The Soros / Koch Effect? Blame Campaign Finance Reform

Friday, March 18, 2011 - 03:00 PM


Each time laws are modified to try and stop some kind of behavior people think should be banned, special interests eventually find ways around them. After the American people saw the growth in power of political parties, fueled by soft money donations, they pushed politicians to modify the law to ban that practice. It took years, but it eventually passed.

Although some of those rules have since been overturned, the ban on soft money is still in place, and the power of political parties has waned. But the monied interests didn't just pack up and go home after they were barred from as direct a control over the political process, as huge soft money donations allowed them. They just found other avenues to exert influence with their money.

It is no coincidence that we've seen the power of political action committees (PACs) and 501(c)4 nonprofits - so called 'Super PACs', as they don't have donation limits - since the soft money ban was put in place.

But this is how the march towards reform goes. You find one avenue of corruption and undue political influence, you come up with a way to mitigate or block it, and you wait for special interests to adapt to the new situation. When they do, you look for ways to mitigate those, and push for them.

The Koch Brothers and George Soros are the poster boys of the latest. They have more influence than perhaps millions of regular Americans put together... and the vast majority of the country sees this as being very very wrong. This sentiment has yet to really coalesce around a set of policy positions to work on the issue, but there are plenty of good ideas floating around think tanks, op-eds and the blogosphere.

It is absurd that 'Super PACs' can get away with taking unlimited donations without having to make their donor lists public, like other forms of political organizations and campaigns are required to. It also doesn't make sense to allow direct donations to political parties from political organizations, when they have so much sway over the system as it is. Direct donations to candidate campaigns should be only allowed for individuals, cutting one more leash with which special interest groups control the politicians who represent us in Washington.

These are just two among the sorts commonsensical reforms that can achieve the goals of limiting the influence of special interest groups the American people believe to have to much power over us. Just like with the reforms that led to the end of soft money, we need to begin the long slog towards the next stage of making our democracy just a bit better.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates. He is currently collaborating with other centrist independent and moderate bloggers on a news aggregation and social networking site, and is always looking for ways to help the independent groundswell as more and more people become disaffected with the two major parties.


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Comments [1]

Sean Parnell from Alexandria, VA

To start with, "Super PACs" have to disclose their donors. 501(c)4 groups are not PACs at all, in fact it's forbidden for them to have political intervention as their primary activity.

Second, not sure what you're talking about when it comes to donations to political parties from "political organizations." Individuals and PACs are allowed to (not "Super PACs" though), but an organization like Crossroads America cannot.

Third, the Koch brothers have exactly two votes between them, and George Soros has one. Seems to me that if "millions of Americans" want one thing while only the Kochs and Soros want something else, then the matter can be solved fairly easily at the ballot box.

In truth, however, and this is what "reformers" always get wrong, the money spent by these people can only seek to persuade voters to agree with them and vote accordingly, it cannot force them to. In fact, the money spent by these people actually helps to give a voice to the millions of Americans who agree with them (different millions in most cases, obviously).

"Reform" is simply a nice way of saying, the government should be in charge of deciding who can speak in politics, how often, in what way, and to whom. Fortunately the First Amendment prohibits this.

Sean Parnell
Center for Competitive Politics

Mar. 25 2011 09:02 AM

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