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Unpacking a Doable Citizens United Ruling Solution

by Jonathan Denn, published

Campaign Donations Become Bribes

Anywhere else in society if you took money from people you had a fiduciary responsibility to otherwise serve it would be a crime, and you could have civil liability. But the duopoly has this sweet deal, they can require campaign contributions for access (extortion or pay-to-play), or accept large unsolicited campaign contributions (bribery) with an explicit or implied expected behavior.

Last year, I ran a Twitter campaign, #ShouldElectedOfficials Stop Taking Money From Corporations They Regulate? I jammed candidates Twitter feeds with the question. Here is an unlikely pair: the renowned fiscal conservative David Walker (Americans Elect hopeful), and the famous social liberal Roseanne Barr (Green Party hopeful) both said “Yes.” So did Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson. Americans Elect’s fifth most popular candidate TJ O’Hara responded with the quickest, “Yes.” TJ went on to become the Modern Whig endorsed candidate for POTUS. As you probably surmised, Buddy Roemer said “Yes”, as did Andre Barnett the Reform Party Candidate for President. Here’s a list of other candidates that said “Yes.” Imagine if I’d had a few thousand friends helping me with all the congressional and senate candidates.

I consider this to be the fourth most important electoral reform, but not the end of the packaging of a relatively easy to pass omnibus electoral reform Constitutional Amendment. To review, the first was The Right To A Fraud-Free Counted Vote. The second is to Ban Single Mark Ballots that are hugely biased towards the perpetuity of the duopoly. The third, is Nationwide Redistricting to end the practice of gerrymandering that creates safe seats for the duopoly party bosses.

Ending the Legal Extortion and Bribery of Elected Officials is a hugely popular reform, aGREATER.US poll has an equal weight of independents, conservatives, and liberals giving it an 89% positive approval rating. Polls nationwide have similar wildly popular percentages to reducing the impact of money in elections. But the wording is very important. Phrased this vaguely it’s a great grievance, with bad and/or un-passable solutions.

Here’s the rub. While Ending the Legal Extortion and Bribery would probably pass as a Constitutional Amendment in record time, it gets packaged badly by partisans. Liberals have taken it too far. They want to Ban Corporate Personhood that would end free speech for any incorporated group of people whether for- or non-profit. Progressives are quick to backtrack they would exempt nonprofits. But, for-profit corporations can easily set up industry nonprofits to do their bidding, Citizen’s United, the organization itself, is a nonprofit.

Professor Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for President did NOT give an unqualified “yes” to my question, she still wanted to take campaign money from nonprofit corporations she would regulate. I don’t think you can have your cake and eat it, too. You are a reformer or you’re not. If you want to dig deeper into free speech and fair elections Glen Greenwald had a long running narrative on Salon.

I was on two town hall meetings with Governor Gary Johnson the Libertarian candidate for POTUS, my poignant question, Should Elected Officials Stop Taking Money From Corporations They Regulate?, was voted to the top, on the screen for 700 people to read, next up in the queue for a face to face—the question was censored, deleted, I was bumped out of the queue and they went on to talk about legalizing drug use. In a second call, I was thrown a bone, and Governor Johnson actually came out in favor of term limits for Congress, even possibly single term limits. That was a brave call, Governor! Term Limits will likely be the next column in this series about electoral reform.

While Governor Johnson’s single term limit support would address giving money to elected officials’ reelection campaigns, it doesn’t cover the monies given to candidates before the election, and the implied owed reciprocity. He has made the point that in his experience as New Mexico’s Governor it has never been an issue. That may very well be true in a small State like New Mexico that has only slightly less population than the city of Houston, TX. But on a national political stage, I’d have to go with professor of economics and marketing, Robert Cialdini on the validity of reciprocity bias. has over $3 Billion worth of campaign contributions made to the Democrats and the Republicans in the last election cycle. It's incredulous to think of that kind of money showered on a little over a 1000 candidates not being influence buying.

Fiscal conservatives have a problem with limiting issue advertising. On any given two year election cycle, any incoming activist Congress could try to outlaw fracking, or for that matter, take away the tax exempt status of liberal universities. If these groups cannot defend themselves in the media through free speech on issues, and they can no longer lobby elected officials through campaign contributions—their very existence, their of way of life, their employees jobs could be forever lost or altered, and with absolutely no recourse or means of defending themselves.

And who will be the arbiter of who gets to speak about what and how often? I believe the founders had a good reason to make Free Speech the First Amendment. Although, it wasn’t going to be first, I’ll be writing a column about the Original First Amendment in the coming weeks.

Is money free speech? Of course it is. Every time you buy something your actions speak louder than words—money talks. If your words are against fracking, but you buy fracked gasoline—what exactly are you saying? We’ll come back to the fracking debate shortly.

Here’s the sad part, we Independents, and for that matter a seemingly vast majority of Americans, left and right, liberty and order, who do want to End the Legal Extortion and Bribery of Elected Officials are being held hostage by groups who don’t stand a chance of passing a Constitutional Amendment to ban corporate personhood or merely reverse SCOTUS’s Citizens United Ruling. There are simply too many Red states to do either. This was exactly the fate of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Now for the illogical part of the analysis on reversing the Citizens United ruling—our electoral system was a shambles under McCain Feingold, so why do we merely want to go back to those bad old days—with all the wasted effort of a Constitutional Amendment—with no chance of it passing anyway? Sound like a duopoly manufactured red herring? It does to me.

Having said this about SCOTUS’s Citizens United ruling, I am all for total transparency of issue-advertising funders. I am, however, not in favor of full transparency of small contributions to candidates. It is all too easy for scorned elected officials to exact retribution on those who dared cross them. Small donations are more like a secret ballot than bribery or extortion.

Now, am I happy that two billionaires can buy up all the ad time on mainstream media to frack the frack out of whether we should frack or frack not? No. But perhaps it is the price we pay to live in a democracy. About half the country values energy independence and national security while the other half values the environment. This sounds like the partisan politics I usually leave to others.

If there is a solution to, issue advertising dollar limits, that could pass as a Constitutional Amendment it would likely be tepid at best. Would we even really notice a difference? It would probably allow a sufficiently high limit that we’ll still be deluged with issue messaging. Pull up a chair, pop some corn, and enjoy the ride.

Why can’t the reform movement and independents get their act together and get the obvious do-able stuff done? Harvesting the fallen fruit, before reaching for the sky with a step stool. Is it behavioral psychology? Are we being manipulated? Are we just incapable of cooperation?

Plain and simple: Ban all corporate (for profit, nonprofit, and union) political contributions to, or for, or against—political candidates, elected officials, and political parties—but in no way inhibit their transparent free speech rights on issues. I believe this is eminently passable as a Constitutional Amendment.

#ShouldElectedOfficials Stop Taking Money From Corporations They Regulate? You might consider jamming the Twitter feeds of your elected officials and candidates in the next election cycle, and see what they say. It's great fun when you get a "Yes."

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