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16.2.08

Some using reform against itself and its backers

Some bills wending their ways through the legislative process give us insight into the agendas of the good-old-boys and others who try to smile through clenched teeth at the efforts of reformers led by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal to steer the state away from its populist/liberal past. Bills sponsored by one of those forcing a smile on his face, Democrat state Sen. Ben Nevers, are instructive in this regard.

In practice, his SB 19 is great. It goes beyond already-approved legislation that would allow $50 only per consumption opportunity for legislators by setting it to zero (which is the standard in several states). He’s right when he argues its better than the $50 limit in that it would reduce paperwork with no necessity to report expenditures to show they were under the limit. And there’s no reason lobbyists can’t conduct business outside of a restaurant or bar.

But when viewing other legislation of his, one wonders whether he really means this bill as a poison pill – getting his bill passed out of the Senate instead of the other set to $50 and then give the House the chance to rebel against going from all to nothing thus by rejecting his leaving the standard at any amount goes. This is because other bills of his seem designed to get back at reformers in the name of reform while exacting a terrible price on political rights.

His SB 23 originally was to prevent anybody who contributed to a campaign of an elected official, of any amount, from being appointed to a position in government. This bill was bad enough, forcing people who wish to serve in government to abrogate their free speech rights. In various ways government is permitted to limit free speech rights such as by capping amounts of donations or by prohibiting them entirely if the entity of concern is in certain regulated enterprises, but there simply is no compelling governmental interest in putting such limitations on the exercise of peoples’ political rights.

(The uninformed try to argue that contributions “buy” an office, but in fact not only does research show that simply is not the case, but intuitively such an assertion is illogical – the vast majority of large donors don’t get appointments, and many non-donors do. This doesn’t mean donations can’t be factor, but that their influence is so modest to nonexistent that curtailment of free speech rights simply cannot be justified.)

However, amendments he permitted to it really show where his true interests lie. The most current version of the bill passed out of committee places the stricture only on donors (and their family members, and principles of corporations in which they have an interest except for those publicly traded) who give at least $2,500 in an election cycle.

So, that implies that if you give $2,499.99 or less somehow this doesn’t taint your donation, but add a cent and suddenly it means you’re trying to buy an appointment? It should be equally as “bad” whether it’s one cent or $5,000, if there’s any principle at all involved here. And note that by law this now restricts the officials to which it would apply – unless it is exactly $2,500, it would apply only to “major” offices, basically statewide elected officials and those elected to state boards.

This points to the real agenda of supporters of the bill – to get back at Jindal for making government less of a potential gravy train for public officials. And given the disingenuousness of the backers of SB 23, it then brings to question their motives about SB 19 if they, like obviously Nevers, back the bill, too. Hopefully, reformers will see what SB 23 really is and defeat it, while foiling the poison pill strategy by passing SB 19.

9 comments:

Daniel Z. said...

"He’s right when he argues its better than the $50 limit in that it would reduce paperwork with no necessity to report expenditures to show they were under the limit. And there’s no reason lobbyists can’t conduct business outside of a restaurant or bar.

But when viewing other legislation of his, one wonders whether he really means this bill as a poison pill..."

Had this amendment been suggested by a Republican in the Senate, would you question the change as you do now? I mean, you admit that he is right, you admit that other states also have this provision, yet you attack his change anyway because even though the resulting bill would be stronger on ethics, you feel that there are other reasons that this bill would pass.

You are poisoning the well by suggesting that someone else is poisoning the well.

"The uninformed try to argue that contributions “buy” an office, but in fact not only does research show that simply is not the case, but intuitively such an assertion is illogical – the vast majority of large donors don’t get appointments, and many non-donors do"

Nice strawman. Nobody is suggesting that all large donors want appointments. What is being suggested is that there are some large donors who donate for some other reason than "I want candidate X to be elected". Or do you think it is just a coincidence that a company out of Colorodo who wanted to open a landfill near Baton Rouge just wanted to funnel $50K to Jindal for altruistic reasons?

SOME donors use those donations to buy a position, or influence, or a government contract, or to get legislation passed. So pointing out what a "vast majority" does with their donations is not proof that myself and others are wrong because none of us are suggesting that a "vast majority" of donors are doing anything wrong.

baton rouge du nord said...

Buckley held that preventing the appearance and reality of corruption is a compelling state interest that justifies limits on the source and amount of contributions to a candidate. McConnell seems to reaffirm this principle. I cannot see that F.E.C. v. Wisconsin Right to Life, the latest U.S. Supreme Court decision interpreting McCain Feingold, modified this principle.
I do not see that the U.S. Supreme Court has addressed the issue of office holding after making a contribution. Nevertheless, prohibiting this practice may prevent the appearance of corruption.
My question to you—can you justify your assertion that there is no compelling governmental interest in light of the jurisprudence? After all is said and done, it will be the Supremes, not you and I, that decide whether there is a compelling governmental interest.
Seems like they will need to backtrack a bit to go your way.

Jeff Sadow said...

>You are poisoning the well by suggesting that someone else is poisoning the well.

Unless I'm right, and not only the review of Nevers' others bills this session but some of his other stuff in the past shows this is not a guy to be trusted when it comes to matters of money in government and politics. I wouldn't put a lot of faith that he really wants reform when he's been one of the worst offenders when it comes to spending money to grow government and thereby assisting those who benefit from that rather than making better spending choices or keeping it in the hands of its rightful owners, the people.

>So pointing out what a "vast majority" does with their donations is not proof that myself and others are wrong because none of us are suggesting that a "vast majority" of donors are doing anything wrong.

Finally, you stumbled back onto the central argument -- given the small amount of potential corruption coming from donations, versus the large amount of freedom lost by the inability to donate and hold appointive office, there is no compelling reason to limit that freedom.

>After all is said and done, it will be the Supremes, not you and I, that decide whether there is a compelling governmental interest.

Quite correct, but I think my theory and logic are good here so if something like this ever happens (because no state has such a restriction), they'll find it this way.

baton rouge du nord said...

"Quite correct, but I think my theory and logic are good here so if something like this ever happens (because no state has such a restriction), they'll find it this way."

You could be right, but it will depend upon evidence presented. If LA decides to pass this provision, they will prevail if the preponderance of evidence presented shows that it will prevent the appearance of corruption (unless they change the standard). Your "logic" will not carry the day.

Poli Sci Professor Paul Grosser, God rest his soul, gave us this quote: "Education is the process of going from cocksure arrogance to thoughtful doubt." Or something like that.

I think some thoughtful doubt is in order on this one. The best either of us can do is handicap, and my money is staying in my pocket.

Jeff Sadow said...

But I don't think the "appearance" argument would carry the day because when we are talking of such an intrusion into a basic right, free speech, I think the Court would want to employ the doctrine of strict scrutiny, compelling evidence of a substantial connection demonstrating the limitation will provide for a significant reduction in corruption. That won't be there.

Daniel Z. said...

"Finally, you stumbled back onto the central argument -- given the small amount of potential corruption coming from donations, versus the large amount of freedom lost by the inability to donate and hold appointive office, there is no compelling reason to limit that freedom."

You are still not getting the argument Jeff. The ONLY people who lose their freedom to donate are those who want to get an appointment. EVERYONE ELSE is free to donate the maximum allowed by law. You keep claiming that some large amount of freedom will be lost. Please tell me what other people, besides those who want political appointments, will lose their ability to donate funds?

Jeff Sadow said...

But that is the argument, nobody, not even those who want to be appointed, should lose this fundamental right (except, as previously noted, for protection or as a condition of regulation).

Daniel Z. said...

But if you allow people to donate for the purpose of getting any advantage in the process, and that advantage gives them a monetary gain (either a political appointment or a government contract) then you are basically allowing bribes to take place AND you then allow those people to get their campaign donations back via government funds. So basically our tax dollars will be funding campaigns after the fact.

Jeff Sadow said...

If somebody by donating gains an advantage in consideration as an appointee, as long as it is not sole factor in making such a decision, that's all right. And even if it were the only factor, which is very rare, the cost to free speech by a blanket ban on any hopeful and those simply wanting to exercise free speech is just too great to justify the ban. Kind of along the order of, better to let 100 guilty go free than to convict one innocent.