Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Foreign contributions for ballot initiatives (in CA) complicate the campaign finance debate; the partisan pressures to "take sides" and "join up"

The concerns over campaign finance reform and political contributions, even indirect, has resurfaced this week, in a USA Today story by Fredreka Schouten Tuesday, “Condoms-in-porn initiative spurs concern about foreign money in elections”, link here.   

The Federal Election Commission says that the ban on foreign campaign contributions applies only to candidate elections, not to ballot initiatives. The issue concerned a 2012 ballot initiative requiring actors in “adult” films to use condoms during filming (even if not actually having “sex”).   Some of the contributions had come from Manwin, a porn distributor in Luxembourg.  The AIDS Healthcare Foundation had objected to the practice, and some (especially in the state GOP) say that California law alone would have banned the foreign contributions.  

But the influence of “money” on elections and initiatives, and the Supreme Court’s view of contributions as “speech” in most cases, is troubling.  In Washington DC, a lot of the jobs are in lobbying groups – I once worked for a company that generated analytical reports for healthcare lobbying groups.  I actually learned a lot from the experience, setting up how I would handle my own book “business” later. 

Heavy lobbying, however, tends to polarize people into partisan camps, often driven by emotion and social loyalties that trump critical thinking.  (See my review of William Gairdner’s book “The Great Divide” May 15.)  I find people pressuring me to “join” something and pimp someone else’s cause rather than continue “gratuitous publication” about “everything”.  I plead “Cloud Atlas” – everything is connected.  
On the other hand, trying to limit campaign influence has its problems.  Remember the flap in 2005 over the idea that bloggers could inadvertently make illegal campaign contributions, and where that led. 

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