Thursday, October 21, 2010

Life in John Roberts America, Colorado at Election Time

Timothy Egan spends a little time in Colorado and reports on our overrun airways this election season,

Colorado is ground zero for what’s happening in John Roberts’s America, competing for the dubious distinction of being the top state in the nation for spending by shadowy outside groups telling people how to vote.

This gusher is courtesy of the 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision in January that allowed unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions. That was the ruling, which will go down in infamy, where the court said that corporations had the same free speech rights as ordinary citizens.
The illogic of that logic was always apparent. But now it’s overwhelming, and omnipresent. Your average voter can dash off a letter to the editor, or fire up a blog, or put up a yard sign — a nice fantasy of citizen democracy. Your corporate equal can spend $23 million (the outsider amount spent so far in Colorado) to bludgeon the electorate. And, with loopholes in the tax system, they can do it while making it virtually impossible to know who they are.

1 comment:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

If Colorado has a key swing Senate race and some key Congressional races, and the partisan makup of each house of Congress is the main factor that influences the way the country is run, why shouldn't outside money be flooding into Colorado? These are the race where the key determinations within national repercussions are made.

Certainly, some of the money is shadowy. But, I'm quite skeptical that knowing the source of the money has much impact on its effectiveness.

It also seems to me that we spend too little, and not too much on distributing information about political races to the public. The choice is more important than choices about beer or shampoo or soda that have far more marketing money devoted to them. And, there is strong evidence so suggest that the voting public is underinformed.

The concerns that (1) the less affluent guy gets fewer resources to spread a message, and (2) the accuracy of the information provided is abysmal, are real. But, public financing seems like a much more sensible solution to the first problem, and the Roberts court really hasn't changed the status quo that content regulation of political ads, even for accuracy, is largely unworkable in the context of the First Amendment.

The problem of deceptive political rhetoric is also hardly confined to paid political ads. It is pervasive and troubling. Elections based on a deceived public are probably even worse than elections based on an ignorant public.

A good place to start might be to redesign campaign finance laws in a way that favors rather than disfavors large amounts of spending by political parties (who have long term reputational incentive to be honest) and favors strengthening political parties generally, relative to candidates. In many ways, political party money, while clearly biased, is also exceptionally clean. It is pushing broad based agenda's for largely idealistic reasons necessary to hold together a would be majority coalition, and the nature of the bias is well understood. Rather than discouraging coordination with campaign finance laws, we should be encouraging it.