The Best Campaign-Finance Reform Money Can Buy

Just recently I learned the term “astroturf,” an operative’s expression for a fake grass-roots movement, so I suppose I’m lucky to run so quickly into an example. It seems that in an unguarded speech last week a former employee of the Pew Charitable Trusts boasted that the “popular concern” that helped induce Congress to pass McCain-Feingold was in fact astroturf he had laid down with the help of $40 million of Pew’s money. The money he had from Pew, together with the $90 million plunked down by six other liberal foundations, suggests he wasn’t talking through his hat. Some of the money was spent rather directly to buy helpful coverage from outfits like NPR and American Prospect magazine, much of the rest on buying up experts and setting up religious, business and minority groups, all very vocally concerned about campaign finance reform but pledged to silence on their own source of funding. There were some worried moments, he said, when George Will caught on to Pew’s role. Not surprisingly, though, the press wasn’t interested and the story went nowhere. After all, why would the press want to show that there’s something wrong with a campaign to suppress competing channels for forming the public mind?

4 thoughts on “The Best Campaign-Finance Reform Money Can Buy”

  1. Some disagreement with you
    Campaign finance reform fails for the same reason that the great liberal democracies grow more irrational with time. Television is the modern public forum, and it is ideally unsuited for intelligent discourse. Getting money out of politics may be a worthy goal, but getting politics off of television is a far better one.

    I have to admit that I feel a great deal of sympathy with “a campaign to suppress competing channels for forming the public mind.” It is not that the press is so great, it’s that the other ways of forming the public mind are even worse. To be specific, when we talk about money in politics, we are talking about the buying and selling of television commercials. The votes that are most easily bought in any democracy are the votes of those who are least qualified to have suffrage in the first place.

    • How are you going to get poli
      How are you going to get politics out of television? TV is a great vehicle for propaganda, and what’s on the tube will always sell some view of things. If you let those outside the media buy TV time then you’re at least likely to break up the unity of the message.

      Rem tene, verba sequentur.

      • I don’t see the power of tele
        I don’t see the power of television ever changing. It makes me a bit of a cynic, I suppose.

        The internet and us bloggers already broke up the unity of the message. And we didn’t need to buy and sell political offices to do it.

        Buying and selling political offices may be a good thing, though; I’d have to think about it. It would break up the unity of the ruling class, which is what you are really getting at. Ideological qualifications could be replaced by wealth qualifications. I’m sure Aristotle has a list of the pros and cons of oligarchy already. I’ll look it up tonight if I’m not too busy.

        • Most voters don’t look at pol
          Most voters don’t look at political stuff on the internet, so I think it still matters that people who aren’t normally in charge of programming can put stuff on. It makes a difference that you can disrupt the official picture of things in the setting in which the official picture is normally presented.

          I don’t think campaign contributions are quite the same as oligarchy. The NRA has a lot of clout but its members mostly aren’t oligarchs. Also, the persuasiveness of the substantive message probably does matter somewhat.

          Rem tene, verba sequentur.


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