Sunday, February 01, 2015

The right of nomination has been captured by the top 0.05%

Worried about big money in politics? Me, too. In the last few months, I've found hope in the, a project founded by Larry Lessig, and touted as a SuperPAC to end all superPACs.

What is a SuperPAC and why are they a problem? provides a synopsis:
"Super PACs are a new kind of political action committee created in July 2010 following the outcome of a federal court case known as v. Federal Election Commission.
"Technically known as independent expenditure-only committees, Super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. Super PACs must, however, report their donors to the Federal Election Commission on a monthly or quarterly basis -- the Super PAC's choice -- as a traditional PAC would. Unlike traditional PACs, Super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates."
SuperPACs have received more than $689 million as of January 31st, 2015, and report that in the 2014 election cycle, they spent $348 million. SuperPACs can act as a hidden hand in elections due to their indirect action permitted in campaign advertising. Fortunately, they must report their donors to the Federal Election Commission. Note that this doesn't even account for all that dark money out there. Money that is not accounted for or traced to a particular donor.

Larry Lessig stars in this great video by the Nantucket Project that explains what happened to our system of elections as a result of a flood of money in politics in recent years. The takeaway? In 2012, 132 people contributed at least 60% of the superPAC money in that election cycle.

What is all that money being used for? It is being used to secure the right of nomination. Lessig mentions a fascinating quote in the video:
"I don't care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating." --- William M. Tweed
Mr. Tweed is a man synonymous with the corrupting influence of money, so it would seem appropriate to mention him here. As early as the 1850s, he made it clear that securing the right of nomination is more important than winning the election. If you have control of who gets nominated in all parties, then it doesn't matter who gets elected. The winner will still do your bidding.

This is how important it is to get big money out of politics. When 132 people in the entire United States have secured to themselves the right of nomination in national politics, we no longer have a democracy, we have an oligarchy. These people are whom we might call, the "relevant funders", and all other funders are secondary, with limited or zero access to their candidate after the election.

Let's consider the ramifications of this kind of power. 132 people get to decide the scope of the debate, any debate, in the discourse of national politics. Anyone who ventures outside of that scope will be denied funding, unable to get a chance to run or, if they do run, their chances of success are significantly diminished. Since these 132 people have effective control of the right to nominate at the national level, they get to decide who runs and the rest of us get to vote for their choices. It is worth considering this concentration of power as one of the primary reasons why 3rd parties find it difficult if not impossible to get elected to national office. If your party is Green, LIbertarian or Pirate, you don't stand a chance unless this system changes.

When only 132 people have secured the right to nominate, true reform in any field of law is but a dream. But the real tragedy is that such a concentration of power means that any mention of it is forbidden on national and local news if you want to run for office. You just won't hear about it on the talking head shows that air every Sunday morning. So I don't expect to see Professor Lessig on any of those shows, but I am certain that it would be one fascinating moment in history if this story were aired on says, 60 Minutes or on Meet the Press.

True reform of government must start with campaign finance reform. There is no other way to accomplish the restoration of our democracy until campaign finance reform is complete. This issue is so fundamental, and is so large, that most people don't even see it. That's why I'm writing about it here. I see plenty of room for reform of government, but until we can change the incentives for our politicians, reform will remain out of reach.

There are now several websites that offer education, guidance and news about efforts to institute fundamental campaign finance reform:
Friends of Democracy

I'm sure there are many more as these are the just the few that I've found. This is a growing movement, one that I'm confident will turn out to be about as big or bigger than the Civil Rights or Women's Suffrage Movements of past generations. This issue affects all political parties, affiliations, ideologies, it is an equal opportunity victimizer.

Until we get this issue of campaign finance reform worked out, everything else in public policy, and I mean everything, from inequality to wars we have no business being in, will not change until we can take big money out of politics. For if only 132 people have the right of nomination, then everyone else has taxation without representation. This is what The Founding Fathers fought against. It is up to us to remain vigilant, to ensure that our children do not have to take up that same fight, again.
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