inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #0 of 111: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 22 Sep 04 14:50
    
Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman are here to discuss their new book, Is That
a Politician in Your Pocket? Washington on $2 Million a Day, just
published by John Wiley and Sons, and not a moment too soon. The book is a
thorough explanation of campaign finance, warts and all. And did we
mention the warts?  This is an important book for anyone who wants to
grasp how politics and governance really work in the USA.

Micah L. Sifry is senior analyst with Public Campaign, a non-profit,
non-partisan organization working on comprehensive campaign finance
reform. Prior to joining Public Campaign in 1997, Sifry was an editor and
writer with The Nation magazine for thirteen years. He is the author of
Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America (Routledge, 2002)  
and co-edited The Iraq War Reader (Touchstone, 2003) and The Gulf War
Reader (Times Books, 1991). He has also published articles and op-eds in
The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Newsday,
The American Prospect, The Hill, Salon.com, TomPaine.com,
IntellectualPolitics.com and many smaller papers and magazines. His latest
book, co-authored with Nancy Watzman, on how money in politics affects
people in their everyday lives, is titled Is That a Politician in Your
Pocket? (John Wiley & Sons, 2004). He is also an adjunct professor at the
Political Science Department of the City University of New York/Graduate
Center, where he teaches a course called "Writing Politics." He is a
co-founder and executive editor of the Personal Democracy Forum.  
Currently, he maintains a blog at www.iraqwarreader.com.

Nancy Watzman has more than 15 years of experience of investigative
reporting, research, and writing working for Washington watchdog groups,
including the Center for Public Integrity, the Center for Responsive
Politics and Public Citizen. She contributed several chapters to The
Buying of the Congress (Avon Books 1998) and has published articles and
opinion pieces in newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times,
Harper's Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Monthly. She
is a graduate of Swarthmore College.

The inimitable Mike Godwin is on board to lead the discussion with Micah
and Nancy. Now the legal director for Public Knowledge, Mike served for
nine years as the first Staff Counsel for the Electronic Frontier
Foundation, where he informed users of electronic networks about their
legal rights and responsibilities, instructed criminal lawyers and
law-enforcement personnel about computer civil-liberties issues, and
conducted seminars about civil liberties in electronic communication for a
wide range of groups. Godwin has published articles for print and
electronic publications on topics such as electronic searches and
seizures, the First Amendment & electronic publications, and the
application of international law to computer communications. In 1991-92,
Godwin chaired a committee of the Massachusetts Computer Crime Commission,
where he supervised the drafting of recommendations to Governor Weld for
the development of computer-crime statutes. Godwin has written articles
about social and legal issues on the electronic frontier that have
appeared in the Whole Earth Review, Quill, Index on Censorship, Internet
World, WIRED & HotWired, and Playboy. From 1999 to 2001, Godwin served as
a reporter on e-commerce and intellectual-property issues for American
Lawyer Media, first as senior editor of E-Commerce Law Weekly, then as
chief correspondent of IP Worldwide. Most recently, he has been a senior
policy fellow at the Center for Democracy and Technology, and he is a
contributing editor at Reason.
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #1 of 111: Seahorses of the Liver (mnemonic) Wed 22 Sep 04 15:12
    

Thank you, Jon.  I think right out of the starting gate I'd like to Micah's
and Nancy's thoughts on the role 527s have been playing in the current
election season. On the one hand, many campaign watchers have found it quite
troubling that 527s have made it possible to snipe at a candidate without
that candidate's opponents having any control or accountability.

On the other, some people feel that 527s may play the role of equalizer in a
campaign where one side is seen as having vastly more financial resources
than the other(s).
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #2 of 111: Nancy Watzman (nancywatzman) Wed 22 Sep 04 15:31
    
527s are the "sexy" topic this election cycle, and the explosion of
these groups that are collecting unlimited contributions and running
ads attacking candidates is certainly a concern. That said, if we were
to get rid of all 527s tomorrow, the problems we discuss in our book
would remain full force, just as they are with us despite the fact that
the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law got rid of soft money. Note
that not a cent of the $259 million President Bush raised for his
primary
(http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/21/politics/campaign/21money.html) is
527 money. It's all good, old-fashioned hard money contributions from
individuals. Seventy percent of it came from donors giving more than
$200, and more than half from those giving the maximum of $2,000. We
know that these donors don't look like the rest of America--unless
everybody in America is a white, wealthy male. The point is that our
system of privately funded elections is inherently unfair, and that
527s are only a piece of the problem.
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #3 of 111: Seahorses of the Liver (mnemonic) Wed 22 Sep 04 19:05
    

You talk a bit in the conclusion of your book about what kinds of election
financing reform you think is necessary, and you cite some state-level
initiatives that may be improving things.  Can you say more about what's
happening at the state level to create "clean" elections?  What could be
done at the federal level to do this?  How can we we get involved in efforts
to promote election reform?
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #4 of 111: Micah Sifry (micahlsifry) Thu 23 Sep 04 06:34
    
The basic idea is this: we need a paradigm shift in how we approach
campaign finance reform. Instead of focusing most of our energy on
trying to regulate how private money gets raised and spent (a process
that can never be perfected, and perhaps shouldn't be), we should think
about how to free candidates from their dependence on private money in
the first place. Thus the idea of "clean money/clean elections."
Candidates who agree to raise no private money can qualify for a full
and equal grant of public funds for their campaigns. They do so by
collecting a very large number of very small (i.e. $5) contributions
from voters in their district, proving that they have a real base of
public support. In addition, if they're running against a candidate who
chooses to raise private funds and tries to outspend them, or if they
are targeted by outside independent spending, they can get some
additional matching funds, to keep a level playing field.

This system is in full flower in two states, Arizona and Maine, where
it has been used for all state legislative and statewide races since
2000. Over half the Maine house and three-quarters of its senate were
elected running "clean"--Democrats, Republicans, independents and even
a Green. In Arizona, nine of eleven of the statewide elected officials,
including the Governor (Janet Napolitano) and attorney general, ran
"clean." In both states, we've seen some important shifts in
legislative priorities on such issues as health care and prescription
drugs, that can at least partially be ascibed to the fact that many
legislators are no longer beholden to wealthy interests.

Other states have been joining the movement, including Vermont (which
offers full public financing for the Governor and Lt. Governor's races,
albeit with some variations that we could get into later), North
Carolina (which has enacted an "Impartial Justice" system of full
public financing for high level judicial races and is moving towards
covering legislative races as well), New Mexico, which has set up a
clean election system for its Public Regulatory Commission (a powerful
statewide elected body that regulates corporations and utilities), and
most recently New Jersey, which has adopted a pilot clean elections
project for a handful of competitive state legislative seats.

Activists in many other states are hard at work aiming to adopt
similar systems, with some of the strongest efforts in Connecticut,
Hawaii, West Virginia, Maryland, Illinois and California (where
Berkeley residents will be voting this Nov. 2 on whether to adopt a
clean elections system for municipal races). I should also mention
Massachusetts in that list--its voters overwhelmingly adopted clean
elections by referendum in 1998, the same year as Arizona and two years
after Maine, but the entrenched incumbents in the state legislature
refused to provide the funds to allow it to work. So activists there
are working to keep the issue before the voters and change the make-up
of the legislature.

At the federal level, proponents of the clean elections approach have
introduced model legislation every session since 1997 (when the
original co-sponsors were Paul Wellstone and John Kerry). Right now the
main marker bill, HR 3641, is sponsored by Rep. John Tierney of
Massachusetts. The bill adopts most of the features of the Maine and
Arizona systems, and also provides free and discounted broadcast time
to participating candidates (an obvious and big part of the problem
that can't be addressed at the state level, since Congress regulates
broadcast media).

This is hard work, in part because this reform really does alter 
power dynamics, and people and interests who already have power don't
tend to like that. How to get involved? The best way is to link up with
an existing state group, since change from below is often the path to
federal action. A list of contacts is here:
http://www.publicampaign.org/states/index.htm. I'd also urge people to
join Public Campaign, sign up to get better educated about how the
current system hurts us and how clean elections can change things, and
to join in our campaigns to educate the public further.
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #5 of 111: Seahorses of the Liver (mnemonic) Thu 23 Sep 04 18:57
    

I suspect other readers will have their own questions about election
politics, but one thing it seems to me that not everyone has caught on to
yet is how corporate giving to incumbents may lock in the current GOP
majority in both houses of Congress. What's more, some lobbies, such as Big
Pharma, heavily weight their contributions in favor of Republicans. Absent
major election-finance changes, are things just going to get more and more
GOP over time?
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #6 of 111: Nancy Watzman (nancywatzman) Fri 24 Sep 04 11:24
    
The axiom is that Money Follows Power, so absent some big upset, the
answer is: yes. The current campaign finance system helps reinforce the
GOP lock on power.

Corporate donors tend to tilt their contributions toward incumbents.
In addition, there's an ideological preference for the GOP among most
of these donors. When Democrats are in power, then some of the money
goes to them. But when the GOP is in power, the proportion of campaign
cash from corporate donors going to Republicans is much more extreme.

Here is a case in point from Public Campaign's recent report:
"Paybacks, How the White House and Congress Are Neglecting Our Health
Care Because of Their Corporate Contributors":

In the 1992 election cycle, Democrats received 44% of health
care-related industries' campaign contributions, and Republicans, 56%.
Between 1992 and 2002, campaign contributions increased astronomically
for Republicans. For example, pharmaceutical
manufacturers increased their contributions to Republicans nearly 600%
over the ten-year period, while contributions to Democrats increased
just 79%. 
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #7 of 111: Seahorses of the Liver (mnemonic) Fri 24 Sep 04 12:43
    

To switch gears, at least for a moment, let's talk about cable TV.

There's a reasonably good chance that most of this topic's readers who
watch TV get it through a cable subscription. And most of us who 
get cable find ourselves looking at rates and noticing that they 
tend to go up even when services themselves aren't improving.

But I think what few viewers realize is the connection between cable
companies corporate contributions and the ability of cable monopolies 
to keep hiking rates.  Can you talk a little about that?

(A note: Here in Washington it's accepted as a given that you don't 
mess with voters' access to television -- what's surprising to me
is that hikes in cable rates don't generate a bigger fuss than they do.)
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #8 of 111: the office block persecution affinity (thurzo) Fri 24 Sep 04 17:10
    
I'd be interested to know whether my assumption is right, that the majority
of the money raised goes on TV advertising. To me - a Brit - the fundraising
activities in the States seem extraordinary compared to what we see here,
and the principal difference seems to be that parties and candidates in the
US are allowed to advertise on TV, and in the UK they aren't.

(Political advertising on radio and tv has been banned since 1924, with
parties getting free "Party Political Broadcasts" on all channels instead:
http://tinyurl.com/486rv)
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #9 of 111: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 24 Sep 04 18:06
    
FYI Micah and Nancy will be offline through Saturday and perhaps Sunday; 
the conversation will pick up again when they return. Thanks!
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #10 of 111: Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Sun 26 Sep 04 00:25
    
In the late 1800s as businesses grew in scale, there was talk of "the
senator from Standard Oil" and similar quips. Railroads were also power
brokers in state houses and at the federal level.  (Some socialists
even suggesting reforming the national government around industry and
labor along those lines.)  Researching another work in the Wall Street
Journal from 1912, I found that President Theodore Roosevelt had been
called in front of a senate commitee on campaign financing.  They
wanted to know where he got his money from.  So, this is a very old
situation.  The triumvirates of ancient Rome were built on balances of
military, political and financial power.  Again, it is a very old
situation.

I am not sure that there is anything inherently wrong with it. By
analogy, how far back do we have to go to find a president without a
formal college education?  Wilson had been president of Princeton;
Clinton was a Rhodes scholar.  Does this mean that uneducated people
are unfairly kept from running the nation?  Bush has been excoriated
for being dyslexic.  We place a high value on verbal skills.  Would
"Silent Cal" stand a chance today?  The pyramid of power is such that
closer to the top the participants have more of everything. It is a
fact of life.

The point that bothers me most is a prejudice against money: money is
evil, and the more of it you have, the more evil you are.  I do not
subscribe to that theory.  The image of "collecting a very large number
of very small (i.e. $5) contributions" in #4 above might sound like
democracy in action, but it disenfranchises me for my ability to give
$25.  When I ran for Congress as a Libertarian, I spent about $200 and
got about 4,000 votes. At a nickel each, I was way ahead of the
Democrat and Republican candidates who paid much, much more per vote.  

You can say that money equals power, but the election equation is more
complex than that.  We have seen rich candidates like Steve Forbes
pour money into lost causes.  John Kerry is wealthy and of course so is
George Bush.  Only one can win.  Neither of them is likely to endorse
my preferred platform, but this only reflects the fact of life that the
world does not march to Mike Mercury's drum. (And I believe that this
is for the best, all the way around.)

If it is somehow wrong for rich people to have the strongest say in
government, is it somehow right that they should have the least?  

The prejudice against wealth panders to the masses.  Pandering
requires having something to sell.  In this case, I fear that a large
body of otherwise unelectable hopefuls want me to pay for their
campaigns whether I support them or not.  Indeed, BECAUSE I do not
support them, they seem to be making a special claim that I must.

Government financing of elections means government control of
elections.  Government control of elections sounds like a bad idea.
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #11 of 111: the office block persecution affinity (thurzo) Sun 26 Sep 04 02:01
    
I disagree deeply.

There is a term for a system in which elections are controlled by financial
interests, and it's plutocracy. Take a look at today's Russia - one of the
parties (Our Home is Russia) is so closely tied to the interests of the
Russian gas giant that it's commonly called Our Home is Gazprom. Or Italy,
where most of the media are in the hands of the Prime Minister, Berlusconi.
Neither of those are well-functioning democracies, and it's notable that
plutocratic government has come about as a result of the deficiencies in
their systems, not as an attempt to remedy them.

The point you make about college education is, I think, not a valid
comparison. I can readily come by a college education, and - on strictly
meritocratic grounds - having qualified in fair and open competition for an
intellectual reward shows that I have intellectual ability, which is needed
to run a government. I cannot readily come by $20m, or into control of a
corporation that has $20bn. I could inherit the money - but is the
hereditary principle really the way to run a Government today. I could get
the money through business ventures, but then why would I want to run a
Government in any other way than the self-interest of myself or the other
rich businessmen around me?

To me, this talk of pandering to the masses and so on is nothing to do with
democracy. It is 16th-century aristocracy reinvented, with the aristoi of
birth replaced by the aristoi of money. That's fine, and an intellectual
case can be made for it, I'm sure - but it's not what the citizens of the US
think they've got.
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #12 of 111: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sun 26 Sep 04 06:50
    
I was surprised this year to see that there's websites that tell you
the address and contribution level of contributors. How long will it be
before somebody starts taking advantage of that and closes that
loophole?
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #13 of 111: Low and popular (rik) Sun 26 Sep 04 08:52
    
It's really pretty simple.   With enough money behind him, a failed (several
times) businessman with no knowledge of the world or history, and with no
sense of obligation to the country as a whole, can become President.  The
result has exercerbated the demise of the middle class that had made this
country the envy of the rest of the world.   The social contract is broken,
and we are on our way to becoming a nation of the wealthy few and the
multitudes of powerless poor.   Look to Brazil and Argentina for a picture
of the future.   Capital despises democracy.
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #14 of 111: Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Sun 26 Sep 04 17:19
    
re: 11 -- "There is a term for a system in which elections are
controlled by financial interests, and it's plutocracy."

You say that like it is a bad thing.  As I noted, the assumption seems
to be that money is evil and the more you have the more evil you are. 
That is a false assumption. 

"Neither of those are well-functioning democracies..."
Athens was a democracy; Rome was a republic.  We do not have a
democracy in America simply because we do not all show up at the
Assembly and serve on juries of a thousand, and actually run the
government ourselves.  We elect others to do that for us.  There is
nothing magical or universally-required in partitioning the Senate by
States.  For representatives to be elected from industrial combines is
no more or less workable than any other method.

If it is wrong for them to represent the rich, is it right for them to
represent ONLY the poor, thus disenfranchising anyone who makes "too
much" money?

"I can readily come by a college education.. in fair and open
competition ..."

Most people with college educations feel that way.  So do most people
with money.  Inherit all you dream of, but if someone does not manage
it well, it will soon be gone.  Look at lottery winners.  Why do we not
have government by MultiState MegaBuck Lotto Winners?  The reason is
that money alone is useless.

"... the aristoi of birth replaced by the aristoi of money."

You speak of merit awards, but money is the ultimate merit award.  Yet
you -- and many others -- continue this hateful diatribe against
wealth.  

Education, good looks, charm, speaking ability, writing ability, and
much more go into the equation of political success.
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #15 of 111: Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Sun 26 Sep 04 17:26
    
re: 13 -- "With enough money behind him, a failed (several
times) businessman with no knowledge of the world or history, and with
no sense of obligation to the country as a whole, can become
President."

Are you referring to Lincoln, Truman, or Jackson?  They failed in
business, Truman three times, if I am right. 

Who speaks for "the country as a whole?"  This Topic has already
targeted the wealthy (and their close Democrat and Republican friends)
for disenfranchisement. Who speaks for Mercury?

"Capital despises democracy."

On the one hand capital demands and responds to the most complete and
impartial "democracy" possible: the market.  Millions of small
individual, self-interested decisions aggregate.  The nice thing about
the market is you can go to MacD's or BK or Organic Planet or grow it
all yourself, and in so doing, you do not prevent other people from
making their own choices.  Try to come up with a POLITICAL system like
that.

If money per se has any affect on government, it is a cleansing and
leveling force.  I have interviewed and written about lobbyists who
specialize in the causes of "the poor."  They form committees, raise
money (money!), write letters, etc.  Money is a great equalizer.

Right now, Bush's millions and billions are about equal to Kerry's
millions and billions.  That's life.
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #16 of 111: Uncle Jax (jax) Sun 26 Sep 04 18:01
    
He can't be talking about Truman, since Truman was as well-informed
about history as any president since Jefferson and more so than
any president since his own time.
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #17 of 111: the office block persecution affinity (thurzo) Mon 27 Sep 04 05:25
    
(re: 14)

Plutocracy is not a swearword for me. It's just not democracy. The
fundamental condition of democracy is not personal attendance (otherwise
Athens would be one of the few democracies in history), but a presumption
that all are equal in the eyes of the law. To take the three parts of
democracy the Athenians identified: isonomia (equal law), isegoria (equal
voice) and eleutheria (freedom).

Rule by the rich or the proxies of the rich violates the principle of equal
voice, and would doubltess lead to violation of the principle of equal law.

I don't have a problem with people being rich, God knows I'd like to join
them some day. But you are confusing my political beliefs - as a democrat -
with personal beliefs I don't hold.

On the point about how easy it is to acquire money, incidentally, I'd be
interested to know what you think about the value of self-made money over
inherited money. For my own part, I have vastly more respect for those who
have made their own wealth than for those who have inherited it.
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #18 of 111: Micah Sifry (micahlsifry) Mon 27 Sep 04 12:38
    
I see we have a backlog of interesting questions and comments to dive
into (nothing like taking the weekend off for Yom Kippur!), and we're
going to try to work our way through the pay in chronological order.

Re: #7, on the magic of ever-rising cable rates, which we devote a
chapter of the book to. People may not realize that while many
commodity prices have been dropping, including cars (down 4.5% between
1997 and 2003), audio equipment (down 20%) and TVs (down 41%), average
monthly bills have risen 40%--from $26.06 to $36.47--an extra $125 a
year. That translates into a cool $8-$9 billion a year more that the
industry as a whole rake is since the passage of the 1996
Telecommunications Act, which was supposed to usher in a new era of
deregulation, more choices and lower prices. In fact, very few of us
live in a market where there is a choice of two or more cable
providers. This is a very persistent monopoly industry. The lifting of
price controls on cable services has mostly financed a giant wave of
mergers and acquisitions.

Three years after the Telecommunications Act became law, the Consumer
Federation of America and Consumers Union reported that instead of
attacking each other’s markets, local cable and telephone monopolies
had focused on merging into “larger and larger regional firms that now
form tight national oligopolies.” The groups issued that report hoping
to convince Congress to revisit a provision of the Telecommunications
Act that formally ended price controls on cable services by March 31,
1999. But their study fell on deaf ears.

No wonder. The communications and electronics industry invested
heavily in the passage of the Telecommunications Act, donating $60.6
million to federal candidates and parties in 1995-96, according to the
Center for Responsive Politics, 48 % to Republicans and 50% to
Democrats. The cable industry, a smaller but by no means insignificant
subset of that group, has fought hard to keep Congress and the
regulatory agencies from reviewing the law, giving almost  $20 million
since then, 53% to Democrats. The lead sponsor of the
Telecommunications Act, Senator Larry Pressler (R-SD), was the top
overall recipient of cable industry cash, with $117,299.

In the summer of 1998 the Senate killed a proposal that would have
simply asked the FCC to study rising cable rates. On average, senators
voting against the proposal got 21 percent more in contributions over
the previous six years from cable PACs and individuals who work in the
industry than did senators who voted in favor. A February 1998 bill
sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), a longtime consumer advocate in
Congress, that would have kept price controls on cable services in
place after March 1999, was buried by the House Commerce subcommittee
on telecommunications, trade and consumer protection. Subcommittee
members received, on average, twice as much as the average House
member, in contributions from the cable guys during the 1997-98
election cycle.

And so it goes. Why isn't there a bigger fuss? Consumer groups say the
public has given up on complaining about rising cable rates because
they have no hope of winning changes in Republican-controlled
Washington. As Rep. Markey recently told the New York Times, “They
can’t go to the House, they can’t go to the Senate, and they can’t go
to the president, because nobody cares.”

On the other hand, I think there remains a lot of political potential
in the issue of media concentration, which the cable industry is a
subset of. So I wouldn't call this a dead matter by any stretch of the
imagination.
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #19 of 111: Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Mon 27 Sep 04 17:35
    
re: 18 Re: #7, "on the magic of ever-rising cable rates..."

With gasoline prices going up, people are becoming more aware of the
driving they do. Do we see people shocked over their cable-tv bills and
cutting the services?  No, we do not.  People like to watch television
and they are willing to pay for it.

Ourselves, living in the country, our cable-TV provider doubled our
rates, so we dropped the TV and kept the broadband.  ("What?" asked the
customer service representative, not sure she heard that right.)  We
have not watched a television show in five months.

Why does everyone not do that?  The reason is that for most people,
cable-tv is a perceived value.
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #20 of 111: Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Mon 27 Sep 04 17:37
    
Now that Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman are back, perhaps they can
explain why, if money is so important (and dangerous), we do not have
government by Multistate Megalotto Winners.  
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #21 of 111: Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Mon 27 Sep 04 17:39
    
re 12 -- if Sharon is still reading, perhaps she could provide URLs to
the reporting sites she has been most impressed with.

(Power to the people.)
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #22 of 111: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Mon 27 Sep 04 20:10
    
www.fundrace.org
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #23 of 111: Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Tue 28 Sep 04 08:05
    
Now that Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman are back, perhaps they can
explain how they picked the "$5 limit" -- the proposal that a candidate
should earn money from the government by showing many $5
contributions.  My fear is that is disenfranchises me for being able to
contribute $25, to say nothing of those who can invest 100 times more.

Also, how many of these small contributions is the right number to
demand?  As a minority candidate myself, it seems to me that only 1% of
the registered voters ought to be enough to show "popular support." 
On the other hand, I also know from experience that most politically
aware people are happy to sign almost any petition for a potential
candidate.  "All I want is a chance to run for office."  So, a nice
looking guy like me, with a good aura, a broad smile, and a twinkle in
his eye, might be able to get all the $5 nods he needs to get enough
government money toward the opportunity to be totally unrepresentative
of his district.

My point is that Sifry and Watzman have not put forward anything to
replace the flows of money that they find so odious.
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #24 of 111: Micah Sifry (micahlsifry) Tue 28 Sep 04 08:43
    
The questions raised by Michael Marotta (mercury) are not new ones,
but they are fair and important ones to raise. Why shouldn't rich
people be allowed to spend as much as they want to support candidates
and causes that they like? And, if money was truly so dominant in
politics, why isn't Congress filled with multi-millionaires? And
lastly, how would our system of $5 qualifying contributions be any
better?

Couple of quick answers:

1. A core principle of modern democracy, "one-person, one-vote" is
violated if we allow unlimited contributions to candidates. It's fine
if a rich person wants to buy an extra car, an extra house, or a couple
of 747s. But being rich should not entitle you to an extra vote. As
Justice Brandeis once said, "We can have democracy in this country, or
we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we
can't have both."

2. Large contributions to candidates and/or parties can be corrupting,
in appearance or reality. That's why the Supreme Court has upheld
reasonably limits on how much an individual can directly give. I don't
find references to political inequality in ancient Rome or the days of
America's robber barons at all comforting, in that respect. We can't
legislate away political venality, but we can change the conditions
under which our elected representatives run for office so they are far
less dependent on concentrations of money.

3. We don't have Lotto winners running for office, but we do have a
disproportionate number of millionaires in Congress. These days, the
only way to run a viable, competitive campaign for federal office (and
many state offices) is to either be rich, famous, or have lots of rich
friends. Or to get down on one's knees and tell wealthy special
interests what they want to hear. That, more than anything else,
explains why Congress spends so much time on issues of concern to the
wealthy and big corporations and so little time on matters of concern
to ordinary Americans.

4. We are not disenfranchising Michael in any way--that term refers to
his ability to vote, and while I'm trying to be polite I think it's
pretty offensive to the people who risked and in some cases gave their
lives to get the franchise that he would somehow equate his inability
to "invest" unlimited sums in a candidate with his not being allowed to
vote.

Besides, we are not talking about taking away his ability to give $25
or $125 to a candidate of his choice. The Clean Money/Clean Elections
systems in place in Arizona and Maine are completely voluntary. If a
candidate chooses not to participate, they can raise as much as state
law allows from individuals or PACs (and the Supreme Court has upheld
all sorts of reasonable contribution limits to candidates) and spend as
much as they like. Collecting $5 contributions is not as easy as
getting people to sign petitions, which is why reform advocates have
not argued for giving public funding to people solely based on their
getting on the ballot. The precise level required has varied from state
to state, with the goal being to set the bar high enough that
qualifying candidates are demonstrating a real base of support, but not
so high as to lock out newcomers. In Arizona, for example, a
gubernatorial candidate has to collect 4000 $5 qualifiers; a state
senate candidate needs 200. In Maine, the parallel numbers are 2500 and
150. 
  
inkwell.vue.225 : Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzman, Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?
permalink #25 of 111: Micah Sifry (micahlsifry) Tue 28 Sep 04 09:05
    
Time-out for a little shameless self-promotion, tied to a previous
book of mine, Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America
(http://www.spoilingforafight.com)

Like it or not, third party candidates could well be the deciding
factors in this fall's presidential election, even if they only get a
fraction of the vote in a few states. And yet those four candidates and
the parties they represent--Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party,
David Cobb of the Green Party, Michael Peroutka of the Constitution
Party, and Ralph Nader of the Reform Party and the
whoever-else-will-help-me party--have gotten little attention compared
to the major party candidates..

This Wednesday night, in the only indepth television coverage of the
third-party scene that I know of this fall, PBS will air "Crashing the
Parties," a one-hour documentary produced by AWARD Productions and
written by Darren Garnick.

Yours truly has a role in a couple of places during the show. I
haven't seen it yet, so I can't vouch for its analysis, but what I
understand from Darren is that he spent several months traveling with
each of these candidates and tried to give a fair portrait of what
motivates each of them as well as their followers. I'm sure it will be
interesting television (and a nice foil for Thursday night's Bush-Kerry
joint appearance, not to be confused with a debate.)

Check your local listings for airtimes. In NYC, it's 10pm on Channel
13.
  

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