27 March, 2010

Distributism and Campaign Finance Reform

During his State of the Union speech, the president was critical of the Supreme Court ruling that removed limits on corporate political contributions. This is one time where I actually agree, in part, with him. Our constitutional republic is supposed to act in the interests of the several states and the people, not those of corporations, union leaders, or other groups.

Everyone knows that the ability to fund political campaigns has a direct influence on future political policies. As long as organizations with large bank rolls can have direct influence on our government's policies, we will remain a plutocracy. This is true whether our plutocracy is more socialist, or more monopolistic-capitalist, in nature.

Distributists need to be able to address how we would deal with the corrupting influence of corporations and other large organizations that use money to manipulate the government. Can the principles of distributism be applied to simultaneously limit plutocratic influence while allowing the people to organize together to effectively influence the government? I believe that the answer is yes.

Today, unions, PACs, and businesses all make direct donations to try and control political policy. However, unions and PACs don't always represent the views of those they claim to represent, and businesses tend to represent the interests of monopoly power. For example, polls in recent years have shown that a significant number of union members disagree with the causes and campaigns to which their unions have made substantial contributions. The unions, when making these contributions, claim to represent the interests of their large membership, but they actually only represent a portion of that membership. The ability to misrepresent the views of members needs to be taken away from unions and all other political groups. How can the principles of distributism correct this?

The people have every right to form and support PACs (freedom of association). The ability of a PAC, including a union PAC, to address the government on behalf of its member's views is an important way, in addition to individual political action, for the people to get those views heard. Therefore, the question is not how we eliminate the PACs, but how we make sure that they cannot misrepresent any of their membership when they address the government about particular causes.
Today, citizens who want to support a campaign through a PAC write a check to the PAC itself. The PAC deposits the check in its account, and then writes a check for the campaign from that account. What if, instead of this process, the individual citizen wrote a check directly to the campaign and mailed it to the PAC. The PAC could then deliver all of those checks to the campaign. Wouldn't being entrusted to deliver the personal checks of its members show that the PAC truly represents their views? Wouldn't it prevent the PAC from misrepresenting the views of any of its members? After all, who actually supports all of the positions of a given PAC? The individual members could guarantee that their money is not being used for causes they oppose.

Because the government is supposed to act in the interests of its citizens, the only organizations that have the right to try and influence the government are those which the citizens empower to represent them to the government. Those citizens have the right not to have their views misrepresented. Other organizations, like companies need to be free to hock their goods or services to the public, but have no right to directly influence the government of the people. Therefore, only citizens should be allowed to make political contributions. Individuals have the right to free speech. Companies and other organizations should be prohibited from making contributions, including advertising. What if the government is acting unjustly in regard to business? Then those individuals impacted, and others who oppose the government's policies, can make their individual contributions to change those policies.

Finally, there should be no limit to how much an individual citizen can contribute to a political cause or campaign. What right does the government have, or do we have, to tell someone that they can only support a cause “so much?” If you want to give your entire life's savings to a cause, who am I to tell you that you can't do so? Of course, laws would need to be in place to prevent organizations from bypassing their restrictions by funneling their contributions through individuals, but other than that, individuals should be allowed to use their resources as they see fit.

Lastly, recent years have given rise to the issue of whether or not political commentators who use their positions in the media to support political causes or campaigns are making political contributions akin to advertising. The issue is whether or not this constitutes a corporate contribution. As long as the corporations do not require those commentators to give such support, the answer is, obviously, no. Individual citizens freely choose what political commentators they listen to. As long as both the broadcasters and listeners are acting freely as individuals, there is no violation of the rule that organizations cannot contribute through advertising.

What about things like the “Fairness Doctrine?” While I think that political pundits who willingly debate the issues with their opposition, and allow the opposition to clearly state its position, demonstrate integrity and responsibility, the government doesn't have the right to limit, or require, the political speech of individuals. End of story.

In what way does this apply to distributism? Distributism is about establishing economic freedom as one piece of overall individual freedom. Economic freedom for the individual is the right to own and control the means of production, i.e., land and other capital. Distributism is also in favor of placing limits on monopoly power in order to eliminate plutocracy. Guaranteeing the full rights of individuals to use their personal capital to influence their government, both directly and in cooperative groups, is consistent with the principles of distributism. Likewise, preventing well-financed, powerful organizations from influencing the government to favor their monopolistic desires, or by misrepresenting the members, is also consistent with distributism.

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