Fascism, all the time. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, used to tell everybody who would listen that he was from “the other Washington,” and that he had no use for politics.

And then Janet Reno tried to use the antitrust laws to destroy his company.

That was 20 years ago. Since then, Microsoft has become one of the largest money players in Washington. It spent $10.49 million on lobbying last year, and so far this cycle the company and its employees have plugged $1.8 million into the midterm elections.

Here’s how Open Secrets describes the evolution

It is also one of the biggest campaign contributors in Washington-an astounding fact when you consider that Microsoft is a relatively new player on the political scene. Prior to 1998, the company and its employees gave virtually nothing in terms of political contributions. But when the Justice Department launched an antitrust investigation into the company’s marketing of its popular Windows software, things changed. The company opened a Washington lobbying office, founded a political action committee and soon became one of the most generous political givers in the country. The move eventually galvanized an entire industry, as computer and Internet companies quickly moved to emulate Microsoft’s political savvy. Between 2000 and 2010, Microsoft spent at least $6 million each year on federal lobbying efforts.

Microsoft didn’t get into the check-writing game because it wanted to. It got in because it was terrified of what the government was going to do to it.

But once you start lobbying and funding candidates for purposes of your survival, it won’t be long before your bean-counters start telling your management about this law or that, or this provision in the tax code or that, which could be changed to benefit your company’s bottom line.

Or which things could screw over your competitors and give you market share you don’t actually have to earn.

A couple of years ago we had a piece about a fight perfectly illustrating how this works: FedEx and UPS were in a lobbying war over which set of federal regulations the former would have to operate under. FedEx is regulated as an airline, because most of its operations involve flying packages around, whereas UPS is regulated as a trucking company because most of what it does involves ground transportation. There are differing rules on unionization between the two, and UPS was teaming up with the Teamsters to force FedEx into the latter set of regulations so the Teamsters would be able to unionize all the FedEx drivers.

That was good for UPS, because it would hit FedEx’s bottom line and force them to charge higher prices and thus cede market share. It was also good for UPS because when FedEx ended up with its drivers unionized it would have to start paying into the Teamsters’ pension fund which is grossly underfunded due to decades of graft and corruption. UPS is basically on the hook for keeping that fund afloat, and it will do anything to force somebody else to share the burden. Dragooning your leading competitor into slavery is good policy in that regard.

FedEx won that fight, but only after an enormous amount of cash spent lobbying and another goodly amount spent on elections. You can’t blame FedEx for doing that; if you can spend a million bucks buying politicians to keep from having to spend $10 million complying with a change in the law that blows up your business model you’ll spend that money all day long.

Closer to home here in Louisiana, can anybody blame the payday loan industry for hiring every lobbyist in sight to fight the Left’s attempts to destroy their businesses?

These are all examples of too much politics in money. When you insert the government into the orifices of people trying to make a living, you make those people VERY interested in what the government does. And if they have money, they will spend it just like Bill Gates did; first to survive the onslaught, then to turn the process to advantage.

Represent.us has a board which includes a number of heavy hitters, among them Jack Abramoff. Forgive us if we’re not impressed by his jailhouse conversion. What it says it wants is to pass something called the American Anti-Corruption Act, some of the provisions of which are OK and some aren’t. Among them…

Prohibit members of Congress from soliciting and receiving contributions from any industry or entity they regulate, including those industries’ lobbyists. Prohibit all fundraising during Congressional working hours.

Which sounds good, except the problem is that Congress is regulating the industries or entities in question. And it’s a wholesale assault on the First Amendment to say that if you’re in the oil and gas industry, for example, and your senator generally acts favorably to your industry, you’re not allowed to contribute to her campaign. Not to mention that such a change would inherently favor the most left-wing politicians imaginable; if oil and gas can’t contribute to somebody who’s pro-fracking,say, but the Sierra Club could contribute to that candidate’s opponent – who do you think wins more often than not?

Require SuperPACs to abide by the same contribution limits as other political committees. Toughen rules regarding SuperPACs’ and other groups’ coordination with political campaigns and political parties.

There would just be more SuperPACs and donors would write multiple checks instead of one, and the more SuperPACs out there the FEC would be charged with regulating the more bureaucrats the FEC would have to hire to do the job (which they wouldn’t likely be able to do well anyway).

Close the “revolving door” where elected representatives and senior staff sell off their legislative power for high-paying jobs. Stop them from negotiating jobs while in office and, once they leave, bar them from all lobbying activity for 5 years.

Terrific. We’re all for this. But if you think these people aren’t going to find ways around that law you’re insane.

Significantly expand the definition of and register all lobbyists to prevent influencers from skirting the rules.

Talk about your slippery slope. Does this mean anybody who owns a company in Rep. XYZ’s district can’t take a trip to Washington to ask him to vote for or against a certain bill that affects his business without registering as a lobbyist? Because that would be 100 percent unconstitutional; you have a First Amendment right to petition the government.

Limit the amount that lobbyists and their clients can contribute to federal candidates, political parties, and political committees to $500 per year and limit lobbyist fundraising for political campaigns. Federal contractors are already banned from contributing to campaigns: extend that ban to lobbyists, high-level executives, government relations employees, and PACs of federal government contractors.

Sure, it’s greasy that lobbyists give money to politicians. There’s a whiff of prostitution surrounding that practice. But why is it anything other than a violation of the First Amendment to tell somebody that because they work in governmental relations they’re not allowed to contribute to political campaigns? That isn’t going to work, by the way, because they’ll just funnel money to 501(c)4 organizations which can give to political candidates so long as their primary business is issue advocacy.

Represent.us is a 501(c)4 organization, by the way.

Mandate full transparency of all political money. Require any organization that spends $10,000 or more on advertisements to elect or defeat federal candidates to file a disclosure report online with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours. List each of the donors who gave $10,000 or more to the organization to run such ads. This includes all PACs, 501c nonprofits, or other groups that engage in electioneering.

Fine with us. Transparency is the avenue by which you can police dirty money in politics while still respecting the  First Amendment.

If somebody running for office in Texas, let’s say, gets a big check from George Soros, that probably hurts more than it helps.

Build up the influence of voters by creating a biennial $100 Tax Rebate that they can use to make qualified contributions to federal candidates, political parties, and political committees. Flood elections with small-donor contributions that will offset the huge spenders. Candidates and political groups will only be eligible for these funds if they agree to a set of contribution limits: they will only accept money from small donors (giving $500 or less a year), other groups abiding by the limits, and the Tax Rebates themselves.

An interesting idea, but if Mr. Warbucks who’s bundling tens of thousands of dollars among his friends and family to fund his bought politicians owns a big company with lots of direct and indirect employees, what makes you think he’s not going to end up a de-facto bundler of these government-subsidized $100 donations from his people? In practice, this will create chaos. And by the way – we want to get money out of politics so we’re going to have the government subsidize campaign donations?

Require federal candidates to disclose the names of individuals who “bundle” contributions for the member of Congress or candidate, regardless of whether such individuals are registered lobbyists.

Sure. Why not?

Strengthen the Federal Election Commission’s independence and strengthen the House and Senate ethics enforcement processes. Provide federal prosecutors the additional tools necessary to combat corruption, and prohibit lobbyists who fail to properly register and disclose their activities from engaging in federal lobbying activities for a period of two years.

All fine. Won’t change too much, but all fine.

None of this stuff would do the slightest amount to fix corruption in politics and money in campaigns. It’s interesting that nothing in here is said about term limits, which would be the single most effective way to make sure that the people we send to Washington don’t become DC lifers trading in influence and schmoozing with money-men. And nothing at all is said about the fact that people with money feel the need to waste it on buying politicians rather than investing it in their businesses. In some industries, maybe government is business, but for most they didn’t come by this corruption intentionally.

And it’s interesting that nobody at Represent.us seems to care about getting politics out of money. Which is the only real way to accomplish the reverse.



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