Is money in politics always bad?Today I'm going to go out on a pretty unconventional limb that may invite quite a bit of scorn - and, to top it off, the topic really has nothing to do specifically with Houston or urban policy. Clay Robison's op-ed today on money in politics got me thinking: is money in politics always bad? The assumed answer seems to be "absolutely." First, an excerpt with my comments:
So here's my logic questioning this assumption of "money in politics = bad". There are basically two ways of making money: a person can earn it by providing a valuable service to society, or a business can make it by converting inputs of lower total value to society (i.e. costs) into outputs of higher total value to society (i.e. sales/revenues), with the value-add equal to profits (revenues - costs). Either way, something of value was created for society, and society (i.e. customers or employers) gave them some money in exchange, in essence saying "Thanks for the valuable service/product! Here are some 'tokens of gratitude' (i.e. money) you can exchange for something you want in the future." So, generally speaking, people with lots of money (i.e. tokens of gratitude) are those that have provided a lot of value to society (I know this is not always the case, but it generally holds - and, of course, money is not the only measure of somebody's value-add to society (Mother Teresa and Einstein come to mind), but it is one measure among many, and probably the easiest to quantify).
Pro-voucher jillionaire's just part of bigger problem
Leininger paid for more than 90 percent of the challengers' campaigns, making the winners - in the minds of most reasonable people - bought and paid for. (but this is public information, and the voters still chose these candidates, presumably because he reflects their views)
Vouchers may have some merit, although I believe the public schools should be more adequately funded first. But whatever the pros and cons of the issue, nobody elected Leininger to single-handly muscle his opinion into public policy. (yes, it's called free speech, and fortunately we didn't make getting elected a requirement to exercise it)
Without some campaign finance limits, any legislator can fall victim to similar spending by Leininger or any other single-issue zealot next time around. (so only the 'multi-issue indifferent' should be allowed to support candidates?)
If a sense of political self-preservation does produce a push for campaign reform during the 2007 legislative session, lobby groups, the longtime players who are being outgunned in the new, sky's-the-limit election marketplace, would be wise to join the effort.
But money yells so loudly, its influence will be difficult to temper.
In essence, they have stored up a lot of favors society owes back to them when they're ready to turn those tokens in. In most cases, they spend it on homes, cars, material goods, vacations, or college educations for their kids. But what if they have strongly held beliefs about the right direction for society? Or even, maybe a little more selfishly, they want to push government in a direction that helps their personal interests. Why can't they turn in society's tokens of gratitude for the value they've provided in exchange for strongly communicating their beliefs or interests, whether directly (i.e. free speech) or indirectly by supporting a spokesman (i.e. a political candidate)? I'm not advocating bribes, but as long as campaign donations are public information, why shouldn't they be able to exchange society's markers for a louder voice?
Now, going out on even thinner ice, it might be argued that this will actually lead to better government in a democracy. One of the classic arguments against democracy when it was being birthed in the 18th and 19th centuries was that it gives equal weight to the most ignorant and poorly-thought-out opinions and to the most intelligent and well-thought-out ones. How many times have you heard people say, when their candidate wins, "the people have spoken," but when their candidate loses, "the ignorant masses washed out the intelligent minority"? Letting money into the process lets people who have added the most value to society get an "extra loud voice" in the raucous debate that is democracy. Is that a totally bad thing? Might it not counter-balance some of the more negative tendencies of "ignorant majorities" in democracies? (with the assumption that ignorance makes it hard to add a lot of value to society (vs. education and intelligence), so therefore they are less likely to have money to influence politics).
Some people may think this is a "the right with money vs. the left without money" argument, but I think the left was pretty happy to have billionaire George Soros' 527 money in the 2004 presidential election: somebody who added a lot of value to society wanted to exchange that value for a louder voice. Is that unreasonable?
I know this is pretty radical thinking, and my logic may be flawed, so I'd be very curious to hear thoughtful counter-arguments in the comments (or, if you agree, that might be nice to hear too).