Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Goo Goo Train Wreck

Via Seth Masket, Ruth Marcus had an interesting column last week speculating that Arizona's good government reforms, in particular public financing, may be responsible for my native state's campaign to be #1 -- the looniest state of all.  Marcus describes how purist conservative activists were able to contest and win primaries against Main Street GOP candidates who were deprived of business funding, by Arizona's public financing scheme.  Marcus also mentions Arizona's good government districting plan, which gives line-drawing to an independent commission.  She neglects to mention Arizona's term limits -- it's not exactly shocking, at least in my view, that amateur pols are more likely to spend their time on birther legislation than, say, trying to come up with a responsible budget. 

I should say that the causal connections on all of these things aren't exactly nailed down.  After all, if I remember correctly (and it's been some time), when I was I think in high school my state senator used to report, before voting on various measures in the AZ legislature, the voting instructions Jesus had revealed to him in his nightly vision.  (The state senator's vision, not Jesus's.  I assume.  As I said, it's been a while).  So it's possible that Arizona politics is goofy all by itself, regardless of what goo goo rules they set.  

Still, I'll use it as an excuse to trot out my views on this, and my preferred campaign finance regime.  My view is that people make two related and overlapping mistakes: they believe that if only special interests are purged then The People will win out, and that if only self-interest is removed, then the public interest will prevail.  What's wrong with that is that good government types always assume that whatever it is that they want must be for the good of the people, and in the public interest.  But in a democracy, only the people, in groups and as individuals, get to decide that, and it's often not at all what good government advocates think is right for The People.   That is, in a real democracy, a lot of folks believe that they're losing because of nefarious interests, when in fact they're losing because other folks really don't agree with them.  Which is frustrating, but not undemocratic.

At any rate: my position on campaign finance reform is floors, not ceilings.  I like the idea in the AZ law that candidates can get in and run real campaigns pretty easily, but I very much do not like the idea that interest groups cannot get involved: business groups should have influence in the Republican Party (assuming they want to).  The idea that pols should be lone wolves, accountable to no one but voters-as-voters (and not as organized groups) is a bad one.  Especially if its combined with term limits, which means they don't have to be responsive to the voters, either.  Give all candidates enough that they can run a legit, if bare-bones, campaign, and then let them raise (and disclose) whatever they can on top of that.  And by the way, it's worth knowing that campaign spending is subject to pretty severe diminishing returns, at least at the Congressional level, and presumably at the state legislative level as well.  Helps a lot to get name recognition, and maybe a fact or two about the candidate; after that, not so much.

Floors, not ceilings!


  1. "I very much do not like the idea that interest groups cannot get involved: business groups should have influence in the Republican Party (assuming they want to). The idea that pols should be lone wolves, accountable to no one but voters-as-voters (and not as organized groups) is a bad one."

    First, a question: What does this mean in terms of donating money to political campaigns and parties?

    Second: If candidates are accountable to forces other than voters-as-voters (e.g. need for private campaign donations), doesn't this have the effect of giving voters the sense that their efforts to engage the system as individuals are futile?

    What I mean by that is, doesn't this have the effect of potential voters either feeling they have no real capacity to influence politics in the way they'd like, and drop out in apathy? And for those that don't, that they need to subsume their efforts into larger movements or institutions, where individual critical thought is either wasted or detrimental?

    If this were the case, the predictable result would be high levels of political apathy among a large portion of the population, with partisanship, epistemic cloture, and a general incapacity for civil dialogue among the remaining politically engaged.

    As I see it, this is the case in the United States at large.

  2. 1. It starts with a bunch of caveats about simpler reasons for the immigration law. When a pundit is glossing simple reasons just so they can write more interesting reasons, that is always a bad sign.

    2. It seems like it would be easy to investigate a causal chain. You look for candidates who won using the new Clean Elections Funding, and see if any of them wrote the law or were key swing votes (perhaps you also check to see if the vote was even close in either chamber, or it was a landslide). You don't just handwave in general about how things have gotten "more extreme". Guess what the writer did? (Hint: there are no names of legislators in the article)

    3. It completely fails to understand any sense of proceduralism. If a law pushed by liberals (btw, only some of their supporters are liberals) ends up with some more conservative legislators and more conservative policy outcomes, then clearly something went wrong and it should be repealed, is the tone I take away from this. There's no mention that efforts to make democracy more responsive to people SHOULD have more conservative outcomes when the electorate becomes more conservative, and that "good government" types are well aware of this.


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