A correspondent sent along a copy of a study prepared by the League of Women Voters having to do with the problem of money in politics.
It’s a forty-seven page document described as a Primer for League members and others interested in becoming active in the effort to curb the evils associated with big money campaign financing.
There is certainly no doubt that politics in America today is all about money. Money gets people elected . Money buys the loyalty and favoritism of the politicians it elects. Money, it is said, is the Mother’s Milk of politics.
I have described the relationship between the lobbyists who infest K street and the members of Congress as akin to a river of raw sewage. It stinks to high heaven.
Harvard Professor Larry Lessig described it as a ‘gift economy.’ It is, he concedes, a crime to buy or offer to buy the votes of a member of Congress. It is not a crime however, to donate to their campaigns or help to raise campaign funds.
And if you are a friend of a Congressman, you can take him to a ball game. Or the Super Bowl. Or the Masters.
The League of Women Voters primer doesn’t address the gift economy. Rather it focuses on the direct financing of political advocacy by corporations, which the Supreme Court declared to be their constitutional right in the case of Citizens United v The Federal Election Commission.
Sadly, the ladies are off on a dead end street. The problem with money in politics cannot be solved with bureaucratic regulation, and public financing would be an abomination that would be controlled by incumbents for their own benefit.
The problem with money in politics is simply that we have allowed constituencies to become bloated. The Founders wanted Congressmen to represent 50,000 people from their home communities. Power hungry politicians have swollen their districts to over 750,000.
Of course it takes a lot of money to communicate with that many people. The 17th Amendment did the same thing for Senators. Instead of seeking the votes of a roomful of state legislators, they now run in state wide election campaigns costing millions of dollars.
Unhappily, the ladies do not seem to realize that politics is nothing more than civilized warfare. You can no more control the amount of money spent on elections than you can control the number of speeches a candidate can give or the number of volunteers he can recruit.
Citizens United was correctly decided, but for the wrong reasons. The Court should have held the ban on corporate campaign expenditure unconstitutional because political advocacy is not interstate commerce. The Constitution does not authorize Congress to regulate campaign financing.
Corporations are artificial persons, created by State law. The States have always had the power to restrict what corporations can spend their money on. The Supreme Court interfered with State authority under the Tenth Amendment to define the powers and duties of the corporations they charter.
Just another reason why we need a non-partisan Supreme Court.