Swamped by High Seas of Money 2

Can too much money ruin democracy?

In the first article of this series, we talked about how the nations of Southeast Asia had their economies capsized in 1997 by large movements of capital first into, and then out of, their countries.  These investments were for good and useful infrastructure which ultimately has made those countries richer today than they were previously, but the massive dollar amounts involved caused major problems to their relatively small overall economies.

We may be seeing a similar problem in the United States today - not in our economy, but in our state elections.  Scragged readers will recall the celebrated Supreme Court decision Citizens United which held that it was unconstitutional for the government to limit private groups or individuals from spending money to make political statements.  The group Citizens United had wanted to air an anti-Hillary video at their own expense during her race for the Democratic nomination; the FEC forbade them.  The Supreme Court, not unreasonably, pointed out that forbidding political speech was exactly the opposite of our Founders' beliefs.

At the time, the Left was horrified, warning of a flood of corporate dollars that would drown our political campaigns.  What individual's voice could hope to be heard against the Wal-Mart billions or Koch fortune?

We weren't too worried; we considered the Wal-Mart billions and Koch fortune as a suitable counterbalance against union billions and leftist media bias.  At the national level, that's mostly how it's worked out; the Presidency will not be decided by corporate cash because there's plenty of money on both sides.

All Politics is Local?

The same, however, may not be true at lower levels of politics, as we're unfortunately seeing in Wisconsin.  That state's bold Gov. Walker enacted reforms to limit the power of public-sector unions to fleece the taxpayer; needless to say, both local and national leftists were infuriated.

At first they tried to defeat the changes by naked thuggery, but union-sponsored riots and Democrats boycotting the legislature failed to stop Walker's law.  They then turned to the recall process, attempting to remove enough Republican senators to turn the tide; that too failed.

Now, the left has aimed the recall process against Gov. Walker himself.  This is entirely legal according to Wisconsin law.  While we are not entirely sure it's a stable idea for politicians to be able to be recalled in the middle of their term barring a criminal offense, the voters of Wisconsin have decided that it is.  That's their right.

The trouble is that both sides are drawing massive financial resources from all across the entire country for what is, technically, a local issue.  Sure, the only people actually allowed to vote for or against Gov. Walker are Wisconsin residents; but for each Wisconsin voter, there are a great many dollars from people who've never set foot in the place and couldn't care less about the taxes Wisconsinites pay.

Is this fair to the people of Wisconsin, who'd like to choose their own government?  Is it healthy for any democracy to get buried under outside influences?  The one campaign-finance restriction that the Supreme Court has upheld as constitutional is the ban on donations from foreign citizens, businesses, or governments; our Founders believed in free political speech for all Americans but not necessarily for the Red Chinese.

Obviously, New Yorkers aren't the same as Red Chinese, but they have no more right to vote in Wisconsin and no more obvious direct interests there.  Sure, a New Yorker may own stock or property in the Cheese State; so could anybody else, but mere financial investment isn't supposed to grant any political rights.

On the other hand, the only obvious way to restrict these outside influences would be to restrict the rights of other Americans to exercise free speech, which seems both un-American and unconstitutional on its face.  Should a Wisconsinite be able to freely scream and shout for or against Gov. Walker, but a Californian be arrested for doing the same thing?  How about if they let their wallets do the talking instead?

Money, the Mother's Milk of Politics

That's exactly what's happening in Wisconsin: the wallets of people all across the fruited plain are doing a whole lot of talking.  The people of Wisconsin?  Not so much in comparison; there just aren't enough of them and they're worried about paying their union-hiked taxes instead.

Will these massive, unaccustomed amounts of money capsize the Wisconsin political process as the economies of Southeast Asia were?  There's a difference: in the privacy of the voting booth, it will be Wisconsinites and Wisconsinites alone who make the call.

We have previously argued that there's no need for restrictions on campaign funding since the American people are generally smart enough to know when someone's trying to buy an election and vote them down.  As proof: no President Ross Perot.

The left, though, devoutly believes that unlimited money can and does buy elections when combined adroitly with illegal voter registration and other chicanery.  Indeed, they're putting their money where their mouth is and trying to do precisely that in Wisconsin with the Walker recall effort.

We'll find out soon enough whether or not it works.  For the sake of Gov. Walker, Wisconsin taxpayers, the First Amendment, and liberty in general, let's hope they're wrong on all counts.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Economics.
Reader Comments

The chicanery comment jumped ou at me concerning voter fraud. I just hope that Wisconsin has a voter ID law in place. If they don't they need look no further than their neighbor, Minnesota, to see what happened there, Al Franken. The Wisconsin legislature had better get on the stick.

January 23, 2012 12:00 PM
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