Saturday, January 28, 2012

Funding a Political Cause II: The Ineffectiveness of Campaign Reform


I am starting this year - a campaign year - by looking at the issue of making effective political change.

What came before:

Post 1: I argued that to make political change it isn’t enough to come to the table with conclusions backed by solid evidence and sound reason. The leaders of the organization need to come to the table with resources – with cash and votes – that it is willing to and able to mobilize in defense of the position it advocates. Without these resources, the strength of the arguments is irrelevant.

Post 2: Regarding the "money" component, a successful secular organization needs to create a political package it can sell to "the top 10%". The top 10% have almost all of the disposable money that can be spent on a campaign. The money the organization brings to the table almost has to come from them.

Today’s post:

Those who have money to bring to the table cannot be stopped from using it to obtain their objectives.

A whole family of political tactics that people often try to promote is to try to block those with money from bringing it to and using it at the political table. They seek all sorts of restrictions on who can spend what in a political campaign to achieve this goal.

I find these maneuvers to be foolish. At best, they create a room full of smoke to hide political connections, where people then pretend that the relationships they can no longer see do not exist.

Allow me pretend for a moment that I am somebody with a lot of money, and I have a few political causes that I am interested in.

In all but a few very rare circumstances, my money will get me into the door for a personal meeting with any candidate for office. I already have something that the rest of you do not have. I have one of the two commodities that one must bring to the table. The candidate knows this. The candidate also knows that nothing can prevent me from putting those resources to use in the campaign.

Assume that I want a candidate in office that will support policies A, B, and C. It does not matter what they are. They could be selfish. They could be noble. Whether they are an interest in fighting AIDS in Africa or removing regulations that prevent my factory from poisoning the air downwind, these are my interests.

I meet with the candidate and I make it clear that these issues are important to me. There's nothing wrong with that, right? I'm a private citizen. I meet with my representative. I tell her what my concerns are. She knows I have money to put into addressing those concerns. She knows that the money can enter the political arena on her side, or on her opponent's side, depending on how she answers my questions.

I am not talking about some vicious, corrupt politician. She has her own agenda - issues C, D, and E. We may even share some common interests. By giving me what I want on those concerns we do not share, she can bring my money into the political arena on her side - helping her to promote her interests. Again, these need not be selfish or vicious interests. They are hers.

Let's assume that the law prevents me contributing more than $2000 to her campaign. Let us further assume that I am also prevented from contributing more than $2000 to any organization (political action committee) that directly supports or campaign or directly challenges her opponents.

I answer that with the shrug.

The candidate I favor might be a vocal proponent of campaign reform. She knows it will have no effect. She knows that she will still accept my request for a meeting because she knows that no campaign reform law will prevent my money from either helping or hurting her campaign. However, being in favor of campaign reform might win the votes of those deluded enough to think it has power, so why not be in favor?

I know that the candidate's personal agenda includes issues C, D, and E. My options include making contributions to the National Association of D, and the American E Society. I don't have to announce into the hidden microphone, "If you support my issues, I will contribute to yours." It is understood.

Is this going to be prohibited? If my candidate has parents with cancer, am I to be banned from giving money to the American Cancer Society? You would have to ban these types of contributions if you want to prevent me from using my money to influence my preferred candidate.

It is also the case that I pay attention to the news. The news tells me that some issue F is becoming a campaign issue. Let us assume it is the construction of a pipeline. My candidate comes out against the pipeline for environmental reasons. Her opponent comes out in favor because "creates jobs".

It's time for me to make a sizable cash contribution to whatever local chapter of whatever organization exists that is opposing the pipeline. They will put that money to work in an "education" campaign that will unavoidably challenge the arguments that my candidate's opponent is using to defend the pipeline: "It will not create that many jobs" and "Pipeline jobs will come at the expense of jobs in the tourist industry, or at the expense of a company that constructs windmills or builds solar cells."

Of course, I am not going to call the candidate and arrange a deal. When I meet her at a fundraising dinner a few weeks from now I might mention my contributions. It will be only natural that she will want to do a favor for me, given that I have done a favor for her. And, again, she knows that my money goes to aid of whatever candidate listens and responds appropriately to my concerns.

As a wealthy person, we may assume that I am a member of several local organizations. Many other members are my friends - we work together. I can solicit an opportunity for my preferred candidate to come to speak before the orgganization. After the speeches, when we meet for drinks afterward, she will have the opportunity to shake hands, pocket checks, and make appointments to address other groups at other times.

I discussed something similar to this regarding the presidential candidacy of Rick Perry. He organized an evangelical gathering in April of last year to ask for God's help for a nation in crisis in front of 20,000 religious conventioneers.

We know that Perry did not do all of the work organizing this meeting himself. We also know that he used it as a campaign tactic - to gather evangelicals and to try to get their support for a Presidential election bid.

While we are assuming that I am a wealthy person interested in influencing a (potential) candidate, we may assume that I have connections. I know people who are good at organizing events and executing them. Everything from catering to booking locations to arranging travel - I have experts in all of these fields. I direct them to help with the arrangements, and I give the assistant an unlimited expense account. There is going to be a ton of things he can do to promote the gathering that will not count as a direct political contribution to the candidate.

This series of posts is about how a secular organization can make a positive political contribution - make the world a better place. A part of doing this requires understanding and respecting how the real world works. In my last post I argued that the effective organization needs to create and package a political product it can sell to the top 10%. A lot of people think that it is a viable strategy not to seek to bring more money to the table, but to prevent (by law) "them" from bringing money to the table. They call it "leveling the playing field".

It's not going to happen - at least not that way. That money is coming to the table by one route or another. The politically effective secular organization must live and work in the real world. It may not like reality, but it would be to its advantage to respect reality.

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