Sunday, March 21, 2010

"So..I think I have an idea that would change the world. Mind helping me figure out what's wrong with it?" - by Kate

Kate is a well-informed, well-read, passionate person I recently met, whom I happen to agree with on most things. I've learned many things from her in the short time I've know her. I asked her if she'd like to contribute to this blog from time to time, and she said, "yes." The cx3 blog just got better. Sometime in the near future she'll make her first post, but in the meantime, I wanted to re-post a note/thought/question she recently posted on her facebook page here. This has to do with (or was born out of) the recent SCOTUS decision that now allows corporations & unions to give ludicrous amounts of money to political campaigns at all levels, based on the First Amendment (free "speech"). Welcome, Kate! We're glad to have you along for the ride - where we're going, no one knows! - sj

Title covers it: I have this idea, but I also lack all kinds of information that could change the picture and could also just plain be missing something. So I'm hanging this like a piƱata on FB for people to whack at, and if it passes muster with my many insightful and intelligent friends, maybe it's worth thinking about some more. I've tagged the folks I've tagged because they've either seen parts of this thought before, or like talking about this kind of stuff, but I hope anyone with interest will chime in. And by the way, if anyone knows anyone who isn't on my friend list who they think would like to jump in on this, let me know and I'll make it visible outside of my own friends, or be friends with whomever :). Fwiw, while I did come up with this on my own, I'd be surprised to be the only one to have followed this line of thought. I've looked around a bit for other work about this without luck, but if anyone knows about what anyone else has to say about this, please let me know :).

So...this is coming out of my understanding of the of the Citizen's United v. FEC decision (see here, if you want to brush up). I agree that money is sufficiently inseparable from speech that to remove it would have a deeply chilling effect (ask me if you want to know why; otherwise I'll spare everyone the tangent :) ). And while corporations are not people, the First does not restrict its protections to people, stating only that speech shall not be abridged. Add to that the Constitutionally protected right to associate, and you've got a workable argument that corporations should be considered entities with certain rights, among them, speech. So I think those two avenues to getting corporate money out of politics are barred, or at least murky as heck.

However, I don't think that what they are producing is speech. Follow me here: political speech is communications about political values or desires. I believe that in order for such speech to be valid *as speech*, it must both completely voluntary and accurately reflect the political values or desires of the speaker. I do not believe that corporate speech is either of those things. First, the corporation claims the right to speak as an entity with a unified and distinct opinion, and I do not believe that they have that: both employees and owners frequently disagree, and strongly, with lobbying efforts by the corporations who are claiming to speak for the group. Thus, the speech fails to accurately represent the interests of the entity, speaking only for a portion of the group. But even if it did represent the unified will of the corporation, the speech is not voluntary. Unless a person is free to dissent, the speech is coerced, and order to not speak, a person would have to leave their place of employment, and I believe that that is an unreasonably high bar to dissent. So, corporate speech is not speech, in that it both fails to represent the unified will of the entity, and is coerced, to boot. It's as if, in order to keep a job, I had to agree that every week, using funds generated in part through my efforts, my company could take out a full-page ad in the paper every week supporting a political position with my name (as well as that of every other employee) included as a supporter of that position, but I would never be consulted, nor could I decline to have my name among those listed, and my name would be used against my will to give dishonest weight to an argument with which I disagreed. Foundationally, this strikes me as perilously close in kind to allowing a corporation to cast my vote for me, according to what they think are the best principles.

This line of thinking has some serious ripple effects. If we follow it, unions aren't allowed to lobby either. While, unlike corporations, they do get to vote, the vote need not be unanimous for lobbying to proceed, and in order to not participate in union lobbying efforts, people would have to leave their union shop jobs.

That leaves interest groups with voluntary individual membership in the political lobbying ring, and they fit my criteria: the speech is voluntarily produced and can be assumed to be an intentional and desired expression of the associated members, as if it were not, they would leave the group and deprive it of the support of their presence (and possibly funding). So the NRA, the ACLU, the Sierra Club, et al are fine. However, their funding is going to take a dive, as I do not think that corporations can donate to these groups, either - I think that's basically ventriloquism.

As you'll note, this sucks almost all of the money out of the political process, as only individuals can donate (though individuals can certainly form associations to promote an industry or market sector and can certainly donate to such groups as individuals, I think they'll have a lot more difficulty masking who benefits from the policies they advocate when we see who is actually doing the advocating). That's going to create the need for public financing of political campaigns, and I suspect the resulting campaigns are going to be a lot less flashy, and win way fewer of Ad Age's "Marketer of the Year" awards (yes, Obama won it in '08). And I think that's a good thing.

In fact, I think there are a lot of good things about this. Corporations get to stop wasting money trying to influence the field of competition, and just start competing, and maybe even hire some people with all of the money they just saved. With corporations not lobbying, unions can refocus on collective bargaining within the industry, and shed all of the union bureaucracy devoted to lobbying, coming out of this a leaner and more effective organization, with fewer higher-up in it for DC power thrills and ego stroking, and lower union dues for members, with dues used in ways that have more direct benefits to members. Yes, advocacy groups get the short end of the stick in this, but they will also hopefully have different battles to fight, and get to fight them with far greater effectiveness. And voters should be offered broader candidate fields with fewer of the participants entering politics for money and the power it leverages, as well as knowing that the people we do elect are accountable to voters, not donors. It won't get rid of all of the problems by any stretch, but I don't think it's a bad first hose-down of the Augean stables that is American politics today. At least we'd have a way clearer view of what precisely is going on.

Summary, then: both corporate and union speech lack the unified and uncoerced nature that characterizes true political speech, and effectively allows associations to co-opt and control the political voices of other people; in addition, the money vacuum that ending such coerced speech will produce demands public financing of campaigns. All of that actually happening would, I believe, significantly change the runnings of this country, and therefore...change the world :).

So, does that make sense? What else do I need to think about, and what am I missing?


Greg Hagin said...

Welcome Kate--A "public option" to finance all elections?! That is the dreaded "S" word....SENSIBLE.

Gaudiori said...
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