It’s Not the Money That SHOULD Count… (But Boy Does It Ever)

Alright, so ‘campaign finance reform’ may very well be the deadest of dead horses around when it comes to another of the ways we ‘count’ in politics.  But, (and forgive me PETA), I’m going to beat it some more for purposes of this post.

It’s of the Supreme Court’s opinion (McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission [FEC]) that –

In a series of cases over the past 40 years, we have spelled out how to draw the constitutional line between the permissible goal of avoiding corruption in the political process and the impermissible desire simply to limit political speech.  We have said that government regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford.  “Ingratiation and access…are not corruption.”

Ok, let me stop you right there.  So you establish what ISN’T corruption, Justice Roberts.  But that begs the question.  What IS corruption?

Though, in the reading of his opinion, we find a very specific definition of the corruption he discusses…

Any regulation must instead target what we have called “quid pro quo” corruption or its appearance.  …the notion of a direct exchange of an official act for money.

…he, with the inclusion of ‘hallmark’ in his quote, does blow the doors off of that definition in the lines that follow.

See McCormick v. United States 500 U. S. 257, 266 (1991).   “The hallmark of corruption is the financial quid pro quo: dollars for political favors.”

Now, while I admit that this is an agreeable standard to apply to individuals, principals, agents, and the like; I have to point out that it’s pretty lame in regard to how limited it is in it’s scope of all the things that could be considered on the scale of corruption. (As the word ‘hallmark’ implies).  You see, in the definition of sporadic corruption put forward by Dr. Byrne there are two very tangible consequences of such corruption that point to the possibility that it currently exists in our nation; a seriously undermined morale and an economy sapped of resources.

In almost every political poll on voter confidence and public trust, the country is found to be going in the wrong direction and it’s office holders without the faith of public behind them.  For that matter, one look at the landing page of the Gallup app will tell you exactly where our country stands when it comes to a measure of morale.

But this is a ‘soft’ measure and not one that lends itself to being a hard ‘fact’.  And as much as the figure of $6.2 billion dollars spent in the last election cycle makes the average American cry foul, it still only represents $19 per capita and only 0.1% of the GDP calculated for 2012.

So that leaves a lot of people wondering…where’s the ‘beef’?  What is all this noise that everyone seems to be making in regards to campaign finance?  I’ll tell you… It’s all about who is giving what that raises such a big stink about the entire thing.  And if you haven’t heard of the Koch brothers or taken a look at the cable broadcast and/or food industries in a while, now just might be the day to make up your mind to do so.

BUT, while the scale of corruption, (in the way that it’s limited to a rule of law and not the sense of man), may be great at laying out the mechanics of corruption, it does very little to explain to us how repugnant a plague it stands to be.  For that, we need to look at ‘corruption’ in the general sense, as opposed to it’s traditional legal definitions.

There we find not only the situation that is described by law, (dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power), but it’s result, (the process by which something, typically a word or expression, is changed from its original use or meaning to one that is regarded as erroneous or debased).  And it’s the regard of so many that to pursue a career as a politician, or to even be remotely involved in anything political, is something not to be celebrated but instead to be denied or ignored, that supports the notion that a wider, more sinister corruption has already occurred.  It’s that commonly reinforced debasement of what I hold politics to be that I find as cause to move against more money freely flowing in politics.

Right now, admittedly, I fail to come up with a viable solution that equally balances the commonly held interpretations of the protection that the First Amendment plies when it comes to political speech and the minimization of the allure that money holds in political affairs.  However, I think any viable solution comes down to a mix of a few principles; namely those dealing with transparency and accountability.

Ultimately though, I think the crux of this issue revolves around the level of trust in the system that each participant, politician and voter alike, is willing to sacrifice for each donation.  Because, no matter who you are or where you stand, at the heart of every expense there is some expectation of trade.  That’s just something that’s inherent to any market; whether we choose to accept it or not.

Thanks for reading!
J. Vickrey



5 thoughts on “It’s Not the Money That SHOULD Count… (But Boy Does It Ever)

  1. You’re back! I too, hit a wall when people ask me about alternatives. I don’t know the answer – to purchase of government, to energy problems killing our land and our people, to unbridled capitalism, to having employees do more with less for the sake of profitability, etc. All I know is that as long as we are divided by every possible means, nothing changes. And we sorely need change in so many arenas.

    • Well we’ll see how the world turns, but I’m working on it! As far as answers go, I like to think I have a good handle on the solutions to most things. Although solutions may not be the right way to label it. Best practices may be a more apt monicker for what I have to offer. Still, you’re right on the money with identifying the biggest obstacle to all of it; highly polarized partisanship.

      • It’s not only in partisanship – it goes far deeper than that to pitting humans of one ilk against another. It is a thought that plagues me often – why we cannot see the humanity in another because of race, religion, politics, ethnicity or orientation. And I don’t have an answer for that either, but I do try to apply my own ‘best practices’ wherever I can 🙂

  2. I really enjoyed reading these statements. Just my two cents here lol….but corruption will always be an issue where money is to be made. I do agree that transparency and accountability will help with this issue…but obviously not solve it completely. We are after all…human.

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