Monday, April 23, 2012

A Question for Samples

I believe in limited government. I believe that every law, good or bad, pushes us further and further from an individualistic society to a a corporatist society. This doesn't mean we shouldn't pass laws. It means that we should think - think deeply - about what bills we sign into law.

This mindset does not make me particularly receptive to proposals for new laws. And it makes me somewhat sympathetic to arguments that we should reduce existing regulation. John Samples, the author of The Fallacy of Campaign Finance Reform, clearly feels even stronger than I do. As we all know, he espouses a vision of an entirely unregulated campaign finance system, but devotes most of the book to refuting our current system.

But beneath the studies and the charts and the data he presents to counter even the basic concept that money affects politicians, Samples devotes bafflingly few pages to discussing how the current system actually works. Could that perhaps be because the concrete facts don't look as nice as the all-too-easily-manipulated abstract numbers? At least one outstanding journalist seems to think so. 

Of course, interest groups deserve a say in our governing process. There's no way to argue that many, if not most, of these groups represent genuine needs of constituents. I'm not saying that the campaign finance system is wrong, or in need of dramatic reform, or anything close to that. I'm also not saying that the system is right, or doesn't need dramatic reform. I'm merely saying that the problem is clearly more nuanced than Samples makes it out to be. And also promoting an awesome show.


TJE said...

"Most of the time, checks don't by votes, Williams says. But they buy access. They buy an opportunity to make your case."

Not sure Samples would disagree.

Dean Woodley Ball said...

True, and the report also notes that in a competition between money and strongly voiced public preference, the people's choice will win 95% of the time. Plus, most interest groups aren't representing Wall Street or gas companies or what have you - they're representing groups whose interests are quite likely in line with the people.

Here's the issue: if a group donates $10,000, let's say, to meet with staff to campaign for amending a bill to srike a sentence, or a word, or a comma. It might be no skin off the Congressman's back, and it might not be followed by the press, but it may well have a huge range of effects for a particular company or industry. There is not a doubt in my mind that this happens - certainly not as much as we are lead to believe, but it happens all the same.

The truth is, I'm genuinely not sure how I feel about it. But I do think that Samples fails to ground his argument in reathe reality of how the system works.