2007-05-30

The importance of transparency in activism.

Posted in Politics is Local at 11:40 am by cori

My wife (who no doubt will berate me for blogging about this, since it didn’t actually happen to me) had an interesting activism experience yesterday.  She was leaving a store with our kids in tow starting the walk back home when across the street someone jumped out of a car and ran across the street, stuffing this flyer into her hand saying “This is for you”.  The flyer related to the construction company building the new Stoughton fire house and whether or not they were safe enough to work in our community.

If you look at the thing, I think you’ll agree that these folks have something to sell; an idea they’d like us to buy into.  And they’re not above using a little fear marketing to get us to believe it either.  The thing is, I’d actually be inclined to do a little more research to try to find out what kind of validity there is to their claims and assertions – I’m not beyond believing that the company constructing our new fire house maybe shouldn’t be doing it. 

But see, here’s the thing.  No where on this document does it say who printed it or who’s handing it out.  Who are these people?  Do they have an interest in this company aside from concerns for the safety of the community?  maybe they work for a company that lost the bid?  Or maybe there’s a disgruntled ex-employee behind it all.  Taken as a sum, the anonymity of the source of the flyer and the alarmist language and graphics make me pretty much have to dismiss the whole thing.

2007-05-29

Charles Sykes: ‘Let them have yachts’

Posted in Politics is Local at 11:09 pm by cori

Charlie Sykes, a Milwaukee conservative talk-show host and blogger, gets it all wrong again.

As is often the case when I read Sykes, he starts with a premise that I can at least respect; in this case one that I heartily agree with, in fact:

“In case you haven’t noticed, American politics is increasingly a rich man’s (and woman’s) game.” (From Isthmus | The Daily Page – ‘Let them have yachts’)

But also as is typical, he carries his premise to exactly the wrong conclusion.

Charlie makes a good case about the dangers of plutocratic democracy:

  • “However well-intentioned they might be, the mega-rich are immune from the daily anxieties of ordinary people.”
  • “Legislation they pass will have little impact on their own futures, or even that of their children, who are pretty much set.”
  • “So, to run for office today, a candidate must either be able to write out huge checks from his or her personal wealth, or count on massive spending by special-interest groups with their own agendas…. The result is that the average guy is increasingly left out.”

All true, Charlie, all true. And I argee, a serious problem. Parts of the solution Charlie proposes are right on target; enforcing full disclosure of campain contributions and instituting term limits both make a great deal of sense.

But the third part of Charlie’s proposed solution is to lift individual contribution caps. In other words, instead of electing folks who are “able to write out huge checks from his or her personal wealth” we end up electing folks who have friends who can write out the huge checks.

I don’t know which auto workers or small business women Sykes is talking to, but I don’t know of anyone that has to “scrabble to come up with cash for unexpected home repairs or trade family vacations for higher gas prices” who can at the same time afford to exceed the $2,300 per candidate limit that the McCain-Feingold bill (or Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act) imposes, let alone the $108,200 per 2 year cycle limit in the same bill. How are these folks being harmed by the limits that the BCRA imposes? Follow that up with Sykes’s typical hatchet job against progressives, liberals, and sitting Democrats (I particularly love the way dear old Charlie portrays the BCRA as being solely responsible for making the election of future politicians like Russ Feingold all but impossible, when in fact the BCRA doubled the individual contribution limits) and I think we can all see the real intent here – remove all limits so the the fairly rich can give all they want to their pet candidates.

No, indeed, the BCRA was a tiny little gesture towards making finance less important in the course of an election. It hoped to ameliorate the importance of cash money as a measurement of how free political speech might be, a goal which it hasn’t served particularly well.

Indeed, I agree with Charlie in one particular: the BCRA should be revised. But not to remove the limits. If we’re really serious about opening up elections to the non-rich why don’t we expand on the BCRA? Extend the $2,300 individual limit to a candidate’s contributions to his or her own campaign? Distribute television and radio time for free by lottery, so everyone might excercise their right to speak freely in the political forum, not just those who can afford the ad time? Fully fund every political campaign equally from the public coffers?

I refuse to donate to any political campaign because I whole-heartedly believe that money has no place in politics. No one’s voice in the public sphere should be louder because their bank account is bigger. I don’t expect that Charlie Sykes agrees with that, though.