George Will Panders To The Elite Establishment And Their Influence On Elections
Prominent conservative voice George Will deserves some respect for changing his party affiliation from “Republican” to “Independent” in protest of Donald Trump. But ironically, Trump was put into office on the backs of those fed up with the establishment – those yearning to “drain the swamp,” sharing the belief that substantial amounts of money has caused Capital Hill to fully corrode.
Yet Will inexplicably through this Prager “University” video tries to defend the way our current laws allow candidates to be funded – he attempts to make the argument that extraordinarily wealthy interests giving vast amount of money to candidates is suitable for a healthy democracy. https://www.prageru.com/courses/political-science/campaign-finance-reform-corrupts
Not only should this notion run in defiance of common sense regardless of your party affiliation, it’s ideological opposition was the spark that ignited the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
Will may realize that he’s a dying breed, having himself witnessed the fate of those dozen or so Republican primary candidates who insisted that vanilla establishment conservative ideology was still the remedy. And they assured us that they would get to their explanation on why their way still works, if we would just stop listening to that offensive and obnoxious loudmouth blowhard who is talking about draining a swamp.
Here are the some of the endangered arguments George Will puts forth from the video:
1) George Will: “(McCarthy’s) challenge to president Lyndon Johnson was possible and potent only because five wealthy liberals who shared McCarthy’s opposition to the Vietnam War gave him substantial sums of money.”
And the necessity for five wealthy donors to contribute large amounts of money to keep a candidate viable is not a characteristic of a functioning democracy. Will’s remedy to this problem is a strange one – rather than strip both the challenger and the incumbent of outside donor influence and run the campaigns on an equal plane supported by public funding, he feels candidates should try to outdo each other by recruiting as many wealthy donors as possible.
With that system, the candidate who has that a single key wealthy supporter who spends $10 million on his behalf, may equal that of a million total contributions by regular citizens. It is perverse, unjust, and runs contrary to the phrase “We The People..”
2) “Because of campaign finance reform, the most a wealthy quintet could give to help an insurgent against an incumbent today is $13,000 – five times the individual limit of $2,600.”
This is one of Will’s most disingenuous moments in his use of this outdated example which occurred at a time when Super PAC’s had yet to be conceived, and “non-profit” status was apolitical in nature.
Almost $1.8 billion was given to Political Action Committees during the 2016 elections. Individuals, corporations, and even foreign entities can give unlimited funds to these groups who often advocate on behalf of a candidate.
Alternately, there are the non-profit “501-c4” organizations whom donors can also contribute to without limits and without having their name disclosed to the public. These “charity” organizations operate under non-profit status, yet have clear and ambitious political aims in their messaging, with just enough ambiguity to avoid being labeled as a political advocacy group. Because a charitable organization directly engaging on behalf of a party or candidate would be against the law…
3) “To stop (McCarthy’s competitive race against Johnson) from happening again, they pushed for government regulation of political speech.”
Conservatives like Will often take an originalist approach in viewing law as it relates to the Constitution. Yet it is absurd to think that the action of a billionaire spending unlimited amounts of money to essentially buy off the politicians of their choice would have been considered by Jefferson to be free “political speech” protected by the First Amendment. Spending money on behalf of a candidate had always been regarded as an action subject to regulation, until the conservative Supreme Court became motivated to dissipate this safeguard on behalf of the very wealthy.
4) “Thus, in reaction to Sen. McCarthy’s surgency, campaign finance reform was born. Not much has changed since then.”
Will speaks as if he hasn’t been in the country over the last half-decade. His comment is completely asinine.
In 1974, the “Buckley vs. Valeo” decision ruled that the expenditure limits imposed in those very campaign finance laws of were unconstitutional.
Then in 1978 there was the “First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti” case which gave corporations this First Amendment protection for what they’re defining as “political speech” as defined in the Buckley case.
In 2010 we saw “Citizen’s United vs. FEC” essentially open up the floodgates, allowing just about any entity to donate unlimited amounts of money to any group or organization not directly tied to a candidate. This gave birth to one of the threats of modern-day democracy – the fore-mentioned “Super PAC.”
And recently, we saw the “McCutcheon vs. FEC” case eliminate the restrictions on the number of candidates a donor can directly fund.
So not only has a lot changed since then, these changes have more or less stripped the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 of its effectiveness.
5) “Campaign finance laws are not written to protect the public from corrupt politicians. They are written to protect incumbents from anyone who might challenge them.”
Will speaks like incumbents are always popular around re-election time and they themselves don’t need any donor support to assure that they win their campaigns. When campaign finance legislation is written, the incumbents themselves have to play by those same rules.
And more often then not, the incumbent is able to raise more money then the challenger as a result of being already part of the establishment and having the connections and resources that go with that status. As a result, imposing financing restrictions will likely hurt the incumbent more so than the challenger, restricting the vaster resources that the incumbent has attained through their term(s) in public service.
And as I’ve noted in the prior point, most of the changes to campaign finance laws have been created by judges, not actual legislators seeking to act strategically to secure their re-election. These Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life, thereby never needing to worry about being voted out.
6) “All the laws that have ever regulated campaigns or ever will regulate them, have had, or will have one thing in common- they have been, or will be written by incumbent legislators.”
Again, this is such a bizarre statement to completely exclude the influence of the Supreme Court which has had more influence on campaign finance law than any legislator has since the Campaign Finance Act of 1971.
7) Will states there are two types of reformers. The first believes that “corruption is so pervasive and so subtle, that it is invisible. They resemble the zealots who say ‘Proof of the conspiracy to assassinate president Kennedy, is the fact that no proof has been found.'”
The terrible comparison aside, I have never known of any “reformer” to believe that this corruption is “invisible.” Perhaps a small and inconsequential amount of people share this view, but it’s essentially a straw-man argument.
8) Will believes the second type of reformer feels that “corruption is entirely visible everywhere. If ‘Politician A’ votes in a way that pleases ‘Contributor B’, particularly if ‘Contributor B’ enjoyed access to ‘Politician A’, that shall be designated corruption.”
Notice he uses the phrase “enjoyed access to” as to artificially convey the action as a simple, innocent, routine occurrence. Yet the truthful deciphering of that phrase is: “gave an exorbitant amount of money to”.
9) “But there is abundant research demonstrating that money almost always moves toward the politician with whom the contributor already agrees.”
Will exacerbates his misrepresentations even further. Of course people are going to only give to politicians whom they agree with, regardless if the donation is to overtly win influence or not. Will misses the point – campaign finance reform isn’t focused on the under the table bribes that go in defiance of our current law. Rather, reformers are looking at the immoral actions that our law currently allows for.
But let’s say he’s right in his assertion that donors “almost always” give their money to candidates whom they agree with, even without an implicit or explicit personal quid-pro-quo arrangement. This is still extremely problematic for a democratically-elected republic. Take the following scenario of two different types of American voters:
Voter A: She works in retail. Important issues for her are protecting the environment, strengthening social security, universal healthcare. She can only afford to contribute $20 to ‘Candidate A’ whom she feels best represents her voice.
Voter B: Billionaire who operates an oil empire. Important issues for him are diminishing the EPA’s strength as it’s regulations cost his company money. He can afford his own healthcare, so he opposes a single-payer system. Has more than enough to take care of himself in old age, so privatizing social security and handing it off to Wall-Street works great for him, as he is an avid investor. He votes for Candidate B and gives $5 million to his Super PAC.
So Candidate A has $20 in support from Voter A. Candidate B has $5 million in support from Voter B.
Which candidate has the advantage? And does that candidate who has this financial advantage mean that their ideas are what’s best for America? His influence will certainly be stronger. It doesn’t matter if the billionaire donor specifically expects something in return – he will get his return on investment with a libertarian candidate, who espouses policies that are beneficial to the very wealthy, and detrimental to the poor.
Will either is incapable of this sort of reasoning, or he’s being disingenuous by not proposing a scenario such as this which tends to promote and favor an oligarchic-style government.
10) “These reformers apparently think that when James Madison, the author of the Bill Of Rights meant… was ‘Congress should make no law abridging freedom of speech, unless incumbents feel abridgment will help keep them in office.'”
Actually, Madison would likely have been appalled to learn that corporations are now considered people under our First Amendment, and are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence a campaign. He would have also been equally as disgusted that “freedom of speech” is synonymous with “billionaires spending vast amounts of money to ensure that the candidate of their choice is installed into office.”
11) “Even if it was Congress’ business to decide if there were too much money in politics…”
It absolutely is Congress’ business to decide these things. So Will completely omits how members of the Supreme Court have essentially served as legislators in robes, having chipped away at campaign finance reform regulations over the last 50 years.
And he has the audacity to imply that it’s none of Congress’ business to decide if too much money is in politics, yet he seems perfectly content that unelected, lifetime appointed judges are re-writing the laws that were written by representatives of the people.
12) “What does too much mean? In the 2007-2008 election cycle.. spending in all campaigns totaled $8.6 billion dollars- about what American’s spend annually on potato chips.”
The absurdity here is using potato chips to downplay the reality that $8.6 billion dollars is actually a lot of money, and is certainly an amount that can be used in a way that is antithetical to American democracy.
George Will’s statements, in conjunction with Prager U’s support, should leave any viewer with a basic sense of objectivity with a sick feeling. It’s portrayal was incomplete and dishonest; yet perhaps worst off all it projected the issue in defense of those very wealthy interests who have been purchasing our politicians and indirectly writing legislation.
As if really any proof was needed that actual establishment Republican ideology benefits those at the very top and hurts those at the bottom, than look no further than Will’s own comments.