By Jay Hansen
First of all, allow me to apologize for the somewhat sporadic timing of my posts as of late. I’ve taken on another new project similar to the one I mentioned in a personal note from some months back that ultimately turned into my column at LargeInCharge Magazine (which, if you haven’t checked out yet, you should right now. My second column is coming out any day now!), but this new project is of even greater magnitude. Plus, that week where my job was extremely busy two weeks ago gave me a lot of time to think. I thought about a whole lot of topics I wanted to write about, but not many of them are necessarily related to current events. So in a matter of speaking, I’m not suffering from a lack of creativity, but an unstable overload of it. April is shaping up to be a very full month for me, but I’m going to do what I can to keep up with the website.
I’ve been so busy lately, as a matter of fact, that last week (Tuesday, to be exact) marked a whole month since I wrote a letter to state Senator Al McAffrey about Citizens United wherein I asked him if he’d be willing to sponsor legislation at the state level to call for a constitutional convention of the states to amend the US constitution and overturn the ruling. To be honest, I was a little shocked I didn’t get a response. Seriously; not even so much as an automated confirmation that he received the message, which makes me worry I may have gotten his e-mail address wrong or sent it to the wrong place. No matter what though, I’m going to try and make it a point to call his office soon, even if only to leave a message about if he got my e-mail or not. I’d prefer it if he read the e-mail before I physically speak with him because so many of my points are better elaborated in it, but still condensed to a moderately short e-mail. Still, you know what they say; beggars can’t be choosers. For all I know his lack of response could have something to do with some weird Oklahoma policy about people from outside his district contacting him (it’s not allowed in some places).
Regardless of what may happen with Senator McAffrey, though, my commitment to campaign finance reform remains the same. If I receive no response from him I have at least one other in-office Oklahoma legislator I’ve considered contacting about the issue, but here soon I may have to just compile a list of the entire state Congress and just start going down it member by member.
In the hours and hours of time over the past couple of weeks I’ve spent in deep thought over political and social issues I started thinking more about the flaws of our two-party system, especially here in Oklahoma where third-party candidates are consistently barred from ballots by the state government and one of only seven states where write-in candidates are not allowed (almost all of those seven are Republican-controlled states as well; not helping their “anti-democracy” image any). Let’s not even get started on independent candidates; the cost of (successfully) running for federal office is minimum $10,000 in some places. No independent, average citizen could ever afford that.
For those that have been around for a while, you may remember my correspondence with my own state Senator, Clark Jolley. One point in particular that I made in an article about why “artificial people” shouldn’t be treated one and the same as real people under the law was in response to the Senator’s claim that transparency laws alone are enough to prevent political corruption. Here’s an excerpt;
You claim that transparency alone is enough to prevent corruption, but that is clearly not true. Do truth in labeling and mandatory nutritional information laws on food prevent people from eating unhealthily? Do warning packages on cigarettes deter people from smoking? You could say that with knowledge people have the freedom to choose such lifestyles despite the fact that they know it’s bad for them, but here’s the problem when applied to politics; we operate on a two-party system. Here in Oklahoma especially, the two-party system is vigorously defended. Both candidates these days receive bribes, be it in the form of direct donations or indirect donations such as political ads and manipulative propaganda, meaning that no matter which candidate a voter picks he or she will still be incentiveized to represent their donors (again, direct or indirect) more than their voting base. To apply this to my food labeling analogy, imagine there were only two companies from which to purchase food, and both companies packed their food full of sodium, sugars, and were generally extremely unhealthy, “empty calorie” foods. Would you make the case that truth in labeling laws would be enough to fix the problem?
It’s my metaphor comparing the political parties to food companies that really stuck with me, and has been rattling around in my brain for a few days. I didn’t answer my own rhetorical in that article for the sake of brevity, but in case it wasn’t clear my point was that transparency, while beneficial, is incapable of solving the problem by itself. This is just as true for companies subjected to truth in labeling laws as it is for politicians that are required to report some forms of donations made to them that get posted on some obscure website somewhere. As a matter of fact, the laws regarding political transparency are no where near as stringent as those of food companies because at least the list of what’s in the food (nutritional information) accompanies the product wherever it goes on its packaging. The same is not true for politicians. We see them every day on TV, read their statements online and in print, and hear their talking points constantly but never in the media do we get to see the “nutritional information” about our politicians. Citizens can go an entire election without knowing the truth behind a politician’s donors, be they contributing directly or indirectly, and that is largely because of the efforts of lawmakers to keep it as “hush hush” as possible and because of a media terrified to actually challenge politicians or call out their donors out of fear of losing access to them, and thus, ratings.
That’s why I recently signed the White House petition to force politicians to have pins and stickers slapped onto their clothing every time they appear before a camera or in Congress displaying all the logos of the companies that have donated to them like a NASCAR driver’s jacket (which, to give credit, I believe Bill Maher was the first to come up with years ago). It’s hardly meant to be taken seriously, but I’d still encourage everyone to sign it to make a point. Right now, despite the assertions of politicians like Senator Jolley, we do not have real transparency. Just like the food company Monsanto just spent a small fortune to prevent their foods containing genetically modified organisms from being labeled as such in the state of California, politicians do whatever is necessary to keep the truth under wraps.
And you want to know why? They’re incentivized to. Just like Monsanto could lose millions in profits if the truth got out, so too could politicians lose millions if we got lists of who their donors were and it is held up in comparison to their voting record. That is why politicians will support laws and policies that make “transparency” laws as weak as possible and the truth nearly impossible to find while simultaneously fighting any reforms to our elections and campaigning, not to mention real strengthening of transparency laws about which they disingenuously boast. If you want real transparency, you’d sign the above petition. Sure, it may be silly and goofy, but hey, it’s something, which is a whole lot better than the nothing or nearly nothing we have now. At least in signing the petition you can acknowledge the cycle of corruption that I’ve just explained and demand better.
On top of that, my thoughts on my food company metaphor extended beyond just transparency laws. Let’s revisit the hypothetical; say there is a country that only has two food companies. The quality of both company’s food has declined significantly over time, resulting in poor health for the nation’s citizens, and even charges of poisoning that caused consumers to get sick and die have been levied against both companies. If word got out about what these two companies actually put in their food via truth-in-labeling laws, or if the companies actually became regulated by the government, people would be much less likely to eat their food and business would go down. The companies would then have a profit motive to actually work together to prevent such regulations and enable them to get away with their corrupted business practices. According to libertarians, this is an example of social cooperation between corporations.
If you couldn’t tell where this is going, the same is just as true for the Democratic and Republican Parties. Republicans are vehemently opposed to campaign finance despite its popularity amongst their base, while Democrats claim to be in favor of it but never actually take action to support it.
Earlier I referred to this as a “duopoly,” and in the legal world a duopoly wherein both companies collaborate to control “the market” is often treated the same as a monopoly or considered a trust. In the political world, “the market” is the free market of ideas, which isn’t manipulated by acts like price gouging as the capitalistic free market is, but rather propaganda and misleading information, which as we all know is put out both by politicians and the media every single damn day.
It’s undeniable that both Democrats and Republicans actively manipulate the “free market” of politics. They often do so collaboratively to prevent voters (the “consumers” of this free market) from learning the truth or having real competition by way of third-party or independent candidates. Just look at how restricted voter rights are here in Oklahoma as I outlined earlier for a prime example of that. In addition, no informed citizen could honestly tell you that political parties in America today are not for-profit organizations based on the massive amounts of special interest cash flowing into the parties as organizations and to the individuals within it.
So really, what’s the legal difference between a corporate trust, and a political one?
*blows off dust from brain’s 11th-grade US History filing cabinet*
Quote from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act:
“Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a felony…”
The only difference is that we’re talking about political parties and the trade of ideas and philosophies instead of companies or governments and the trade of goods and services. Political parties conspire together to maintain the current power structure, or the Trust made up between the Republican and Democratic Parties, for the purposes of financial profit for them and their organizations. Personally, I see no difference between a for-profit company and a political party any more in this respect, so at the very least from a philosophical perspective, I don’t see why we shouldn’t, or even couldn’t, regulate political parties the same way we do corporations, trusts, and monopolies, and possibly with the very anti-trust laws and policies we already have.