Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mitt The Ripper

Ever since the infamous Supreme Court "Citizens United" decision, Stephen Colbert has been engaged in a piece of long-running, high-concept political theater - creating his own flagrantly-corrupt "SuperPAC" to raise money for his own not-at-all-directly-coordinated political career - to point out the absurd possibilities of the new campaign laws.

As of last week, the performance has entered a new act: Colbert will run for president in the South Carolina Republican primary, while an "unaffiliated" party - Jon Stewart - will take over Colbert SuperPAC, making it "legal" for the SuperPAC's funds to be spent on Colbert's campaign... a legal manuver that required only ONE document to be signed. The point, of course, is to point out how simple it would be for a REAL campaign to pull the same basic shennanigans.

In any case, "Colbert SuperPAC" has released it's first ad, targeted at Colbert's "opponent" Mitt Romney, that joins in the chorus continuing to slap Romeny around for the "corporations are people" line: If Mitt thinks corporations are people, argues the ad, his time as a Venture Capitalist (read: corporate raider) makes him a serial killer:

35 comments:

Chris said...

Live by campaign finance laws, get satirized using campaign finance laws.

If you want change, sometimes you have to rub the dogs nose in the mess he left on the carpet.

Jake said...

While I understand some of the concerns of anti-"Citizens United" people, there are some discrepancies in logic. If people as individuals have rights, then why should they lose them if they form a group?

Plus before Citizens United, we already had corporations giving money to political causes, newspapers. If all corporations get the boot but newspapers get a pass, that's clearly selective rights, like the situation with gay marriage and is not how our system functions.

Also, you have to understand the initial complaint that started the case, Citizens United had there film censored by the government, can anyone here really get behind that?

Jake said...

One more thing, if a corporation is a "legal person" (not a human being) then that gives people the right to sue corporations. I don't know how people would sue corporations for damages without them having some kind of legal personhood.

Anonymous said...

@Jake: "why should they lose [their rights] if they form a group?"

Corporations miss most characteristics of humans, which makes them psychopaths according to the DSM-IV. However, they cannot die.

Anyway, false comparison, there is a bunch of things "people in a group" can't do, that does not affect their rights as persons.

Anonymous said...

@Jake: You would the people with the money. Which is exactly the reason why they want to have corporations.

Imagine you could fill out a form and be immune to any law suits, civil or criminal, for any action you do. Wouldn't that be nice?

Anonymous said...

"There is a bunch of things "people in a group" can't do."

Actually, wrong, but doing anything in a group should not take away their personal responsibility.

Jake said...

@anonymous #1
Bankruptcy I would think is the closest equivalent of death (at least it's likely to lead to it's downfall) for a corporation.

"You would the people with the money."

What?

The sentence or so after that I assume you are referring to limited liability? I think you misunderstand the concept. Because a corporation is multiple people, obviously there will be people who own or invested in the company who would be innocent in whatever happened, so they shouldn't be held to account. Though he probably won't receive anymore dividends. If one man conducts insider trading, and is caught, then he will have to answer for it as an individual.

Mads said...

@ Jake
"
While I understand some of the concerns of anti-"Citizens United" people, there are some discrepancies in logic. If people as individuals have rights, then why should they lose them if they form a group?
"

They don't. They don't lose them if they form a corporation either.

But a corporation is an abstract entity. It is not you, in any way. It is something outside of you. A specific, abstract enterprise.

Such an enterprise may be run, when it is a corporation, under laws that exempt it from a ton of things. Personal liability for instance.

If you run a corporation, you loan money in it, and your corporation can't pay the money back, it may file for bankruptcy, and your involvement in the enterprise may be terminated, with no liability falling back onto you for the loan.

That's what a corporation is: A way to limit and exempt certain enterprises from peoples personal finances and lives.

It has nothing to do with forming a group. That's not the point. The point of corporations is to dodge individual responsibility, and have the enterprise be a thing onto itself. This is the entire idea behind free enterprise: So long as the people investing in your enterprise do so of their own volition, and under the terms they stipulate in regards to returns, if the enterprise doesn't pay off, then you're still off the hook. The idea is that they invest in the enterprise, rather than in the person.

Anyway, limiting free enterprise from being enterprise of the political system is actually a really good idea: There's no reason any corporation of any kind should be able to have any influence at all on politics. If people want personal influence, let them seek personal influence, but let them do so as their own persons, rather than through abstract enterprises

If they can find some way in which political influence is a boon for an abstract enterprise, then it is always going to be through having the government or gubernatorial entities creating a demand that isn't currently there, and then capitalizing on that demand. That's never going to be a free market, because then it would be in nobody's interest to get said influence for the sake of a corporation.

It's a fundamentally flawed proposition because whenever corporations want influence and get it, it necessarily results in monopolizing or skewing certain markets such that they're not actually free.

Only if influence is seeked by non-enterprises - by people - would changes leading to new markets actually be free, because then there would be no vested interest in the markets, because the people (who are all even) would be going for it, not enterprises (who already have prior vested economical interests to even begin to care, because that is the only thing corporations can legally care about).

It's really simple, and it's not a problem at all. If people want changes, and want to support politics, they can simply group together as non-corporate entities and do whatever. So long as the money is always sourced from individuals, it's fine.

Jake said...

@Mads
While I may reply to your other arguments when I have more time and knowledge, I will say this, your comment seemed thoughtful, more of which is certainly needed on the internet.

With that said, I want to go back to one of my points, if no for-profit corporation can spend on campaigns (for any reason), then you have to include newspapers who endorse candidates in their editorials. Since newspapers are undoubtedly for-profit corporations, and editorial staff members are paid employees, then stopping this would amount to censorship and the end of a free press.

Jake said...

Actually, forget Newspapers. Hell, CNN, MSNBC, FOX (I'm not a fan of it as they do fail at basic journalistic integrity) would not be allowed to have any kind of opinion based show at all if some of the commenters' proposals are taken to their logical conclusions. Again, this isn't just about corruption, it's about censorship, and having things apply equally to everyone.

Mads said...

You're correct. If corporations may not hold oppinions on politics...and if you forbid them spending money on politics, that's what it would amount to...then newspapers, television channels and other corporations that are in the business of dessiminating oppinions and news would find themselves without the ability to do so, if the corporations were the authors of said oppinions themselves, or paid for said oppinions....so long as those oppinions were about politics, obviously.

It's not unconstitutional, though...or at least, at certain points in time, it has actually been deemed constitutional. The fairness doctrin, for example, prohibited the dessimination of oppinions without counteroppinions, and in general, journalists could only ever present oppinions in such a fashion that the newspaper itself was neutral. This bond on expression clearly dissuaded newspapers from expressing oppinions, a chilling effect that would've been unconstitutional when applied to individuals, but for whatever reason wasn't deemed unconstitutional for corporations for a very long time.

Obviously, there must've been many papers which, during the fairness doctrin, did not adhere to it strictly. Whose editorial staff held oppinions and gave their stories a slant without being too overt about it. So you could say, a law prohibiting corporations from holding political oppinions, contributing to politics, or donating to political parties would always have a clear weakness, and allow some oppinion material through the holes, when legislation as stronghanded as the fairness doctrin was circumvented, in part, too.

But that's really besides the point: Even if ineffective, it wouldn't inhibit the free speech of individuals, because individuals could still express whatever they wanted on their own time. They couldn't ever receive payment for expressing their oppinions when talking about politics, aside from personal financial donations, or by selling their oppinions from person to person, rather than from person to corporation to person.

But, in the final calculus, prohibiting that specific fashion of dessiminating and creating oppinions doesn't hamper any individual from any expression he or she might make. You'd have to ensure that noone receiving payment from a newspaper or tv station could use either as a platform for their oppinions to eliminate loopholes, but said people could always publish their oppinions through a weblog, a personal newsletter, or newspapers they were not themselves associated with.

And, well, look, I'm advocating for a system like this, but the fact that a system like this could exist while still preserving the free speech of individuals illustrates that putting these kinds of legal chains on corporations does _not_, in fact, hinder individuals from expressing free speech. As such, even if we'll never get a system where corporations get their rights to free speech restricted as strongly as I would prefer, the court ruling is still ridiculous and illogical.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Mads

Hmmm... so, as long as they get paid with a personal check to express political opinions instead of a corporate payroll check, it's ok then?

Jake said...

@Mads
Yeah, they may be able to run a blog, but how many people would see it?

Also, what about corporations specifically setup to promote certain political views? Like the Sierra Club?

At this point, just admit it, you're ok with censorship.

Ryan said...

Mads, nice job being thoughtful, it's weird and admirable on the webs.

I agree that the legal status of corporations ought to be different from the legal status of people; one reason for this is that it creates free speech and equal protection issues; if I work for Microsoft and Microsoft uses the massive profits I help generate to donate to a candidate I don't personally approve of, who exactly does that donation represent? If it only represents the politics of the board or the CEO, why can't those people donate their OWN money?

When a business donates to a politician, it can't help but look like an investment, and that's not how our politics are supposed to work. And when corporations hire lobbyists or use lobbying consultants, why is it unreasonable to see that as a professional corruption?

Another sort of "group" is a nation-state, but we don't treat those as people (although you CAN sue them). And I can't imagine a candidate who'd been given huge amounts of money by, say, China wouldn't have to endure real suspicion about his or her motives.

Also, obviously, corporations are by definition profit-driven entities trying to maximize their profitability; it's their whole agenda. Thus, they by definition possess no civic virtue; they are purely selfish actors trying to get what benefits them. This might sound crazy to some of you, but that's not what government is supposed to be about.

Jake said...

I'm getting sick of people dogging the real issue, censorship.

@Ryan
The reason we don't ban corporations from donating to candidates who some workers don't support, is that it would be an example of overreach. In reality there is no such thing as a "non-profit" organization, "tax-exempt" would be more accurate, as all organizations need to make a profit in order to run.

Other than that I have to go to bed here are the best videos I found on the subject:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_e2L9_8t8Q&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLacYr_PYFc&feature=related

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Ryan

"if I work for Microsoft and Microsoft uses the massive profits I help generate to donate to a candidate I don't personally approve of, who exactly does that donation represent? If it only represents the politics of the board or the CEO, why can't those people donate their OWN money?"

It represents the shareholders of the corporation (and the CEO and board act on behalf of the shareholders). It's their money after all. Being a mere employee, you really have no more say in how the corporation should spend it's money politically than how it would spend it's money in any other way.

"Also, obviously, corporations are by definition profit-driven entities trying to maximize their profitability; it's their whole agenda. Thus, they by definition possess no civic virtue; they are purely selfish actors trying to get what benefits them."

....What of it? Since when was any one obliged to any sort of civic virtue?

"This might sound crazy to some of you, but that's not what government is supposed to be about."

I agree and disagree... Yes, I don't like the idea of corporations having as much influence in government as they do, but I'm certainly not willing to give up even the tiniest amount of freedom of speech to stop it.

Mads said...

@ People who applauded me for being serious on the internet:

Thanks! I also want to say that I respect those with different oppinions, and I can see how you would come to different conclusions about what's best for society. My oppinions on what's best are highly speculative. My oppinion on deriving the surpreme courts decision from the constitution, I think is much less speculative, but if you don't agree with me, at least you're in good company. The people on the US surpreme court are all brilliant in their own way.

@ The Almighty Narf:

"
Hmmm... so, as long as they get paid with a personal check to express political opinions instead of a corporate payroll check, it's ok then?
"
That's how I would prefer it, yes. The way I figure is, it's way less likely that corporate interests will ever have a risk of influencing politics, as per my above argument.

This would make politics the realm of what is good for individuals, rather than abstract, privately owned enterprises. This is always going to be a net good.

It doesn't mean you can't make corporation friendly politics; pretty much everybody in the US knows, on some level, that it's important to american corporations to remain competetive with chinese corporations or indian corporations, because that's good for all the individuals of the US.

But I want such legislation to come from the desire of US citizens to have better lives, not from corporate entities desire to increase the gain from their own specific enterprise.

It's not the main point I'm making, though. The main point I'm making is that the surpreme courts decision is made for factually wrong reasons: Even completely outlawing the ability of corporations to spend money on political oppinions would not constitute censorship.

"
Yeah, they may be able to run a blog, but how many people would see it?
"
I believe quite a few people read individual politicians twitter accounts, for example, and many politicians have personal blogs. Any speech brought by a newspaper without paying the author is also completely publishable: The production of the speech merely needs to be self-financed, or financed by entities taxed and held liable as though they are individuals (which means ultimately individuals will be liable).

"
Also, what about corporations specifically setup to promote certain political views? Like the Sierra Club?
"
Well, firstly, I think entities that are not actually businesses are distinct from ones that are. If an entity doesn't have a product, if it doesn't have a mission statement, then there's the first distinction. This would be a nonprofit of some type. The second one would be whether the business is an LLC, a partnership or one of those put up on a stock exchange.

Each type of abstract entity has certain legal exemptions compared to individuals, certain taxation advantages, and so forth. Getting into the specific rules I would propose for each one would be kindof hairy, especially since I'm by no means a business lawyer, and probably couldn't do a very good job.

continued belwo

Mads said...

What I will say is that I do not believe politics should be a tax exempt enterprise, and that only individuals and certain types of entities should have the right to express political views. In other words, if you can get a tax deduction for contributing to an entity, it must not put any of that money towards politics.

But if it is a non profit organisation, if the donations do not give the donators tax exemptions, and if the organisation has no income other than such donations...then I do think they can support the writing of political material however they want, because then it is a direct expression of individuals desires in politics, and not actually the desires of an abstract entity. But I want one caveat to this type of entity: If you donate or participate in this type of group, you can be held individually liable for what is said by the group, to some degree.

Libel laws are currently toothless because entities can express things even when they're not concrete individuals. That needs to stop: Free Speech is not liability free, nor is Anonymous Free Speech actually protected. If you have racist or other unprotected oppinions, and express these oppinions through donations to a racist movement, then you should not be able to dodge liability, as you currently are.

In other words: Free speech is a right given only to entities that are like individuals, and accept the same responsibilities we would expect of individuals. They're liable for what they say (and can go to jail for it), and they can't deduct time they spend oppinionating from their taxes. Corporations and most non-profits are exempt from these responsibilities, so they don't get to keep the same rights either. In fact, if someone somehow it willing to run his business through his person, rather than as an abstract enterprise, then I have no problem accepting that he's a person, and then he can use his money however he wants.

Of course, this would be almost impossible to do: You'd be at a massive disadvantage compared to the competition. But nowhere in the constitution are corporations right to free speech protected anyway, so legally, who cares!

"
At this point, just admit it, you're ok with censorship.
"
What do you mean by censorship? I assume you mean something that violates the free speech established by one or more of the US constitutional documents (the constitution, the amendments, the bill of rights, etc.)? Because I am most definitely not ok with law violating any of those.

Anyway, if the argument is so simple that I should just admit that what I propose violates anything in any of those documents, surely it is also so simple that you can point out that violation specifically with relative ease. If you can't, then I will admit no such thing, because I _do not_ believe what I've suggested violates any text of any paragraph of any constitutional document. You'll have to actually convince me otherwise, not just ask me to relent on my position =P

"
I'm getting sick of people dogging the real issue, censorship.
"
I've tried to confront the issue head on! I'll try to be more specific if you want! Just ask me the questions that concern you and I will answer them as briefly and directly as possible, you can ignore everything else I've written for all I care. I'm not trying to dogde it! Now I shall proceed to watch your videos.

@ Ryan

I agree with almost all of what you said.

Mads said...

whoops, forgot to mark up my post with an @Jake.

it's supposed to be right above

"
Yeah, they may be able to run a blog, but how many people would see it?
"

Sorry.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Mads

"The way I figure is, it's way less likely that corporate interests will ever have a risk of influencing politics, as per my above argument."

Or, corporations will just pay people under the table, was the point I was getting at. Ya know... the station manager gets given cash for "research" or whatever, and then they use that to pay editorial writers instead of paying them directly from payroll.

My point is that ultimately, money is fungible. Even if you could stop them from moving money like that in the US, you couldn't stop them from doing it outside the country. Corporations can pay whoever they want to, to do whatever they want to, and unless the act their getting paid for is in itself illegal, there really isn't anything that can be done to stop it. You can't charge a corporation from being an accomplice to political speech.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

Here's a better example for you: Fox News is a subsidiary of an Australian corporation... what if they just handled the payroll for editorial writers with-in Australia?

Ryan said...

This has been really clarifying for me. Narf, I think you're totally right about how hard it is to actually weed out corporate money, and Jake, I agree with you that censorship isn't good. What I think I worry about in the end is the very idea of businesses - as opposed to businessPEOPLE - donating money to politicians or creating nonprofit surrogates to lobby them. I don't think a business should be allowed to have an opinion, because I don't think a business is a person. If we limit campaign contributions from individuals, that ought to be it for how much any entity can donate.

I think nonprofits *are* distinct from for-profit corporations so long as they aren't run by them. Nobody I know at environmental advocacy groups or the ACLU thinks about their job or their organization the way employees and shareholders of Texaco think about theirs.

I *do* think that politics should be about promoting the common good rather than jockeying for position based on personal or corporate interests.


And I agree that telling corporations they can't donate money to political campaigns, PACs, or advocacy groups, and that they can't hire lobbyists or lobbying firms or advocate for themselves politically at all would be a form of censorship.

And I think I'm good with it.

My view is that this particular form of censorship is fine in the same way that banning people from shouting "fire" in a theater is fine; both present a danger to the public good, therefore both can be outlawed.

Not a majority opinion, I suspect, but I appreciate the help in getting to a clear sense of my own beliefs.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Ryan

The problem that Jake and I are trying to explain here, though, is that it's completely imposable to in any effective way censor corporations without censoring everyone. Any law that would apply to them would apply just as much to you or me.

You can't practically stop corporations from paying people to express political opinions... you would have to in some way ban to act of expressing political opinions itself.

I am not ok that... Hell, I'm outright sickened by the very idea.

Freedom of speech, especially when it comes to politics and government, needs to be absolute. Because giving the government any ability at all to censor political speech will be abused.

Mads said...

@Ryan:

I kindof understand how you can call it censorship: You're preventing a certain group of people from enlisting a service that produces speech of a specific kind, using specific tax-exempt means. Certain dollars can't be channeled into certain speech, therefore such a law would prevent speech that would have otherwise existed, therefore the establishment of such a law would be censorship.

That point of view requires that the establishment of any law which would prevent speech that would have otherwise existed, would, in the final calculus, be a kind of censorship.

Disregarding obvious examples such as laws prohibiting racism, or laws of copyright, heck even the tax code probably leaves people with fewer means thusly letting them donate less money to political causes they support...lets take the example of arts programmes. You could never cut one, because it would mean speech that would have otherwise existed now wouldn't, and therefore the cutting of such a program by law would amount to censorship.

So. Even if I understand why you _can_ call such a law censorship, I think the premise - the necessary distinction between censorship and non-censorship - results in a patently silly way of looking at the censorship concept, and renders it meaningless.

The only reasonable definition of censorship by law, I would argue, is law that inhibits the freedom of speech as it is established in the constitutional documents.

Mads said...

@ The Almighty Narf, two posts back.

That's actually a great example, and a great counterpoint. I generally don't believe small sized or even medium corporations (1000-2000 employees) are able to keep money under the table these days. Such money need to be held completely outside the eyes of the law. Noone can know about whatever discretionary fund is used for it.

The money for such things would need to be funelled - piggybacked - on the backs of legal transactions with foreign shell corporations. Any multinational corporation doing business in china could conceivably have some scheme set up for keeping exactly such a discretionary fund secret and fat. The money from such a fund could be funneled through the accounts of an american citizen into the accounts of a non-profit political organisation. He would be a strawman possessing a swiss bank account he inherited from his dead uncle, a secret millionaire.

And, your better example of putting the editorial writers in australia and paying them there, that's also very hairy. I don't have a good answer for you...I'm not sure one exists. An american company could buy a majority share of an australian one, push a massive amount of funds into it, then, the australian one could use that for writing editorials. In 3(? or 5? I don't know how long it is in australia) years of running a deficit that company would shut down, and a new one could be purchased, rinse and repeat. The australian companies would never sue fox for using material written there.

So your point is: What about loopholes. My counterpoint is: Yeah, loopholes suck. You'd need a weird "you have to see a loophole to know it" kindof law, where american corporations or subsidiaries who find and use loopsholes (as judged by a jury) to produce illegal speech can have their boardmembers and executive staff fired and imprisoned for being party to the manufacture of illegal propaganda.

Such laws aren't unheard of. Aiding in the spread of communism during the cold war by means of political speech would almost certainly get you charged and convicted with something or other. Another example of such loose legislation is the fair use law, which doesn't even have examples in the legislation, because it's meant to be unclear just what is covered.

I'm not happy about this solution, and I'm not happy that it would be possible to circumvent such legislation by going below the table. But I don't think that's any reason not to try for it, and I think that by preventing companies below a certain spread and size from attempting these things, a lot of good could be done. Even larger corps would be very vary of attempting any funny-business.

So yeah, I don't believe that stopping corporations from putting capital into politics is impossible at all; you can certainly stem the tide a great deal. And I believe you can also do that without ever trampling over the rights of any individual american citizen.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Mads

Ya know, I had spent a while today thinking of a fairly long winded counter-argument, but something occurred to me that kind'a throws the whole thing on it's head...

Art.

For instance, films are obviously a classic art and are protected as speech, right? Wrong. Films studios are corporations so any films they produce wouldn't be protected. Literature, though, is of course the very embodiment of speech and should be free to discuss any issue at all, right? Wrong. Book publishers are corporations so any books they commission wouldn't be protected as speech. But, games have fought for so long to gain recognition as speech, so surly they're protected. Wrong. Game developers are corporations so any games they make would be open for censorship.

And this isn't just any issue over whether they talk about politics or whatever... if they're not protected as free speech they can (and will) be censored for any reason at all. Painting, theater, film, music, literature, television, comics, sculpture, and of course, video games, would all be dead as commercial art forms. Anyone who manages to make enough money from their art that they have to incorporate (which I believe is more than $400 a year) would be subject to the whims of whoever feels like suing them because nothing they did would be protected as free speech. The sort of rampant censorship that could then take place would kill art in America.

So, ya... I would be completely and totaly opposed to removing freedom of speech from corporations.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

Here's another one I just thought of:

Education.

Private schools, colleges, universities... those are all businesses. Can you even imagine teachers not being granted freedom of speech?

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Mads said...

That's a really, really good argument. I mean, it could be made a bit more cleanly, but given where our discussion is, it's pretty much perfect. You "win", so to speak, I was wrong about a key conclusion I made before: The supreme court actually made the right decision.

I mean...you're not dealing with the nuances I'm trying to present my arguments with...but as I understand it, you're dealing with one of the more basic presumptions of my argument, such that you don't even have to get into that. That fundamental presumption would be this:

Corporations are not, ipso facto, in possession of the right to free speech.

You're taking it to the logical extreme: Well, if anything corporations make isn't protected speech, then the constitution allows it to be censored.

Even if that's not the regimen of prohibition I'm proposing (it's very far from what I want), either both types of censorship are allowed according to the constitution, or they're not. Simple as that.

Going by that reasoning, much of what we currently consider protected speech actually wouldn't be protected speech at all; or conversely, the supreme court _had_ to make the decision they made.

They'd essentially have to turn over every precedent ever made concerning what's protected speech authored with money from corporations in favor of a new interpretation of the constitution, or they'd need to consider corporations fundamentally protected by a paragraph seemingly only addressing people, which would in turn make corporations into individuals, so far as free speech is concerned.

And...well, yes. The former would, for all intents and purposes, be equal to giving up a huge amount of protections concerning speech, long since established by the judicial branch of government.

From a certain perspective, it wouldn't be equal to giving these things up, in that it would be saying, well, these things were never actually protected in the first place, so congress will need to amend the constitution to grant these protections that we always thought were there, hopefully with a bit more specificity and nuance...But clearly the supremes weren't about to risk something so crucial to society going before congress again. If they'd come down on the other side of the fence, who knows if congress would've written up a constitutional amendment guaranteeing certain kinds of speech made by corporations as protected? And even if they had, wouldn't congress simply decide that even political speech made by corporations should also be protected?

It seems that there would be no way to guarantee the protection of non-political speech without also protecting political speech: Either congress and the states would start censoring all sorts of things which would be much worse than unrestricted political speech by corporations, or they'd amend the constitution such that corporate speech would be just as wholly protected as it is now. So why take the risk?

So you're absolutely right.

I hope that sometime down the line, when the US government finally gets a makeover, a revised constitution, a revised bill of rights and so on, things are changed such that only money from individuals ever impact politics, but I now recognize that wasn't a goal that could actually be reached by the supreme court on this one.

In the meanwhile, Bobs point about the supreme court now rings so true it almost hurts: Forget calling them activist judges, they're literally lawmakers, having made one of the biggest _legislative_ decisions in modern american history. In fact, the whole lot of the judges voting in favor of this decision should probably be de-benched for it, for making a decision that, by all rights, ought to fall to congress...I'm very glad they were not.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Mads

Yea, I didn't really have the chance to refine the argument much since it had only just occurred to me. But, at least I have something rather concrete to work with now the next time I get in this discussion.

I'm not even comfortable with the idea of trying to censor just political speech either.
You would still have the unfortunate side effect of censoring all sorts of things you really didn't want to censor at all. I mean, just add the word "political" to any of the things in my previous post... "political" films... "political" literature... "political" music... "political" games...

Would you ban Bioshock or Deus Ex simply for having a political message?

The problem is that I don't think freedom of speech can actually be restricted with the sort of precision that you want to restrict it. You need a scalpel but all that the law makes available are axes.

Mads said...

You're right. The idea that only individuals and non-profits may make art with political themes is far too restrictive. And you're also on the money with the scalpel vs. axe analogy.

So to get corporate money out of politics, you will necessarily need to get corporate money out of the arts industry. Otherwise, they will simply funnel the money through an arts industry entity and make a political film with corporate money, short circuiting the barrier that prohibits them from making political films themselves.

Rather than having one type of abstract entity - corporations - you'd ned several distinct ones that couldn't own invest in or purchase things from one another. One category, news organizations, another, businesses, and a third arts makers. You'd need to incentivize corporations to stay in their part of the sandbox, so they wouldn't attempt to register as any other kind of entity.

It would need to be rigged such that, the more free you want to be to express yourself, the higher the taxes. Individuals would be taxed higher than arts companies, who'd be taxed higher than news companies, who'd be taxed higher than corporations.

This way, individuals would be on much more even ground with for-profit entities, and they'd have about as easy a time getting heard.

But such a system, apart from being wishful thinking and probably fatally flawed in some fashion, is obviously not something the supremes could actually make happen when they made their decision. It also wouldn't eliminate super pacs - it'd just tax them harder, and source their income to individuals and arts makers only, assuming that's what they'd register as.

So, in the final calculus, the supremes made the right call.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Mads

Well, I don't know what the best solution to keeping corporate money out politics is... or even if there is a solution. However, at least you're thinking about how to address this problem without the use of censorship.

Perhaps if enough people start doing that we'll come up with something that won't be quite so divisive.

Jake said...

@Mads and The Almighty Narf
I have two ideas to dealing with this problem that are (surprisingly) polar opposites of each other. One would be to require all political contributions to be published online. The other would be to make sure that political contributions are made secret, to everyone, so that politicians can't be corrupted by them.

Mads said...

...Secret political contributions could still be pulled away from under you. Say one thing to your secret donors, another to everybody else.

Won't change a thing.

Public contributions are better, but their influence is generally much stronger than the taint of the name where they came from.

But solutions don't deal with independent financial backing, like superpacs, nor do they deal with the cash incentives for making your political contributions through unions or corporations rather than as individuals.

And, well, the current system isn't completely broken. You'll see a major grassroots counterpush because of these things, and that reaction may be exactly what american politics needed, so ironically the supreme court decision could be a major net good in the end.