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The tide of plutocracy is moving further and further inland.  Over the last period of time they've changed a bit in this or that place, which has given the wealthy stronger control there.  With that greater control it's been possible to make more changes.  Each step gives them more leverage to move to the next level.  Today, there's gerrymandering, voter intimidation, harder voter registration, long lines to vote in certain communities, changed campaign finance rules, etc.  We can't afford to oppose this tide with only the current methods and levels of appeals to the public.

We need to develop the best narratives for presenting our case.  Let me say how I've tried to emphasize the threat of the changed campaign spending rules, and anyone who has another narrative should share it.

Imagine a public candidates debate.  The rules for this debate gives each candidate a different amount of time to speak depending on how much money has been collected or has otherwise been spent promoting the candidate.  It doesn't matter whether the money has gone to the candidate's official campaign committee or whether it's been used by independent groups to help get the particular candidate elected.  A candidate whose campaign has been helped by a lot of spending by billionaires may get to speak twice as long during the debate as other candidates.  Is that fair?

No, candidate debates do not (yet) tend to be done this way.  However, candidate debates only make up a tiny fraction of the entire campaign season.  And campaign ads can help to predispose voters to one candidate or the other before the candidates debate takes place.  And campaign ads can be used to promote misinterpretations of what was said at candidate debates during the time between the debate and the election.  So, if the rest of the campaign season allows whoever has the most billionaire money to have the most campaign ads and other campaign activities, the result can be even worse than the kind of debate described above.

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If contributing money to place campaign ads to improve the chances a certain candidate is elected is "free speech" - how can we buy campaign ads with non-monetary free speech?

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They're arguing that the only inappropriate role of money in politics is giving money in exchange for specific actions by an elected official.  Consider the implications of that.  Suppose a businessman gives a politician a bag full of money with a note saying he'd like the politician to cut business tax rates.  Should this be considered illegal bribery if the businessman and the politician don't sign a contract which requires the politician to return the money if he doesn't use his political office to help cut business taxes?  Without a contract or other legal means to make the politician give back the money, the politician is free to keep the money but not take any action.  One could argue that the politician's choice to cut business taxes was therefore not an exchange of this for that.  However, he does have the obvious motivation that he knows that if he does what the businessman wants this time, it's likely there will be more bags of money in the future.  What if the businessman gives the politician a bag full of money and simply says, "You know what my business is.  You can figure out what legislation would be good for me.  If I like what you're doing there will be more where this came from."  The businessman hasn't asked for specific legislation.  Based on what the businessman said, the politician could expect to get more bags of money even if the way in which he helps the businessman is not the way the businessman had imagined it.  Perhaps, the businessman was thinking of lower business taxes, but the politician instead gives his company a government subsidy.  The politician will still get more money.

So, what is a bribe?  Might a cushy job as an elected official with lots of perks and being a celebrity of sorts be a sort of bribe?  While campaign spending might not guarantee a candidate will win the election, a candidate can figure it can help his chances of getting that cushy job.  And every few years the politicians would find it useful for the same contributor to help in his re-election.

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The latest Supreme Court ruling on campaign finances allows the wealthy to contribute to an unlimited number of pro-business candidates running for offices in places that wealthy individual doesn't live.  That is, he gets to exert influence on who will "represent" other communities of which he isn't a member.  Perhaps, that begs a question.  These very same wealthy people may have several houses in various states and cities.  Will the next step be to allow the wealthy to vote multiple times in each of the locations in which they own property?  If they can try to tilt the balance in elections in places where they've never even visited, why not vote in every place they have a vacation home?

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Even if one does view giving money to help get a candidate elected as "speech", that by itself doesn't mean it's protected as "free speech".  The very same people who would claim money is speech which can't be controlled by law would also claim Edward Snowdon should be locked up for the rest of his life for the crime of telling people what he found out.  (From their point of view, Snowdon's crimes are not merely that he provided documents to prove what he said was true.  Even if he only verbally described what he had seen they would consider that to be speech which was not protected by the Bill of Rights.)  Libel and slander are not protected by the Bill of Rights.  A threat to kill someone isn't legal "free speech".  You can be penalized for breaking a non-disclosure agreement - the Right of Free Speech does not make all NDA's null and void.  The First Amendment doesn't explicitly state these exceptions to free speech, but they are legal facts.  The fact the First Amendment doesn't explicitly state a limit on campaign money as "free speech" doesn't mean the Amendment means there can be no limits.

Since the "bribe" of the cushy job can cause harm to the nation, there is reason to place limits on the money whether or not it is "speech".

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The fact is, businesspeople would have an unfair advantage in influencing voter attitudes even outside of bribery and campaign spending.  An employer can always present the boss' perspective to a captive audience of employees with signs on the workplace walls, in mandatory meetings with employees, in company newsletters, etc.  Store owners also have an opportunity to impress their views on shoppers while consumers are trying to get necessities for their families.  The major media is owned by big business.  Even if a media corporation doesn't make a conscious effort to present a biased viewpoint, a corporate bias can result in any case.  The owners want managers who do everything possible to maximize profits.  Some of the ways corporations want to increase profits involve government policies.  So, the owners will tend to prefer managers who are strong believers in pro-business government policies.  This can consciously or unconsciously make them see pro-business job applicants, media content, etc. as "higher quality", "reasonable", or "a good fit for the company".  Clearly, this doesn't always result in pro-business content, but there may be far more pro-business content than there would have been otherwise.

Adding big campaign spending to this makes things worse.

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As time passes, our election results will have less and less to do with the real wishes of the majority.  If you've already given up on elections and having meaningful influence with elected officials, you may not be concerned about an approaching point of no return for the electoral system.  Perhaps, then you see spending time trying to fix these laws as of little importance.  However, if you haven't given up yet, you need to be asking what the politicians you've been voting for are doing about this crisis.  Sure, some of them have probably said some pretty words about it.  But what are they doing?

Before it gets even later than it is already, you should be insisting those who claim to oppose the anti-democracy tide to take action.  They could try hitting big business where it hurts.  Refuse to approve the next Pentagon budget until legislative action is taken to protect democracy.  We don't need a vast Pentagon to protect an undemocratic plutocracy.  Too extreme?  Refuse to renew government subsidies for big business until truly fair elections are protected.  Why give money to big businesses so they can spend that money buying even more politicians?  There are various kinds of government assistance to the rich which could be treated as unacceptable until fair elections are restored.

Can't find elected officials who will take a stand, stick to their guns and act for the most essential issue of all - democracy?  Then it's time to find others who will.  The clock is ticking.  Soon it will be too late.

Originally posted to workingwords on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 12:16 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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