Apparently, the last minute legislation that the Congress approved contains a few special interest goodies, mainly for the financial industry, including one that defers any income earned overseas from corporate taxation so long as the money remains outside the USA and one that benefits Goldman Sachs especially. So, at a time when everyone’s Social Security payroll tax deductions go up two percent, a good $1000 a year for the average family, financial America gets a continued tax break.
Not that this surprises me in the least, because we have the very best Congress money can buy, and we have it because the reformers of the past century were successful. It’s an excellent example of how the best intentions can have the worst results, a real-life political example of the road to Hell being paved with good intentions. It’s also an example of what can happen when good ideas are carried to extremes.
Many years ago, when I was a young and more idealistic Congressional staffer, political parties really mattered. They were more than affiliation labels, which is what they’ve largely become today; they were a source of political power. They were significant funding sources, especially compared to today, and there weren’t that many other organizations, except perhaps unions, that had that kind of influence over members of Congress, although technically both unions and corporations were prohibited from direct and indirect contributions to candidates.
Because enforcing these prohibitions and other campaign laws was difficult, in 1971, Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act, requiring stringent disclosure requirements. Then following Watergate and reports of serious financial abuses in the 1972 Presidential campaign, Congress amended FECA in 1974 and set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs. One of the more important provisions was that which limited national party contributions to $5,000 per election to candidates for the House of Representatives and $43,000 to Senatorial candidates.
With the reduction in funds from national and local political parties and the prohibition and increasing scrutiny of moneys that had formerly still passed under the table, and with the aid of the development of computerization, most candidates and federal elected officials began to build independent fundraising and electoral support organizations, and, in effect, corporations turned a blind eye to scores of their executives contributing, technically in a legal fashion, to campaigns of those who favored corporate interests.
Then in 2010, two court decisions, Citizens United and SpeechNow, changed everything. Together, the two decisions, essentially on free speech grounds, removed the limits on the ability of organizations that accepted corporate or union money from running electioneering communications and held that Congress could not limit donations to organizations that only made independent expenditures, that is, expenditures that were “uncoordinated” with a candidate’s campaign. As a result, anyone could spend any amount of money on advertising for or against any political issue and against any candidate, or for any candidate, provided there was no communication or coordination with the candidate. Add to that the fact that, of “regular” contributions to candidates, roughly 50% of campaign contributions come from large individual donors, and it’s difficult not to see why the financial community has a disproportionate influence on legislation… and gets special tax breaks.
What’s overlooked, however, with all the money issues, is a second issue – that of carrying good ideas to extremes. The Citizens United and SpeechNow decisions essentially rested on the premise that restricting expression of opinion through restricting campaign-related advertising was unconstitutional because it restricted free speech under the First Amendment. No one wants free speech restricted, but what about the problem of my free speech – or yours – being drowned out by hundreds of millions of dollars of corporate paid advertising? Isn’t that a de facto restriction of free speech?
The same issue is raised by the question of restriction of assault weapons. Does the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment allow others to cut short my pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness – or that of innocent school children?
As we are seeing – and some seem to refuse to see – carrying principles to extremes can have unintended, and dangerous, consequences. But then, that’s true of carrying anything to extremes, a fact of which tea party members and ultra-leftists remain blissfully unaware.