Coincidentally Correct: Republicans happen to be Right on Campaign Finance and Voter ID

I am not a Republican and I never will be. There is little about the Republican Party that impresses me, and I despise the concept of political parties in general.

It’s likely that many people whom I encounter would assume otherwise. I attribute this to two things: that Capitalism and Federalism are my primary political issues and that Liberals are rapidly stampeding towards the Left. Republicans at least claim to share my affinity for private ownership, voluntary exchange, the free market, and State’s Rights, and I find Liberals to be less reasonable and more religious in their beliefs by the day. The latter can be proven by the left’s miraculous tendency to call Hillary Clinton a moderate Republican when in fact she is as far to the left as our country should tolerate.

If you ask me, I would consider myself a hybrid Conservative-Libertarian. I love Capitalism and the Constitution, I know that Rights are innate and inalienable, I demand limited government, I believe people should be free to suffer the consequences of their actions, I value individualism and mankind over collectivism and the environment, and while I care deeply about equality before the law, I am not concerned with equality of outcomes.

I’m saying all of this as an attempt to prove my ethos as a principled rather than partisan political thinker. While I could easily be painted into a corner as a Republican shill (and I’ll most likely be voting for a Republican come November), I want to make it as clear as possible that few things are less important to me than what the GOP says or how it fairs.

I hope you’ll take my word for it.

***

From an objective but principled standpoint, I will use this entry to explain why Republicans are correct on voter ID and campaign finance laws. I do not believe that Republicans are being righteous in their support for voter ID laws and Citizen’s-United-esque judicial rulings, nor do I believe that Democrats are being evil in their support for the opposite. Both parties are playing politics and trying to gain power, and if the situations surrounding these issues were to change, their priorities, rationale, and rhetoric would adjust accordingly. Regardless of the circumstances, voter ID laws are needed, and campaign finance reform laws are both unnecessary and an affront to Liberty.

Voter ID

Michael Gerson, a columnist for the Washington Post, coined one of my favorite phrases in a speech written for George W. Bush: the soft bigotry of low expectations. It’s a magnificent use of the English language.

In the world of modern politics, our society often correlates bigotry with policies and ideas that do not help certain groups of people such as blacks and women. It is “bigoted” to oppose Affirmative Action and welfare because those programs supposedly benefit the aforementioned groups.

Gerson’s phrase turns this idea on its head. Instead of calling the opposition to special privileges bigoted, it calls those who believe that certain people are unable to compete without special privileges bigoted! According to this phrase, it is not the “greedy” and “cold” who are the villains; it is instead the patronizingly sympathetic who are being discriminatory, prejudiced, and immoral through their support for preferential treatment.

The idea that certain groups of people are unable to complete the “daunting” task of acquiring a photo ID is a perfect illustration of the soft bigotry of low expectations. Yes, certain demographics in our nation are more likely to be impoverished than others. But America is not Bangladesh or Ethiopia, so forking over $5-20 bucks in exchange for proof of person and the ability to vote legitimately is not even close to too much to ask. Assuming that there are people who are so poor and so incapable of procuring ID in America in 2016 is ignorant and belittling. We need to raise the bar if we want people to succeed, not pat them on the head and tell them everything is going to be alright.

If there are instances in which states make it unreasonably difficult for individuals to acquire the form of identification needed to participate in elections, that is what needs to be changed, not the requirement for ID itself.

Beyond the condescending nature of loose voting laws, Democrats claim that Republican fears over voter fraud are unfounded. According to the available data, this is true. Voter fraud is not a proven phenomenon occurring on a large scale.

However, the act of fraudulence implies trickery, so tracking instances of this kind are inconclusive. We can never account for every occurrence of voter fraud because we may have been deceived!

As Ayn Rand says, you are never called upon to prove a negative, so I have to admit that assuming that something is taking place because it cannot be disproved is a logical fallacy (although Liberals are happy to purport the claim that 68% of rapes go unreported [reporting on something that is unreported is just as bad]).

Having said that, it remains in many minds that voter fraud and other violations of the democratic process are possible if not already occurring. Congressional approval continues to be a joke, and nobody trusts the government anymore. With this kind of atmosphere, I believe it is in the best interest of the government and public mentality to make elections as transparent as possible. Establishing voter ID laws in more states would effect more confidence in our Democratic process. And whether it changes election results or not, we’ll at least learn to trust our voting procedures again.

Campaign Finance

Two of the most prominent and polarizing high-profile figures of our current election cycle are Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. While they often seem like the antitheses of the other, they share many unique ideas and policies. One of these is the outright opposition to Citizens United and support of campaign finance freedom.

While I admittedly am no expert on our current campaign finance laws, the basic rules are that the amount of money individuals, corporations, unions, political action committees (PACs and Super-PACs), and members of a candidate’s campaign team can donate directly to a political campaign is limited. For example, an individual citizen can donate only $2,700 directly to a candidate’s political campaign per election cycle. A state, local, or district party committee can give up to $5,000.

PACs are another story, and understanding what defines a PAC is crucial. A more politically correct way of denoting a PAC is an “independent-expenditure only committee”. “Independent” is the key word. Unlike the private campaign teams that raise money directly for their political hopefuls, PACs operate on their own. Through television ads and other mediums, PACs support the candidates they favor and attack the candidates they disapprove of.

Here is an attack ad against Donald Trump created and paid for by Our Principles PAC, a Conservative organization that opposes Trump.

Here is a promotional ad for Ted Cruz created and paid for by Reigniting the Promise who back Cruz for president.

In 2010, the Supreme Court heard a landmark case between Citizens United, a conservative non-profit organization, and the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Citizens United was planning on airing a video critical of Hillary Clinton around the time of the 2008 Democratic primaries, but previously standing campaign finance laws prohibited this action. The Supreme Court overruled the previous laws arguing that the First Amendment protects the Rights of individuals and organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political speech. While this did not affect limitations on direct campaign contributions, spending by PACs has ballooned to inordinate levels ever since.

The thing is, the threat of potential consequences resulting in unlimited spending by PACs seems to be a non-issue based on our current presidential election cycle. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has been the presumptive 2016 Democratic nominee since her endorsement of Barack Obama following her concession in the aforementioned 2008 primary race. For eight years, essentially every pundit, politician, and member of the public has come to grips with the reality of Hillary Clinton squaring off with whomever the GOP winds to wind up nominating. While it seems inevitable that she will wind up fulfilling her destiny at this point, a great challenge has persisted in the form of Bernie Sanders. Sanders has won 18 separate primaries and caucuses thus far, and will likely win a few more. This was unimaginable just a year ago as it seemed clear that the party would unite behind Clinton. While Clinton has been supported with over $76 million from PACs and other organizations outside of her campaign (the most of any candidate on either side), Sanders has received next to nothing from these kinds of groups. However, when it comes to direct donations, Sanders is outpacing everyone, including Clinton by a hair, with over $182 million. Added together, Sanders has been the beneficiary of over 41% of direct and outside contributions to the top two candidates. Surprisingly, when it comes to the popular vote, Sanders has received roughly 45%. Sanders share of the votes is outpacing his share of campaign financing, and he has achieved this amount of voting support despite being up against Clinton’s name recognition, experience, and presumed nomination from the get-go. This leads me to believe that it is not money talking on the Democratic side, but voters making their marks.

The Republican primary is even more telling. Already armed with the family name of two of our last four presidents, Jeb Bush received by far the greatest amount in campaign finance on the GOP side. Despite getting over $120 million from PACs and other organizations, Jeb Bush suspended his campaign back in February. He was a non-contender throughout nearly his entire bid for the White House. Though Ted Cruz, who is still in the runnings, has accumulated over $63 million from outside contributions, that’s just a smidge more than Marco Rubio who dropped out a month and a half ago. The obvious kicker is that Donald Trump is at Bernie-levels when it comes to monetary assistance from PACs, yet he is the only remaining GOP candidate capable of accruing enough delegates to become the Republican nominee on the first ballot. In addition to Bush, Cruz, and Rubio, ten other candidates and also-rans on the GOP side have outpaced Trump in funding from PACs. Trump, as he and his constituents love to boast about, has self-financed nearly his entire campaign. The mega-billionaire has shrugged off the persistence of “money in politics”, and appears to be on his way to a showdown with Hillary Clinton come November.

Campaign finance tallies can be found here.

Sanders and Trump continue to rail against the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling despite its lack of effect on their presidential prospects. In the age of the internet and mass communication, big money and the mainstream media have lost their stranglehold on our minds and worldview. Instead of having to tune in to CNN for updates on what’s going on in the world, we have access to information from an unheard-of number of news outlets with unique and diverse value systems, perspectives, and ambitions. Candidates can spend all they want; the web has freed our minds and our ability to find the candidate that we think will work for us.

This is just one of many reasons the Citizens United ruling should be applauded. Here is a quick annotation of some others:

  • Empowering the federal government to pass legislation that regulates how we may participate in the Democratic process sets a dangerous precedent. How do they know what amount of money is appropriate and what amount is excessive?
  • Incumbent politicians have an innate advantage over their challengers, so limiting the money spent on political speech works in favor of those already in office. Also, those already in office are the ones who would write the campaign finance laws!
  • If the government can limit how much money an individual or PAC can spend promoting a candidate, what stops the government from limiting the amount of money a newspaper can spend on delivering the news or a webmaster from promoting his website? This is why the First Amendment uses the explicit phrase “Congress shall make no law…” to explain their role in limiting Freedom of Speech and of the Press.

George Will articulates these arguments more clearly in this PragerU video. He also presents a better solution than campaign finance reform: getting the government out of our lives so we don’t have to worry about politics so much! If legislators had less power, big money interests would have less of a reason to “buy” them in exchange for unfair regulations and other political favors later on. Reducing government’s role in our lives would give us more opportunity to take care of ourselves, our families, and our communities, and would prevent cronyism from ruining our Lives, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.

In the same way that Democrats are appalled by voter ID laws because they believe they hurt their chances at being elected, Trump and Sanders favor campaign finance reform because it would work to their advantage. The more regulations are in place, the more of a chance Trump and other billionaires capable of self-financing their campaigns have at winning elections and drowning out the competition. Sanders, a populist candidate with an intellectually unsound message that appeals to the youthful and ignorant, would also benefit from campaign finance reforms as individuals with little experience and knowledge of politics could be rounded up to vote in his favor with less of a threat of rebuttals to his policy proposals being heard. In addition, Sanders’ nearly four decades of experience as a career politician gives him a massive advantage when it comes to name recognition and familiarity with his voting constituency. Trump’s high-profile persona would get the same leg up.

In conclusion, stricter voter ID laws and the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling are fair, Constitutional, and in the spirit of our Republic. They should not be described this way for favoring Republicans, and Republicans should not be described this way for supporting them. It is merely coincidental that requiring identification to vote and permitting PACs to spend whatever amount of money they would like to are part of the Republican platform. If the effects of these policies were to change, I suspect that the arguments from each side would change too.

Coincidentally Correct: Republicans happen to be Right on Campaign Finance and Voter ID

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