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June 23, 2008


Is there any evidence that Obama's contributors are "vast legions of liberals"?

Our democracy is based on the idea that an elected official represents the people who voted to elect him or her, not the people who funded their campaign. By that argument I think it makes perfect sense that Obama be beholden to the "legions of liberals" who will have both funded his campaign and voted for him to be elected.

The idea that it is somehow a bad thing for an elected official to be accountable to the people who voted for him instead of special interest groups shows just how far off the path of actual democracy we have traveled.

Although the contribution limits are less than 5,000 dollars/person, Obama and any other politician are still beholden to the so-called "bundlers" -- those special campaign financiers that wrangle thousand of dollars from hundreds of people.

Campaign finance reform is an immensely complex and, in my mind, ultimately futile exercise in changing the way politics has been practiced since Athenian times.

Off topic, but that was a great line - "It's tomorrow's David Broder today!"

That one sentence says so much, especially with the accent (!) at the end...

Shinobi made an excellent point, that "Our democracy is based on the idea that an elected official represents the people who voted to elect him or her." I would add that our freedom is based on the idea that we can do what we choose with our own property.

Restrictions on campaign donations restrict our freedom. In exchange for the loss of freedom, we were supposed to get honest government, but political scandals have continued.

since Athenian times

I think you're overshooting the mark a bit.

But in any case, it is possible to reduce the influence of money in elections. Maybe not perfectly, but there's little doubt that our current system isn't as bad as the open graft of some other nations (not to mention our own history), or that bribery laws help control abuse, or that secret ballots protect voters who could be threatened by employers or more easily bought.

Limit the amount a candidate can spend, ban contributions from corporations and foreign entities, restrict the amount that individual donors can give and you've seriously restricted the flow of cash into politics.

Scandals occur when lawmakers violate the law - that's a good thing. But it only works if people are outraged at abuses and if prosecutors are independent. If you shrug it off and say "they always do it", then you're part of the problem.

Don't confuse leverage with access. While the vast swaths of ideologues presumably contributing to Obama's campaign may hold leverage, they have very little access and would be very difficult to mobilize on all but the highest profile issues. Consider telecom immunity in wiretapping compromise. A certain portion of left wing activists were up in arms, but Obama's campaign was clearly unconcerned by the threat it might pose to future fundraising.

Contrast this with the access bought by bundling fundraisers. Their access guarantees the ability to directly communicate interests on low profile issues. Despite amounting to small fractions of the overall fundraising haul, their guaranteed access combined with notions of loyalty mean that they have influence over the issues they care about.

In a small way, bundlers do have true leverage over politicians, as a reputation for ignoring one's raisers and bundlers can really hurt a candidate's future raising ability, but this is probably less significant than their access on special interest issues.

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