22 January 2010

I suppose the issue of the day is campaign finance.

I almost have difficulty mustering up the energy to comment on this, because I think the people who get in a tizzy about campaign finance reform are too alien for me to deal with. We just have such differing assumptions about the issue that we're coming at it from too far apart to make it worth my while defending yesterday's Citizens United decision.

Here's a partial list of underlying notions where me and the average campaign finance worrier differ:
  • I don't think people are as easily swayed by advertising, whether for politicians or products, as most do.

  • I think the impact of money in elections is generally overstated. The value of the marginal dollar spent doesn't sway many voters. (See, for instance, Levitt 1994.)

  • Like Gordon Tullock, I'm surprised there is so little money in politics. With all of the economics activity Congress has control over, I'd expect people to invest more in lobbying and campaigning.

  • I think it's silly to try and limit the supply of campaign spending, but not the demand for it. Remove some of the government's power over our lives and especially our economic activity, and people will have less reason to want to influence elections. (Remember your P.J.O'Rourke: "When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.")

  • I think it's naive to support plans which give elected officials more control over who can effectively run against them.

  • I think it's inconsistent to allow people to assemble, and allow people to speak, but not allow people to speak when assembled.

  • I don't think there's any meaningful difference between for-profit corporations and any other collection of individuals.

  • I think lots of organizations (trade unions, the Bar Assoc.) including many corporation (GE, Goldman, the NY Times) already have tremendous influence over government. If anything, allowing spending by corporations will reduce the inequality of influence.

  • I think "Congress shall make no law..." means exactly that. If you want to do things differently amend the Constitution.

  • I don't have data, but I'd be shocked if a dollar of pork-barrel spending didn't have a much larger impact on elections than a dollar of campaign contributions. Money for pork projects is both distortionary and is taken from us by force to benefit incumbents. It is preposterous to get out of whack about campaign funding before doing something about pork spending.
Put all that together and the perpetual hue and cry about campaign finance looks like a tempest in a tea kettle to me.

Until I can find common ground with pro-campaign finance reform supporters on most of those points, I don't think there's much benefit in considering the issue.

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