Politics in the Blogosphere, 4/9/2014 Edition

How about a quick visit to the blogosphere on the topic of money in politics? UMass Boston’s Black Student Center hosted a forum on the topic yesterday featuring Senator Jamie Eldridge, who was somewhat more optimistic than me on the topic. So what are the best academics saying about the Supreme Court’s recent decision on campaign finance, and does plutocracy bring any policy consequences – like government subsidies for too big to fail banks, for instance?A monkeycage post last week by UMass Amherst Professor Ray LaRaja makes the enticing case that McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the most recent Alice in Wonderland campaign finance decision by our plutocrat enabling Supreme Court may not be so bad after all. Professor LaRaja sees several possible benefits from McCutcheon; First, parties and party leaders will control more money and they generally avoid extremist candidates, so we may see more compromise. Second, we’ll at least know who is making the contributions (less dark money). Third, corporations and unions can’t exploit McCutcheon since they are limited to one “connected” PAC. Fourth, the FEC may have a greater role and that agency is better able to understand campaign finance than the IRS.

By the way did anyone else notice that on the very day the McCutcheon case was announced, Charles Keating died? Keating was convicted in the savings and loan scandal of the Eighties. When asked if he thought there was any connection between his political contributions and his beneficiaries’ intervention on his behalf with regulatory authorities, Keating responded: “I want to say in the most forceful way I can: I certainly hope so.” I’ve always loved that quote.

Also at themonkeycage political science Professor Larry Bartels is dismayed that Rich people rule! Professor Bartels cites a paper forthcoming from Professor Martin Gilens (author of Affluence and Influence) and Professor Benjamin Page that shows that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” The advance of Gilens and Page is the quantitative nature of their study; the conclusion may not come as a great shock but political scientists have struggled to provide quantitative proof. As Professor Bartels points out, some very good political scientists including my UMass Boston colleague Tom Ferguson are “following the money” and exposing the dominance of economic elites.

That’s about all I can stand on McCutcheon though so let me move on to wonder if we’ve solved the question of whether the American government is subsidizing “too big to fail” banks, if the subsidy is big, and does it matter? Well as MIT Professor Simon Johnson reports based on an International Monetary Fund Report, the big banks have indeed bullied their way past EBT recipients to feed at the red white and blue trough. The subsidy is sizable, and “yet this large scale of implicit support is small relative to the macroeconomic damage that is likely to be caused by the high leverage and incautious risk-taking that the subsidy encourages.”

As Diddy said, “It’s all about the Benjamins” folks.

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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2 Responses to Politics in the Blogosphere, 4/9/2014 Edition

  1. Ed Lyons says:

    Professor Cunningham –

    Let me say up front that our campaign finance system is a disaster. The way in which money moves around and the time and effort that candidates and politicians spend to claim it is our biggest problem, and the root of many other problems.

    One thing not really discussed is the effect of this decision on Massachusetts politics. The current system of limits in MA is well-intentioned, but in reality, ends up being an incumbent protection racket. (I am not being glib here, I have worked on several small campaigns.) It affects challengers in both parties, but it affects us Republicans the most. Yes, we have lots of problems that are completely self-inflicted and unrelated to money, but it’s hard to get our candidates funded properly, even when they have politics that you would respect.

    Getting rid of the $12,500 limit here is wonderful, and isn’t something that you have to be Charles Koch to exploit. I know many outstanding, well-off Republicans in MA who could take advantage of this, and get some money – thousands, not millions – in the hands of worthy candidates and committees in this state to make Republicans more competitive. Fear not! No amount of money would make some right-wing nut job competitive here, thanks to the feelings of the voters and the commentary of well-informed professors. The donors I am speaking with are talking about some “seed money” for things like reasonable Republicans in urban districts, instead of just maxing out on the statewide races. These men are not plutocrats who will wreck our system here. They are simply the enemy of the negative consequences of one-party rule.

    So stay tuned! There may be a silver lining to this dark cloud* you see, at least here in Massachusetts.

    * That being said, it would be nice to see our Congress use this latest decision as a reason to cancel the many absurdities of the current generation of SuperPACs.

  2. Dr. Ed says:

    I think the bottom line is do you trust the people to govern themselves or do you think they should be locked in a cave with an enlightened leader doing their thinking for them?

    Say what you want, I believe that Justice Thomas once again “got it right” — and I suggest looking at history. If money truly controlled politics (indefinitely) then there would have neither been an environmental movement nor an AntiVietnam one, Richard Nixon would never have resigned and Mayor Daley would have won (and not lost) in Chicago back in 1968. In all of those cases, the side with money LOST.

    So do you trust the people or not?

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