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ETpro's avatar

Do you see any problem with foreign corporations and governments being able to fund political advertising in US Elections?

Asked by ETpro (34472points) October 8th, 2010

Here is just one real-world example of what can go wrong if the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision isn’t mitigated.

The US Chamber of Congress is running $75 million in attack ads supporting Republican candidates who oppose, among other things, ending tax breaks for US Corporations that off-shore our jobs. The Chamber has been sending out fundraising requests to foreign companies, many government owned, in China, India, Russia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc. These fundraising requests warned that Democrats might limit off-shoring, which would hurt these foreign interests.

The Chamber is a 501C6 Non-Profit and as such, can and does keep the sources of funding for its political advertising secret. The Chamber claims that even though it solicits and receives funding from foreign interests, it complies with Federal Election laws by not using foreign funds in its political ads. But it admits the foreign money goes into the same general fund they use for the attack ad buys. Money is fungible. If the general fund grows by $50 million foreign dollars, how do you tell where one of those dollars came from when you write a check on that account? If the fund is suddenly $50 million fatter, obviously it can buy more advertising because other expenses are now covered by the increase in the available money in the account.

We might have a whole separate discussion about the glaring question of why the US Chamber of Commerce should be supporting the off-shoring of US jobs. But the real question here is a more important issue. How can we expect to remain a free country when corporate and special interest groups are free to spend unlimited amounts of money hiring psychologists and crafting issue advertising to bend government to their own financial benefit instead of the nation’s best interests. The real question was framed beautifully by cartoonist Al Capp way back in the depths of the Great Depression. Is it true, Capp asked, that,“What’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA!”? How does the USA fare as a nation when General Bullmoose owns it all, and sets policies that make sure all money flows to him alone?

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21 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Yes, I do see something wrong with any foreign influence in our elections.

iamthemob's avatar

Not at all. Arguably, the U.S. can use all the money it can get flowing into its economy.

The problem of influence generally is an issue, and the source of the influence, if it’s something other than the people, is always problematic. I don’t want my representatives beholden to or subject to conflicts of interest about any interest group, single entity, etc.

Representation is a service to democracy (it is in theory), not a career in which people rest their livelihoods (although it is in practice).

Trillian's avatar

We do it in other countries, don’t we?

tedd's avatar

While I do worry about the idea that thanks to the supreme court messing up the law we can now have anyone from Osama Bin Laden to Iran anonymously supporting any politician they see fit in our elections…

I’m far more concerned with the fact that now huge businesses and corporations have no limit on how much they can pay to win the candidates that they own. You want to tell me some private company is going to spend millions upon millions of dollars of their money just for “the good of the country” to get someone elected? No, they’re going to do it because said candidate will pass or repeal legislation that will let them earn more money, probably by dicking over the American people.

wundayatta's avatar

Yes, @Trillian. We are probably the biggest meddler in other countries that there is in the world. To our detriment, though. We always seem to make people hate us more often than we make them like us.

The government’s job is to make the rest of the world safe for American companies to plunder make a profit. The American companies do a lot to forward their own causes, as well. In cultures where corruption is de rigeur, the American companies are probably some of the greatest offenders.

There are two ways of gaining influence in this country. You can organize it or you can buy it. It’s really hard to organize it. So the companies have an incentive to purchase power.

A lot of companies believe that “greed is good” as Bernard Madoff put it. However, there are also companies that believe social responsibility is good. While corporations are making profits in a down economy, they will do even better if the economy is steaming full speed ahead.

Some of them recognize that people need jobs if they are to have the money to buy stuff. If they send the wrong kind of jobs overseas, they might be slashing their own throats.

There is another thing happening that illustrates why I don’t think there is a problem with foreigners meddling in our politics. That is that corporations don’t have the same interests. I’d love to know what they are talking about in corporate boardrooms as far as health care is concerned. Health care continues to grow rapidly in terms of the percentage of the GDP spent on it. Everyone is choosing to purchase more and more health care.

Corporations compete with other corporations for the best employees, and they have to offer insurance if they want to attract these employees. Yet health care is a huge expense, and corporations are cutting back on how much they pay for it; asking employees to pay more.

Employers don’t like the amount of money they have to spend on health care. Most employers want to see less out of their pockets to pay for it. They must not see eye to eye with the health care industry which is loving the growth it is experiencing. It has to stop at some point, but people have been saying that for four or five decades now.

Different foreign governments are also going to have different interests, the same as different sectors of business have disparate interests. The thing is, everyone has a stake in the US having a vibrant economy. Our economy drives the rest of the world. Our influence is waning, but it is still very strong.

I can’t imagine foreign governments wanting to bite the hand that feeds them. Or even killing the golden goose. And whether or not they purchase an interest in Washington directly, they will always have indirect routes to having their say.

We can’t know what they want, nor how it will play out, just as we can’t know what corporations want, nor how that will play out. We can make predictions about some specific industries, but we should beware of tarring all companies (and countries) with the same brush. We simply don’t know the effect of this money

I think that there is a rise in the number of socially responsible companies, and that more and more, companies need to think along these lines. This is not to say that companies represent us, but to say that they can’t go too far along the “greed is good” line because the companies are made up of people, too.

Even if companies have the rights of people, they can’t exist without people. I don’t think that allowing all these players with deep pockets free reign to mess around in our politics is going to make that much difference. I’m afraid that it will be business as usual. Remember, companies don’t wanna go poo in their own wells.

iamthemob's avatar

@wundayatta – I thought “Greed is good” was Gordon Gekko. ;-)

wundayatta's avatar

@iamthemob Oh probably. I heard a show about it the other day, but I couldn’t remember who said it first if it wasn’t Madoff. It was from that movie, wasn’t it? Anyway, you get the idea, right? )

YARNLADY's avatar

No, as long as it is made clear exactly where the funding is coming from.

ratboy's avatar

Those who own the country ought to govern it.—John Jay

crazyivan's avatar

@iamthemob While that is the generally sourced quote, he never actually says it in the movie. It’s one of those uber-familiar lines that never actually happened like “Play it again, Sam” or “Luke, I am your father”... nitpicking though. You’re correction was still correct.

@YARNLADY The big probelm is that they are under no legal obligation to disclose the source of their funding. And they aren’t doing it out of a sense of moral obligation either.

Until we radically reform our campaign finance laws our democracy will grow less and less democratic. The Citizens United case certianly amplifies the problems in an already problematic system, though. The notion that limiting corporate contributions to political ads is a limit on free speech is patently absurd. It is oxymoronic in that no people have the reserve capital of corporations so by declaring companies people we’ve declared people less than people.

Even without the foreign influence this is a terrible affront to representative democracy but as it stands it almost seems intentionally crippling.

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan – was it added later? Or are you talking about the exact wording of the quote

YARNLADY's avatar

@crazyivan Disclosure of the source is the real issue, not necessarily the source of the funds.

crazyivan's avatar

@iamthemob The exact wording yeah. Like I said, it’s a nitpicky silly thing. He does say it in the sequel, apparently.

@YARNLADY Without the disclosure, though, how will we know the source? I mean, if the Chinese government is running attack ads against politicians they don’t like in this country, that is a serious problem.

Also, on most issues, the guys in the right have less money that the guys in the wrong. Corrupt businesses will always be better funded than the ideological folks that fight them.

YARNLADY's avatar

I’m going to fall back on my real pet peeve and that is people would rather complain about government corruption than actively do something about it. The real problem with the government is that the people who could and should be working for their own best interests are home drinking beer, smoking pot and watching the football game.

iamthemob's avatar

And, @YARNLADY has put it well…

mattbrowne's avatar

There might be a problem with the fact that citizens in the rest of the world are not allowed to vote in the US presidential elections. This wasn’t much of a problem 50 years ago. But when George W. Bush decided that the UN is irrelevant and widespread doubt about the legality of the Iraq war doesn’t matter either, it makes people wonder how 300 million people can make decisions that concern the other 6 billion people too.

ETpro's avatar

@iamthemob I totally agree that corporations being allowed to spend unlimited funds in elections is a problem. But to me, foreign corporations and governments present a particularly insidious problem, because off-shoring jobs is going to be one of their primary interests. The US Chamber of Commerce obviously recognizes this, because they are using advertising warning that Democrats winning would likely cut back on out-sourcing, and asking foreign companies and the governments that own them to contribute to help ensure the elections put Republicans in place so that off-shoring of jobs will continue at a fast pace. This is in the profit interests of large multinational US companies as well. And the Chamber’s major constituency is the largest multinational corporations.

@wundayatta Large multinational corporations have one common set of interests. Increase profits and available cash by reducing costs of materials and wages, and by eliminating regulations and rules against pollution. Eliminate legal exposure when their products cause harm or death. Their advertising dollars are going to support candidates who subscribe to that agenda..

@YARNLADY It is not in any way made clear. 501C6 Non-profits are set up for funneling issue advertising funds specifically because they can keep all their donors secret. So while we have laws against foreign individuals, corporations or governments pumping money into controlling US political elections, the law is useless because there is no way to establish that’s happening. It is rather like having laws against burglary and robbery, but then telling the police they cannot step onto the property where such crimes occur and can’t look at any of the evidence.

YARNLADY's avatar

@ETpro I agree, but what is anyone going to do about it? That is the real question. I the 300 million people that @mattbrowne brings up actually took their responsibility to create their own government seriously, this wouldn’t happen.

ETpro's avatar

@YARNLADY If the corporatocracy pushes too far, they will wake up the sleeping giant. I hope they realize that, because it it comes to that, the results will not be pretty.

YARNLADY's avatar

@ETpro Probably not. People in power actually do learn from their mistakes

ETpro's avatar

@YARNLADY THey don’t seem to have figured out yet that if they bankrupt the middle clasds, nobody will be able to buy their stuff. Not content with having made our progressive tax system of the 1970s into the most regressive one in the industrialized world, with wealth disparity back to where it was in the 1920s before the Great Depression, the right is now pushing for a flat tax. And the Corporations are bankrolling advertising for them at 7 times the rate they are giving to Democratic causes. One more time around the wall.

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