Moyers on Plutocracy in America

September 12, 2016

Here’s a link to Bill Moyers, “Shadows of Plutocracy darken over our Democracy in this Election,” , He puts, marvelously, the warning many of us having been trying to give, the warning I have been pointing to in my book about the Roberts Court. Weep or cheer – him, us – on. He is certainly on target.

Arbitration clauses in the fine print

August 29, 2016

Nan Aron of Alliance for Justice has an excellent critique of those arbitration clauses in the fine print we are constantly being forced to sign and a new rule that will address one of the problems with those clauses: It’s well worth reading.

The US-Mexican border

August 25, 2016

I have just read the clearest, most trenchant and evocative explanation of what is happening on the border between Mexico and the U.S.  And “one of the greatest “secrets” of the 2016 election campaign (though it should be common knowledge) is that the border wall already exists.  It has for years and the fingerprints all over it aren’t Donald Trump’s but the Clintons’, both Bill’s and Hillary’s.”  The full story is truly heartbreaking.  I suspect that the real villain is a national unwillingness to deal with it in a better way.

Public matching funding of election campaigns is crucial

July 26, 2016

This is the fourth in a series on Money in Politics. We’ve looked at the way that our present system of campaign finance results in our being fleeced by businesses that use laws and regulations to protect them from competition and from lawsuits. Think about the repeal of legislation that regulated the financial services industry, or the NRA which got legislation to prevent funding for studies of gun violence, the companies that blocked state laws defining duties in their industries, the loosening of federal antitrust law, or a plethora of tax breaks. All of that was facilitated by grateful lawmakers, grateful for campaign help, contributions or expenditures, which made their elections or reelections possible.

We’ve also looked at restoring limitations or prohibitions on those injections of money into politics, and the complexity of reinstating limitations without spilling over and damaging what should be protected speech, press and association.

There is another approach that doesn’t threaten the press or public interest associations and doesn’t hand judges or anyone else malleable discretion to decide who can and cannot speak and how much. The alternative is to provide the funds, either by matching small donations as is done in New York City or allocating public funds for campaigns to those candidates who agree not to raise their own funds.

Public funds relieve candidates from dependence on large donors. Matching small donations reconnects candidates to small donors gathered in house parties, barbeques and similar events. Instead of spending their time courting major donors, candidates seeking matching funds would have to spend time with their constituents – what a quaint concept!

There are many programs using matching funds in place now in states like Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Vermont, and West Virginia and cities like New York and Los Angeles.[1] Some states matched large expenditures by opponents before the Court rejected that.[2] New York City provides $6 for each $1 contributed in small amounts, resulting in the vast majority of funds deriving from small donations. The match makes each small donor that much more valuable to the candidate. And the formula can be designed to match inflation so that the majority of candidates keep choosing the public matching system.

The research so far reveals that matching programs increase candidate efforts to reach out to constituents, and minimize the role of large donations, although plan details create significant differences in effectiveness.

The Court long ago agreed that public funds can come with strings – if a candidate takes public funds, the candidate may have to agree to an expenditure limit or a restriction on the donations it can accept.

The public funding approach doesn’t create the major problems, distinctions and discretion that prohibitions do. Savings to the public can be huge. The cost of American political campaigning is much less than the largesse which politicians can make available to contributors and supporters. That means that we could fully fund American political campaigns for much less than those campaigns cost us in legislation and regulations that bilk us of vast amounts of money. It should be a no-brainer.

Next week, why it hasn’t been.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, July 26, 2016.

[1] See generally the Brennan Center for material on public financing.

[2] Arizona Free Enterprise Fund v. Bennett (2011) and McComish v. Bennett (2011).

This Republican campaign could use both humility and perspective

July 19, 2016

Juan Cole’s post putting the contributions of Europeans and European-Americans in historical and worldwide perspective is well worth reading, I always thought humility was supposed to be a value in our culture, and with regard to race and ancestral origins, Cole certainly and appropriately gets it. There is another issue – the belief in American exceptionalism, at least to the extent that it is racialized, may be our undoing, leading too many to assume that great things are automatic and need no investment and care. The American Founders, for all their errors, would never have made that mistake. But those who wrap themselves in the Founders’ reflected glow miss both the humility and the perspective our Founders had and prove themselves unworthy.

A Better Response to Nice

July 17, 2016

Here’s a post from Juan Cole that explains why many of the politicians are not being smart in their reactions to the carnage in Nice,

On Ginsburg’s remarks about Trump

July 14, 2016

The commentary about Ginsburg’s comments on Trump make a fetish on form while missing the substance. See my post on the NYU Press blog.

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