Who Gets To “Influence” Those Who Hold Office?

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

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Following the Preamble, The Constitution went on to state what was the law of the land, even to the inclusion of how it might be changed.  Rather quickly, they went about to make some amendments, particularly concerned about protecting the rights of individual citizens.  While it is a profoundly marvelous document, it is the work of human beings, so perhaps perfection should not be presumed to be an automatic quality.  For in spite of its lofty principles, it didn’t address matters of contributions to political campaigns–considered by many to be influence buying.  The act of buying influence implies it is for sale.  And influence peddling is by definition, an illegal practice.

But they did recognize that if religious groups were allowed to attain government authority and power to assert their way of worship become law, there would be no freedom of religion, or freedom of thought or expression of thought, therefore no freedom.  So, those concerns were addressed specifically in the very first amendment they ever made.

Just as there is good reason to have a separation of church and state, there should also be a separation of state, and those who can afford to buy its influence.  Some suggest we not allow corporations to donate money towards political campaigns.  Those who hold to that opinion tend to believe such contributions constitute bribery.  But why just corporations?  What about partnerships or individuals?  If it is in fact bribery, why should we allow anybody to do it?  To bring about change will require serious campaign finance reform.

So should we build some kind of legal wall between the pocketbooks of office seekers and the pocketbooks of office buyers?  Maybe we should.  But we’ll never accomplish that wall as long as it is legal for anybody to “donate (bribe)” money to legislators.  Right now, we allow the very people who accept the money, those who have willingly and knowingly sold their influence, to determine the extent and the legality of this practice.   Just thinking it to be immoral or even unconscionable changes nothing.  Right now, it is the way things are.

If you really want to change it, here’s what might have to be done:

1.)  Make public funding available for political debates, and other forums where candidates the people would wish to nominate can state their position.  Such as that is doable, and much cheaper than the way it is done now;

2.)  Make it a felonious criminal offense to provide private funds or gifts of value to any officeholder or candidate for such, because doing so constitutes the intent to purchase their influence.  Also, any individual, business or corporation that conducts business in a certain way at the request of an officeholder that shall be construed to be a benefit to “friends” of the officeholder, shall have their actions be officially seen as the equivalent of offering a bribe, *

3.)  Punishment should be stern for both those who offer money as well as those who accept it.  A prison sentence for all guilty parties should not be for any duration less than the term of the office in question, and that any and all monies offered shall not be returned to the giver, but instead, turned over to the treasury of the governance under which the particular office was to serve (this could be beneficial to school boards in poorer rural counties),

4.)  Any person convicted of offering or receiving what should be considered a bribe, shall be barred for life from seeking or holding any sacred trust of public office, and as convicted felons, be relieved permanently of their right to vote regardless of any time served in prison for their offense,

5.)  Any candidate, members of the candidate’s staff, or media organization that willingly and knowingly presents to the public any false or intentionally misleading statement intending to wrongfully affect the outcome of the election, shall face criminal perjury charges, and if convicted of such, be fully liable for damages that could be incurred by incumbents, other candidates seeking office, or the public at large,

6.  Adopt and enforce a flat fair tax, without exceptions or exemptions or loopholes for any persons or groups of people for any reason whatsoever.  This takes the demographic tax break games completely and forever off the table.  Make it a constitutional amendment allowing for no alteration that would be interpreted to be a respecter of persons or groups of persons by or for any discriminatory reason or measure.

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*  It should still be legal for corporations, professional and trade associations, labor unions, and any other group of concerned citizens to partition and lobby in order to get the attention of an elected official. They should be free to state their reason for requesting an audience, but not allowed to contribute to anybody or anything that would be either a direct or indirect benefit to the officeholder or candidate for office.

How can we get politicians to ever agree to this?  What if they knew nobody would vote for them if they didn’t?  Now, you go figure out a way to convince the pubic at large that they even have that kind of power.  If you’d like, you can form committees to amend what I’ve proposed.  But considering the likelihood of compromise, it’s possible that in a fairly reasonable amount of time, we could come up with an alternate plan that will be not one whit better than the dysfunctional system we already have.  And that might be the almost guaranteed outcome if we turn everything over to the wolves who currently “guard” the smokehouse.

Oh, by the way, since what I’ve proposed would be a radical move away from the status quo, and suggests what I believe would be a progressive change for the better, whether you, me, or anybody else likes it or not, it is a liberal proposition.  But the “liberals” won’t like it, and neither will the “conservatives”.  I don’t care.  Most of them aren’t even very clear about what those terms mean, anyway.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by little d on September 1, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    VT, I’ve always thought the reasons the Constitution did not address what you have identified, was that the influence of Money was already at work. Perhaps Money, or the organizational monopolies of it, were exercising emerging deployment as the vehicle of influence among the consolidations of young Democracies and Republics, in either paper, gold, or silver.

    I understand that this vehicle had already been used to gain influence and thus a form of control over existing Monarchy’s of the day by funding the imperial expansions that may have been sought, or for the finance of preexisting debts. In my opinion, these prominent Men history recorded as our Founding Fathers could neither have been ignorant to the importance of money nor to the detriment of its control.

    I think once a determination of currency is made and established as such, influence upon a Govt function or the actions of whom may hold its offices is guaranteed. The Populace may or may not vote in or out its office holders due to a candidates present position or their past actions, but influence otherwise is secondary, as I think it was intended to be.

    The illusion of influence remains intact when a Populaces concerns and desires can be identified through its Govt functions. However, as we are observing now, when those identified Govt actions are contrary to a Populaces position, the illusion is shattered and the truth of control is again identified as Money, as its was all along.

    The consolidation of Wealth into the upper classes of People is the result of a system construed to allow it while not openly alerting the other classes of People to what has happened or to the downstream results. I’m sure during that last 50 years or so, there were many who held to the illusion of influence by voting, while what they received for their participation was not at all in their favor. These discrepancies have become a theater of political discourse where the shredding of any avenue of certainty as to what had happened or not is housed.

    Progressive ideology of late has as its greatest successful example, the progression of the consolidation of wealth. While at the same time this success has funded widespread propaganda successfully attacking Progressives. Amazingly, progressive laws can be purchased by one class while being progressive is being discredited by the same class enjoying its benefits.

    The ole Golden Rule rules on. A guilty conscious never sleeps.

    Press On VT

    little d

    Reply

  2. I am also opposed to the insane amount of money that is spent on political campaigns. If we use all of the money that is raised for campaigns and spend it on, oh, I don’t know, helping to feed the hungry, house the homeless, job training, education….. Plus, I would love a law that prevents campaigns from sending me 50,000 emails!!! Nice essay Van!

    Reply

  3. Hi Van,
    I found your post very interesting as I am currently in the process of writing a paper on ‘Corporate Political Activity’ in Australia. It is always pleasing to see fellow bloggers concerned about political contributions from the private sector. I enjoyed reading your post have a few questions.
    Firstly, I am curious if you would deem it appropriate to iillegalise contributions from union groups as well as corporations? The state of New South Wales attempted to enforce a law to bring about such a policy in 2012, but was meet with much criticism. Many officials believed that union groups play an important role in representing minority groups and thus should have an influence in politics.

    My Second question is whether or not you believe a ban on political donations would have any effect in reducing/eliminating corporate influence on the political system. I say this because there are numerous avenues/strategies that private companies can use to influence the government aside from direct donations to political parties. These strategies include:
    – Donations to associated entities of political parties (sometimes it can be difficult to determine what constitutes an associated entity and thus banning them would be difficult).
    – Donations to political think tanks (In the U.S as well as Australia, left and right wing think tanks, which assist in formulating government policy, are privately funded. Mostly by large corporations).
    – Indirect contributions, e.g media companies supporting a particular party (In Australia, media outlets owned by Rupert Murdock came under heavy criticism for openly favouring the Liberal party over Labour

    An example in the U.S would be the media blackout of Ron Paul during the last election).

    What is your opinion on these issues and how would you seek to control the many strategies that private companies use to influence government?

    Reply

    • Posted by thevanbrown on September 23, 2013 at 1:02 pm

      If a politician asks for my financial support, and I refuse, what is the likelihood that he might favor my competitors over me in some future action?

      If I give money to a politician, and he accepts it, what is the likelihood that he might favor me over my competitors in some future action?

      If the likelihood of either exists, then motivations could be determined as coercions, and bribes, couldn’t it? So, technically, if some unethical business is afoot, why should we allow anyone to give money to politicians–corporations, partnerships, sole proprietors, unions, or professional and trade associations?

      Should these groups have access to the ears? Yes, absolutely. Should they have to pay for it? Or a better question is should they be ALLOWED to pay for it? I say no.

      But it does bring up the question of reprisals. If my competitor and I both refuse to donate, might not our industry itself fall into political disfavor? What about the interests of workers in our industry? They may band together to collectively bargain with employers, but also seek the ear of governance? If their employers can have that ear, should they not as well?

      As for research groups and think tanks having influence, or assisting in forming policy, you are correct. But their power and influence might become significantly less if the flow of money between interested third parties and the politicians themselves were to dry up.

      Frankly, I wish a lot of them would, especially those who exist to positions established by dogma, and by any means possible truthfully or otherwise. And that includes a lot of “survey” groups who call people asking if the political opponent of the day still beats his wife and children.

      I believe in and support freedom of speech. But that should not be a license to deceive the public with lies, half truths and innuendos, should it? You mentioned Rupert Murdock. I was not aware of him being in the news business, though he does have a lot of money in media. Rupert is in the social control through perception management business, and is paid well by sponsors who will benefit financially on that social control.

      Lastly, how would I seek to control the many strategies, not just by corporations, but by anyone attempting to buy the government’s prejudicial favors? I would want to see it illegal for anyone to give them so much as a penny, but I don’t know that we are going to ever do that. People are fearful, and that allows for dominators to control them. They fear the things their favorite bully offers to protect them from, which is whatever the opposing bullies will or won’t do. Additionally, and to a huge degree, the people are also very afraid of what would happen if they actually said “NO” to their own pet bullies.

      The politicians, corporations, unions and associations may all have an agenda disconnected from each other, but at every point where they do intersect, money is involved. And it is always involved presumed to represent leverage. The leverage is to improve their chances with things they value. Unfortunately, in that arena, there is little value of integrity, as it has been replaced with a value of power–and the power can be bought and sold.

      Reply

      • I am happy we share similar views on the subject.
        Personally I believe that when it comes to ‘corporate political activity’ (CPA), sunlight is the best disinfectant. The first step towards bringing a change to the current system lies with presenting empirical evidence on the financial and non financial benefits/advantages that a company receives from political contributions. The CPA research field is currently lacking such data (Lawton et al. 2013).
        Reis et al. (2012) did a interesting journal on CPA in Brazil. They conducted research to determine if there was a link between companies that contribute to political parties and companies that were awarded contracts by the government. Their results showed that a connection between the groups was present. For my own research paper, I am applying this study to Australia with a few alterations (including regression models and more econometrics). Check out my blog if you are interested. The paper is set to be complete in a few weeks and I will publish the findings on my blog.

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