Sunday, February 17, 2002

Having it both ways

I'm picking on this guy again. Here's a cut from a post:
You can argue that campaign finanace reform won't solve the problem of money in politics, but it seems to me to be willful blindness to assert that big corporate donors aren't getting special returns and favors for their money. If they aren't, then this means that substantial numbers of large corporations are behaving in a completely illogical manner in giving money. This doesn't pass the laugh test.
Well, what did Enron get for Enron Field? Corporations are notorious for spending money on questionable things, whether for PR or other reasons. And you might be surprised at where some big left-wing anti-business groups get their funding from.

Corporations can't vote. Not having that to offer to Congressmen, they are left to resort to donations which might get them little more than an audience. It's inherently speculative - they can't know how legislation will turn out.

Corporate donations are often presented as offensive when in fact they are defensive. They have to spend a lot of money watching their backs in Washington because they don't have votes to discipline Congressmen with. And they must always fight populist nonsense that leads to abominations like the corporate income tax. If you want them to quit defending themselves, quit attacking.

Now why does he find it so easy to swallow this quote from Robert Reich two posts higher?
"I do the speeches because it's very, very easy money,'' he told the Boston Herald. "I am utterly amazed the businesses are willing to pay so much for my economic expertise . . . but, if they want to pay that much, it's a free market, I'm delighted.''
I'll agree that having Robert Reich speak on economics is irrational, but the fact is that that's the stockholders' business, not the writer's.

Here's the real whopper:
Banning soft money donations is either a case where government would, in fact, know better than private industry what is in their best interests, or else it's true that corporations are getting special treatment and corrupting the democratic process with their big money donations. You can't have it both ways, and either case is an argument for reform.
For one, it's a false choice - there are more alternatives. For another, the idea that govt knows private industry's business better than the businesses themselves do is the height of folly - it's called socialism or Communism.

If you contend that campaign money is corrupting the democratic process, show specific examples, and prove them with the same rigor you'd demand from someone accusing Bill Clinton of selling pardons. And then don't punish the corporations for simply funding campaigns - punish the public officials who are not supposed to submit to corrupting influences. If they're crooked, new campaign finance laws will be useless.

Besides, not all corporations are on the same side, so a lot of the money tends to cancel out. Telecom is a good example of this. You can't even line all corporations up behind repealing corporate income taxes, because as Megan McArdle's excellent post notes, some schemes make no sense without the impact of taxation.

The real scandal is how much govt favors are worth, and how cheaply Congressmen will sell us out. Reduce govt power and the problem will take care of itself.

No comments: