Tag: campaign finance regulation

RIP Max Palevsky, a Man Whose Vast Wealth Helped Stop a War

“Max Palevsky, a pioneer in the computer industry and a founder of the computer-chip giant Intel who used his fortune to back Democratic presidential candidates and to amass an important collection of American Arts and Crafts furniture, died on Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 85,” reports the New York Times.

Palevsky used his vast wealth to influence politics, especially to oppose the Vietnam War. He was one of the liberal mega-givers who made the Eugene McCarthy campaign possible in 1968, along with such people as Stanley Sheinbaum, Stewart Mott, and Martin Peretz. Describing the McCarthy campaign as “shoestring,” Christopher Hitchens added:

When one says “shoestring,” by the way, one is forced to recall that the whole operation was essentially underwritten by a few ill-sorted but well-off individuals including, notably, Max Palevsky, Blair Clark, and Martin Peretz. Today’s campaign-finance laws—or “reforms” as they are always described—make a similar undertaking extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Hitchens may be a bit misty-eyed in his memory of a “shoestring” campaign. Time reported that “In 1968 Clean Gene led the list of preconvention spenders with an $11 million outlay.” But he’s right about the campaign finance laws. An outsider candidate with a mission, like McCarthy in 1968 or George McGovern in 1972 (to whom Palevsky is said to have given $320,000), is not allowed to jump-start his campaign with a few big contributions from donors who share his vision.

Ironically, Palevsky later donated $1 million to a California initiative that would have limited campaign contributions. It is not recorded whether Palevsky specifically wished that he and his friends had been forbidden to make the McCarthy and McGovern campaigns possible. But he did make them happen, and the restrictions on such outsider campaigns are one of the big costs of our current campaign finance laws.

Cross-posted at Politico Arena.

Poll Suggests Caution on Citizens United Response

The Center for Competitive Politics has just published a new poll measuring public views about the recent Citizens United decision. The poll provides a lot of interesting information.

About one in five said they were aware of the decision. Fully 60 percent of respondents said they were not aware of the case, and it is fair to say that almost all of the other 20 percent who responded “don’t know” or refused to answer were also poorly informed about it.

Congress is now trying to write and enact legislation to overcome the strictures imposed on campaign finance regulation by the Citizens United decision. Members cite surveys supporting such legislation as a justification for the new restrictions.

At best, however, public opinion is immature on this issue. Congress should deliberate and give the public some time to foster a more informed view of this decision. Deliberation is all the more necessary since we are talking about First Amendment rights in this case. Congress itself may wish to know more about the likely consequences of intervening in complex matters like corporate governance.

The CCP poll is worth reading in detail. I don’t remember a poll that asks so many objective and interesting questions about First Amendment issues.

The Unrelenting Battle over Campaign Finance

Following on the heels of November’s gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, the loss of Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts two weeks ago was a devastating blow to Democratic Party hopes.  But it must have been especially devastating to President Obama, who promised an adoring University of Missouri crowd, just before he was elected, that “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”  Yet it would appear, judging from the unrelenting commentary and from the president’s own behavior last week, that those losses pale in comparison to the government’s loss before the Supreme Court two days after the polls closed in Massachusetts.  For 11 days now the wailing over the Court’s Citizens United decision has not ceased.  Indeed, campaign finance regulation, intimately connected to incumbency protection, is a bedrock principle of modern liberalism.

Exhibit A is E.J. Dionne’s column today in the Washington Post – his second in a week on the subject.  Last week, railing against the “reckless decision by Chief Justice John Roberts’s Supreme Court and the greed of the nation’s financial barons,” he charged the Court with “an astonishing display of judicial arrogance, overreach and unjustified activism” and urged “a new populist-progressive alliance” to demand “legislation to turn back the Supreme Court’s effort to undermine American democracy” – including a bill prohibiting political spending by corporations who hire lobbyists, no less.

Today, however, Dionne has last Wednesday’s unseemly episode of Obama rebuking a silent Supreme Court to work with.  And, like the immortal Daniel Schorr on yesterday’s NPR Sunday Morning, he puts all the blame on Justice Samuel Alito for seeming to mouth, silently, “Not true” when Obama, before all assembled and a watching nation, tendentiously misstated the holding in Citizens United.  But Dionne doesn’t stop there, of course.  No, he thanks Alito.  You see, “Alito’s inability to restrain himself” brought a long-ignored truth to the nation:  “The Supreme Court is now dominated by a highly politicized conservative majority intent on working its will, even if that means ignoring precedents and the wishes of the elected branches of government.”  Likening Obama’s behavior to President Reagan’s writing a 1983 article criticizing Roe v. Wade – I didn’t make that up – Dionne chastises conservatives for their double standard:  “Reagan had every right to say what he did. But why do conservatives deny the same right to Obama?”  Where does one begin?

Turning finally to “the specifics of Obama’s indictment,” Dionne tries to defend the president’s misstatements, but unfortunately the precision ordinarily expected of such a wordsmith seems to have deserted him.  Citing Obama’s claim that the Court had reversed “a century of law” and also opened “the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations,” Dionne writes that ”Obama was not simply referring to court precedents but also to the 1907 Tillman Act, which banned corporate money in electoral campaigns.”  That’s not what the Tillman Act did:  It banned direct corporate contributions to campaigns.  Only in 1947 were independent campaign expenditures by corporations (and unions) banned – and more clearly so only in 1990, which is the ban the Court overturned.  Moreover, pace Obama, foreign corporations are still specifically banned from contributing anything of value “in connection with a Federal, State or local election.”  Thus, in claiming, without more, ”that the ruling opens a loophole for domestic corporations under foreign control to make unlimited campaign expenditures,” Dionne seems simply to be passing along what he’s read or heard from others.  Nothing in the Court’s opinion warrants that conclusion.

But it’s Dionne’s larger claim that most demands an answer – that an “activist” Roberts Court, exercising “raw judicial power,” is ”ignoring precedents and the wishes of the elected branches of government.”  That’s hardly the definition of “activism.”  That’s what the Court should be doing, where it’s warranted by the Constitution, whether the Court is defending the rights of blacks to attend unsegregated schools or of gays to sexual freedom or of corporate owners, the shareholders, to engage in political speech through their corporation consistent with their articles of incorporation and by-laws.  The claim that corporations aren’t people is a red herring.  Corporate owners are people, and their right to speak can take many forms.  Fortunately, we have a First Amendment, which protects not only corporate owners but E.J. himself from all but the error of his ways.

[Cross-posted at Politico Arena]