Tag Archives: Tea Party

Sarah Palin’s Thoughts on Solving Government Corruption

Many Americans are realizing that the United States government is ineffective due the drastic levels of corruption that plague our electoral system and heavily impact the decisions and statements our candidates make as they run for Congress and the White House.  Washington’s policies are absurd because big campaign donors only give money to get political favors, and those favors are paid by our elected officials when they allow the rich to avoid paying taxes, demand ever-increasing amounts of government subsidies, and get away with causing environmental disasters.  Our politicians are not stupid and weak; they are actually strategic and strong, but so heavily corrupted by their need for campaign cash that they sell their votes to the highest bidder.  Both frequent political phenomena over the past few years, the conservative Tea Party and the liberal Occupy Movement, openly recognize and criticize the existing system.  Former Alaskan governor and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin gave a surprisingly clear portrayal of the corrupt system in a September 2011 speech titled “Restoring America.”  (the transcript can be located on her website at http://www.sarahpac.com/posts/governor-palins-speech-at-the-restoring-america-tea-party-of-america-rally-in-indianola-iowa-video-and-transcript and a video of the speech can be viewed athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0-CLyI8BIE)  Palin described her ideas for ending such corruption, though those ideas are not likely to have much impact on the central problem of money dominating our elections.

After some introductory words of thanks to her audience, Palin quickly launched into a description of current U.S. economic problems.  “Today, one in five working-age men are out of work. One in seven Americans are on food stamps. Thirty percent of our mortgages are underwater. In parts of Michigan and California, they’re suffering from unemployment numbers that are greater than during the depths of the Great Depression.” (Palin, “Restoring America,” September 3, 2011)  Nothing is mysterious about such statements;  even the Princeton economist Paul Krugman agrees with the use “Depression” to describe current circumstances in his book End This Depression Now (W.W. & Norton and Co., Inc.: 2012).  Palin also described how the Depression has been caused by political corruption.  “We sent a new class of leaders to D.C., but immediately the permanent political class tried to co-opt them – because the reality is we are governed by a permanent political class, until we change that.” (Palin, “Restoring America”)  It is unclear whether she referred to the Democratic Party’s victory in the 2008 elections or the Republican Party’s resurgence in 2010 elections.  Either way, nothing much has changed politically because voters are far less powerful than the “permanent political class” of rich donors, lobbyists, and corporate executives that largely decide which candidates win by controlling political advertising money.  Palin is correct to describe our national leaders as co-opted and controlled by money, and that we must change the ability of money to dominate our elections if we hope to ever affect real political change.

Palin next drew a clear connection between the rich that control politicians and how those politicians give in to the rich.  She continued to call the rich and powerful the Permanent Political Class.

Yeah, the permanent political class – they’re doing just fine. Ever notice how so many of them arrive in Washington, D.C. of modest means and then miraculously throughout the years they end up becoming very, very wealthy? Well, it’s because they derive power and their wealth from their access to our money – to taxpayer dollars.  They use it to bail out their friends on Wall Street and their corporate cronies, and to reward campaign contributors, and to buy votes via earmarks. There is so much waste. And there is a name for this: It’s called corporate crony capitalism. This is not the capitalism of free men and free markets, of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and of risk. No, this is the capitalism of connections and government bailouts and handouts, of waste and influence peddling and corporate welfare. (Palin, “Restoring America”)

Palin revealed that the rich are often rich because they get government favors.  They spend a part of their income to influence candidates and choose which candidates go into Congress or the White House.  The newly-elected leaders quickly move to give more government favors to their own financial supporters – a financial give-and-take that leaves the rich wallowing in wealth and power, and the rest of the taxpayers wondering where their votes and their money went.  In short, the use of money in politics controls later government decisions, which in the end hurts government efficiency, economic growth, and the general public.

Unfortunately, Sarah Palin then went on to attack President Obama and the Democrats for many of their corrupt deals while largely overlooking the details of her own Republican Party’s similar deals with oil companies and other corporate interests.  Even as she says the American voters must overturn the whole system, she does not name Republican leaders as participating in corrupt bargains.  “So, this is why we must remember that the challenge is not simply to replace Obama in 2012. The real challenge is who and what we will replace him with. It’s not enough to just change up the uniform. If we don’t change the team and the game plan, we won’t save our country.” (Palin, “Restoring America”)  Her statements are still focused, though, on changing the money and advertising systems that largely choose which candidates win elections – she still advocates changing the “game plan” in a fundamental way.

However, she fails to give any ideas likely to change the existing system.  Instead, she begins her plan with a general statement on supporting capitalism but hating corruption.  “I believe in the free market, and that is why I detest crony capitalism.” (Palin, “Restoring America”)  Palin fails to see that crony capitalism is the direct result of what one might call “free market politics.”  Capitalism is the theory of investment, risk, and profit as a reward.  Allowing free market economic ideas into political campaigns naturally allows the rich to invest the most money and, therefore, dominate the election results.  That is how Free Markets create Crony Politics.  Palin fails to see that obvious connection, and therefore fails to understand that giving all candidates equal funding and making it illegal for any candidate to take private money are the best ways of avoiding Crony Politics.  (All of these ideas can be read in detail at www.machineryofpolitics.com)  Instead of advocating for government-funded elections that would eliminate private money, Palin calls for the following policies to end Crony Politics:

1. Reduce Federal government power

2. Create Free Market Health Insurance programs

3.Entitlement reform, but with no suggestions for changing Social Security

4. Drilling for domestic oil sources to make U.S. into an “energy superpower”

5. Eliminate Federal income taxes on corporations

6. Cut corporate loopholes to end Corporate Welfare

7. Create a fully Free Market Economy

Conservative politicians have been demanding such policies since at least the 1980s.  When looking at the outline of her ideas for ending corruption, it is clear that her program will do little to end the dominance of money in our campaigns or in political advertising, and therefore will not change government corruption or eliminate waste.  In fact, many of her ideas could make the current corruption worse by inviting the rich to spend even moreto control government policy.  Opening up all U.S. oil reserves to private drilling companies would convince those companies to spend lavishly on political candidates in order to ensure that their company would gain access to the oil.  Eliminating federal taxes on corporations would give companies even more money to spend on politics, especially if some companies fear losing the profits they currently gain from Corporate Welfare.  Demanding a fully Free Market Economy, Free Market Health Insurance coverage, and reducing government power would likely give even more wealth and power to the rich that already seek to avoid having to follow government laws and regulations designed to protect the public.

In total, Sarah Palin gave a strong description of how money corrupts our politics, how corrupted politicians make wasteful and harmful decisions, and that the existing money-in-politics system must be changed if we hope to save the United States from catastrophe.  She clearly understands the problems that plague government today, but seems to have little idea how to solve those problems.  She powerfully called for a change to the “game plan,” but her conservative ideas distracted her from what the game is and confused her plan for changing it.

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Lessig’s Shortcomings

The recent rise of “Tea Party” and “Occupy” Movements clearly reveal an unhappiness with the American electoral system.  Much of this unhappiness has boiled into anger and aggression.  Both sides openly talk about revolting against a political system so inherently corrupt that it is incapable of solving the massive economic and social problems the United States faces today.  Most Americans view both Congress and the presidency as inept, childish, and unreliable.  Americans keep voting for “change” – only one president since 1976 has won office without advertising himself as an outsider sent to Washington on the promise to clean up the mess – but keep getting the same results.  Most Americans understand that “change” is difficult to achieve when elections are won by money 90% of the time.

Tea Party activists and Occupiers both say that corrupt “special interests” spending money to win elections is the source of most American political crises.  Lawyers, Representatives, Senators, and even former leaders of presidential Administrations have proposed many different changes to our campaign finance laws aimed at eliminating the ability of the rich to win elections by merely outspending everyone else.  Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig proposed some of the clearest, simplest, and possibly most effective of these ideas in his book Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It (New York, Twelve: 2011).  Lessig’s ideas deserve far more attention than they have garnered in the mainstream press.  However, his plans fall short in the crucial area of “independent expenditures” – the ability of wealthy groups to build private media campaigns that often sway today’s American elections.

Republic, Lost gives a wonderful analysis of money’s role in American elections, how its dominant role in elections has hurt American economic and education systems, and how money “defeats” liberal and conservative attempts at changing the system.  The book is highly useful for any reader just beginning to learn about American political problems.  Lessig moves into a detailed presentation of his plan for changing the system later in the book.  His plan has four major steps:

            First, we convert the first fifty dollars that each of us contributes to the federal Treasury into a voucher.  Call it a “democracy voucher.”  Each voter is free to allocate his or her democracy voucher as he or she wishes.  Maybe fifty dollars to a single candidate.  Maybe twenty-five dollars to two candidates. . . .  The only requirement is that the candidate receiving the voucher must opt into the system.

Second, if the democracy voucher is not allocated, then it goes to the political party to which the voter is registered.  If the voter is not registered to party, then it goes to supplement funding for the infrastructure of democracy: voting systems, voter education, and the Grant and Franklin Project.

Third, voters are free under this system to supplement the voucher contribution with their own contribution—up to $100 per candidate.  One hundred dollars is nothing . . . to about 2 percent of the American public.  It is a great deal of money to everyone else.

Fourth, and finally, any viable candidate for Congress could receive these contributions if he or she agreed to one important condition: that the only money that candidate accepted to fund his or her campaign would be democracy vouchers and contributions from individuals up to $100 per citizen.  That means no PAC money and no direct contributions form political parties.  (Lawrence Lessig, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It,New York, Twelve: 2011, page 267)

This seems to be a detailed plan for change, yet it is still short and simple enough for the average American to understand and easily use.  However, its major flaw is also obvious: the role of choice.  Remember: “The only requirement is that the candidate receiving the voucher must opt into the system” and “any viable candidate for Congress could receive these contributions if he or she agreed to one important condition” – that they only spend the voucher money plus the $100 contributions.  We simply cannot rely on politicians to choose to take small amounts of money rather than millions of dollars from single contributors.  Why would someone like Barak Obama choose to take such tiny contributions and reject the $700 billion he raised, and won with, in 2008?  The answer is simple: most politicians will reject public financing, as Obama did in 2008.  A better solution would force all candidates in any federal election to accept public financing as the only source of their campaign cash.

Another flaw in Lessig’s plan is equally important, though less obvious: the candidates’ campaigns are not the only groups spending money on media advertising.  Other groups, sometimes totally outside of any candidate’s campaign and not in contact with that campaign’s leadership, also spend huge amounts of money on political ads.  Some of these “independent expenditures” raise and spend tens of millions of dollars on attack ads aimed at jack-hammering worry and hatred into voters’ minds.  Such groups were limited to spending only $57,500 – until the Supreme Court killed those limits with the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.  With the limits erased, “independent expenditure” groups now spend unlimited amounts of money on any political message they want.  Lessig understands this to be a gigantic problem – and he even admits that his “democracy voucher” plan is helpless to stop such powerful and motivated groups.

The candidates would smile and tell us all that their campaigns were funded by clean contributions only.  And that would be true.  But all the dirty work in the campaigns would be done by “Americans for a United Future” or “Veterans Against Feline Abuse” or “United We Stand Forever” or whatever.  On the margin, these independent campaigns would determine who won and who lost.  And as the margin is the game, this world enabled by Citizens Untied could well defeat all of the independence that [the democracy voucher plan] was meant to buy.  (Lessig, Republic, Lost, pages 271-272)

Even if Lessig’s “democracy voucher” plan became law, candidates could accept public financing for their campaign with full knowledge that their friends would rush to build “independent expenditure” groups to wage the advertising war with unlimited money.  That is where the so-called SuperPACs would be even more powerful and unstoppable than they are today.  Candidates could claim innocence even while conspiring to bury American democracy under increasing amounts of dirty money.

Again, the best solution would force all candidates in any federal election to accept public financing as the only source of their campaign cash.  Any realistic solution must also make “independent expenditures” illegal to fully kill their power to determine election winners.  We would probably need a Constitutional Amendment to make it happen, but that is the only way to be reasonably certain that money can no longer dominate our politics.  My recent book, The Machinery of Politics, proposes such an Amendment.  The entire book can be read and downloaded FOR FRE at www.machineryofpolitics.com.  Campaigns that are only publicly funded would allow We The People to truly determine election-day winners – and make this country into the democracy it advertises itself to be!

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