Campaign Finance Reform

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pedroj012
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Campaign Finance Reform

Postby pedroj012 » Sat Aug 18, 2012 12:24 am UTC

So the general idea is that campaigning takes millions of dollars, which now more than ever is coming from corporations with their own interests.

This system leads to ridiculousness like politicians spending many hours a day in call centers trying to raise campaign funds instead of reading and thinking about actual laws, the gov giving billions every year to millionaire farmers, and a retarded tax code that charges a corporate tax rate of 35% although GE (among others) manages to pay little or negative tax rates.

Lawrence Lessig is the guy I've heard shouting about this, but his big strategy to combat it is to have a constitutional convention to push public campaign financing, which sounds really really unlikely.

My thought was that there has to be some sort of outrage moment when the public isn't just aware of money's influence in government, but actually gets pissed off about it and stages mass protests or something. Which is also kind of unlikely - I heard a little but of campaign finance from Occupy, but nothing substantive come of it.

Anyway, just wondering what people think about campaign finance, if you even think it's important to reform, and what your ideas for reform are if you have them.

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby Eomund » Tue Aug 21, 2012 12:21 am UTC

I must say that I don't like it, more from the "We will donate to you if you pass laws that benefit us" angle. This, as I see it, perverts democracy as people can be persuaded through good marketing rather than rational reasons. I believe a party with bad policies but bad PR could (can?) do really well, especially if they play on emotions.

On the other hand I don't no how to make a good (and enforceable) law.

Consider 4 limits on campaign funding.

1. Joe Blow can give any amount of money to any party.
2. Joe Blow can get paid to express the opinion of the payer. (ie an Advertisement)
3. Joe Blow can get paid to express his own political opinion (eg write an editorial in a newspaper or blog)
4. Joe Blow can talk to his friends about his political opinions.

Where do you draw the line?

I would like to see 2 to be illegal but I don't see how it could work if 3 was be allowed.

(For example, Party A would just have their own party members publish their "own opinion" (Which would just happen to put their own party in a good light).

If you outlaw 3, does that mean that any political blog that has advertisements is illegal? That is scarily close to prohibiting freedom of the press.


tldr: I don't like the current system but don't have a better solution that is immune to manipulation but allows free speech.

Edited for spelling

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:01 pm UTC

Eomund wrote:tldr: I don't like the current system but don't have a better solution that is immune to manipulation but allows free speech.


Yeah, this is where I'm at... PACs and such are essentially just groups of people engaging in free speech. So long as I can buy an ad to express my opinion...rich people are gonna buy bigger and more ads. It's kind of unavoidable.

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby Moose Anus » Wed Sep 05, 2012 7:01 pm UTC

One option to combat the effectiveness of campaign advertising is to educate the public. Have short and frequent public service announcements that give the information in voter information pamphlets, which arguably give equal tender to both sides of issues. Yes, some people will still vote with their feelings or with their team, but at least some of that could be abated this way.
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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby pedroj012 » Wed Sep 05, 2012 8:55 pm UTC

But either way the politician that gets elected owes corporations shit tons of money and favors.

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby rolo91 » Wed Sep 05, 2012 10:41 pm UTC

Right now, corporations can affect the result of the elections. However, in my opinion this is not the real problem, but just a consecuence of it.

Democracy itself is based on mass opinion. Every person votes, without needing any qualification to do so (aside from basic requirements like being old enough). There's no need to back up your vote, either. Vote for Obama because you like his haircut better, if you want.

Nowadays, I think there's no need to point that masses of people can be easily manipulated. That's the reason marketing exists.

If you want to avoid said manipulation of democratic procedures, there are only two ways:

1 - Setting barriers to avoid votes that are not backed up by rational arguments and real facts.

This method would require the creation of an institution that would be able to filter votes, that is, to decide which opinions are valid and which are not.

2 - Banning any kind of marketing tactics.

This method would require the creation of an institution that would be able to decide which ideas can be spread, and in which ways they can be spread.


Both hypothetical institutions would then have to take subjective decisions which would affect the results of every election. So they have, by definition, the potencial to manipulate democracy, probably in a much stronger way that marketing can do it nowadays.

So, sumarizing: there is not a way to set barriers to mass manipulation in democracy, without those barriers becoming a potencial manipulator of democracy theirselves.

Which is a sad conclusion to reach...

Because the opinion of an expert analyst has the same value as the opinion of and a guy which is basing his vote on a candidate's hairstyle.

And no matter how I think about it, I can't see that as the best possible way to take decisions.

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby Thesh » Thu Sep 06, 2012 1:10 am UTC

One idea I've heard that I kind of like is the idea of a clearing house for anonymous donations. Basically all donations to a political party or candidate would have to go through a federal clearing house. The candidates and parties would have no way of knowing who gave them donations. This makes it harder for lobbyists and corporations to say "Hey, if you scratch our backs we'll scratch yours" since they wouldn't be able to prove that they gave the candidate/party a donation.
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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby lutzj » Thu Sep 06, 2012 2:39 am UTC

The elegant libertarian response is to reduce the size and scope of government, that is, reduce the importance to businesses of any given elected official so that pouring millions of dollars into his campaign is less worthwhile. We really need to stop trusting <1000 people with trillions of dollars in taxes and the ability to regulate tens of trillions more; unless there is some airtight method of preventing shady donations (I'm not aware of any), the economics of politics are always going to lead to them.
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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby Thesh » Thu Sep 06, 2012 2:48 am UTC

lutzj wrote:The elegant libertarian response is to reduce the size and scope of government, that is, reduce the importance to businesses of any given elected official so that pouring millions of dollars into his campaign is less worthwhile. We really need to stop trusting <1000 people with trillions of dollars in taxes and the ability to regulate tens of trillions more; unless there is some airtight method of preventing shady donations (I'm not aware of any), the economics of politics are always going to lead to them.


That's a great idea. Then corporations can fuck us over directly rather than by proxy.

EDIT:
To clarify, this is exactly what campaign finance reform istrying to prevent. The corporations are the onesthat are bribing the politicians to reduce regulations. Why? Because they care about money. That's the job of a corporation, to make money. It's not a bad thing, but left unchecked it will be disastrous.

The natural progression of a capitalism without regulation is monopoly. You'll have one company that sells all kitchen utensils, let's call them Food Utensil Company. The more they grow, the easier it is to prevent the competition from gaining entry. Once they have completely taken the market, to make more money they will merge with another company, let's say Kitchen Eats and Drinks who has completely taken the entire food and drink industry. Now, when you buy a product from Kitchen Eats and Drinks after their merger with Food Utensil Company, it comes with the utensil you need to eat or drink that food. This means you have to constantly buy both companies products.

Of course, when this no longer works out, not having competition they can lower the quality of their food. This prevents a good opportunity for them to join forces with United Pharmaceutics, and they have a great system in place: they sell food that makes you sick, and they sell the drugs to make you feel better. What a great world to live in! Yay, completely free market!
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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby lutzj » Thu Sep 06, 2012 4:58 am UTC

Thesh wrote:The corporations are the onesthat are bribing the politicians to reduce regulations.


That's a simplistic view to take. Corporate interests love regulations, so long as those regulations are the right ones. Never mind the massive clusterfuck of subsidies, protective tariffs, and tax deductions that pervades all levels of government. I'm all for anti-fraud and even some anti-trust laws, but those represent a vanishingly small proportion of "regulations" nowadays. It's also a lot easier to add new rules to the books than to reform or remove old ones once the system gets too complicated, so that regulatory bloat and corrupt regulations can form a positive feedback loop.
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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Sep 06, 2012 1:38 pm UTC

In some cases, corporations gleefully embrace additional standards. Their happiness with them is generally directly correlated to how much it's going to cost them. If a regulation costs them relatively little to comply with, but would be a notable burden to new entrants to the market, they are a lot more likely to support it.

So, while "reduce regulation" is definitely simplified, his theme of "corporations use government to gain an advantage" is pretty sound. In fact, one of the best reasons to reduce government is to minimize the power that corporations exert through government. The difficulty with that strategy is that the corporations tend to generally not be for that. They're all about minimizing the bits that don't benefit them...but the music industry wants legislation enforcing anti-piracy laws, the corn farmers want subsidies, and so on and so forth, and all of them care more about getting what they want than cutting costs as a whole.

And of course, corporate donors are pretty massive for both sides. Romney probably has the edge this time around(unsurprising, he's got notable business connections), but both sides have been pretty heavily dominated by corporate donations/lobbying for quite some time, and it's a pretty hard problem to fix.

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby LaserGuy » Thu Sep 06, 2012 2:20 pm UTC

lutzj wrote:The elegant libertarian response is to reduce the size and scope of government, that is, reduce the importance to businesses of any given elected official so that pouring millions of dollars into his campaign is less worthwhile. We really need to stop trusting <1000 people with trillions of dollars in taxes and the ability to regulate tens of trillions more; unless there is some airtight method of preventing shady donations (I'm not aware of any), the economics of politics are always going to lead to them.


The boards of directors of most fortune 500 corporations handle far larger sums per capita than the average congressperson or senator. For example, ExxonMobil has about 400 billion in revenues each year, and the board of directors is thirteen people, so each person is responsible for ~30 billion per year. The entire US economy is 15,000 billion, which, divided among 435 congresspeople and 100 senators, is ~28 billion per year--and actual government outlays are only about 20% of that. Dramatically reducing the size of government would, in all likelihood, concentrate more power over the economy into the hands of fewer people, rather than the opposite.

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Sep 06, 2012 3:46 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:
lutzj wrote:The elegant libertarian response is to reduce the size and scope of government, that is, reduce the importance to businesses of any given elected official so that pouring millions of dollars into his campaign is less worthwhile. We really need to stop trusting <1000 people with trillions of dollars in taxes and the ability to regulate tens of trillions more; unless there is some airtight method of preventing shady donations (I'm not aware of any), the economics of politics are always going to lead to them.


The boards of directors of most fortune 500 corporations handle far larger sums per capita than the average congressperson or senator. For example, ExxonMobil has about 400 billion in revenues each year, and the board of directors is thirteen people, so each person is responsible for ~30 billion per year. The entire US economy is 15,000 billion, which, divided among 435 congresspeople and 100 senators, is ~28 billion per year--and actual government outlays are only about 20% of that. Dramatically reducing the size of government would, in all likelihood, concentrate more power over the economy into the hands of fewer people, rather than the opposite.


For this to be true of all fortune 500 companies, america's most profitable 500 companies would have to make almost 10 times as much money as America does. This would be a clue that you're doing something wildly wrong statistically.

Ah, there it is. Exon Mobil is #1, not a representative sample of the top 500. We fall below $100b at rank 23. We fall below $30b(for the whole company, not a single director) after only 100 places.

Therefore, your "most fortune 500 corporations" is clearly false.

Source: Fortune 500 list

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby MartianInvader » Thu Sep 06, 2012 9:40 pm UTC

lutzj wrote:The elegant libertarian response is to reduce the size and scope of government, that is, reduce the importance to businesses of any given elected official so that pouring millions of dollars into his campaign is less worthwhile. We really need to stop trusting <1000 people with trillions of dollars in taxes and the ability to regulate tens of trillions more; unless there is some airtight method of preventing shady donations (I'm not aware of any), the economics of politics are always going to lead to them.

I'm pretty sure libertarians still advocate the government having a monopoly on legal physical force. That alone is worth millions of campaign dollars to most large corporations.
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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby lutzj » Sat Sep 08, 2012 5:57 am UTC

MartianInvader wrote:
lutzj wrote:The elegant libertarian response is to reduce the size and scope of government, that is, reduce the importance to businesses of any given elected official so that pouring millions of dollars into his campaign is less worthwhile. We really need to stop trusting <1000 people with trillions of dollars in taxes and the ability to regulate tens of trillions more; unless there is some airtight method of preventing shady donations (I'm not aware of any), the economics of politics are always going to lead to them.

I'm pretty sure libertarians still advocate the government having a monopoly on legal physical force. That alone is worth millions of campaign dollars to most large corporations.


Libertarians, broadly, want to limit the magnitude and scope of that monopoly on force. For instance, many don't want the government leveraging that privilege to enforce unnecessary regulations and taxes, which is what I meant to get at in the post you quoted. Are you referring to some use of state power outside of enforcing laws and collecting tax?
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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby omgryebread » Sat Sep 08, 2012 11:23 pm UTC

lutzj wrote:
MartianInvader wrote:
lutzj wrote:The elegant libertarian response is to reduce the size and scope of government, that is, reduce the importance to businesses of any given elected official so that pouring millions of dollars into his campaign is less worthwhile. We really need to stop trusting <1000 people with trillions of dollars in taxes and the ability to regulate tens of trillions more; unless there is some airtight method of preventing shady donations (I'm not aware of any), the economics of politics are always going to lead to them.

I'm pretty sure libertarians still advocate the government having a monopoly on legal physical force. That alone is worth millions of campaign dollars to most large corporations.


Libertarians, broadly, want to limit the magnitude and scope of that monopoly on force. For instance, many don't want the government leveraging that privilege to enforce unnecessary regulations and taxes, which is what I meant to get at in the post you quoted. Are you referring to some use of state power outside of enforcing laws and collecting tax?
Libertarian law is basically torts. It replaces regulations with liability lawsuits. So there's enormous reasons to want judges with a judicial philosophy that benefits you. Let's say I'm a car manufacturer. My cars have a serious flaw in the engine that can, in rare instances, cause the car to blow up. Fortunately, the check engine light will always turn on several days before the car blows up.

Someone driving one of my cars ignores this check engine light and continues to drive. The car blows up. His family sues me for negligence. However, I've contributed heavily to political campaigns. I've especially targeted for defeat politicians who want to have a system of "comparative negligence." Therefore, our district has "contributory negligence." The driver is at least partly at fault, for still driving the car with the light on, so the judge finds him say, 10% responsible and I win the case and owe nothing.

Libertarianism doesn't eliminate the reasons for political donations, it increases the stakes of them. (it also places an enormous amount of power in a select few: judges.)
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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby LaserGuy » Sun Sep 09, 2012 6:26 am UTC

That's just one of many reasons why electing judges is kind of a stupid idea in the first place.

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby Zamfir » Sun Sep 09, 2012 8:34 pm UTC

The problem is hardly unique to elected judges. Presumably, you want some democratic oversight over the selection of judges. At arm's length preferably, with elected politicians only to choose the overall system and to take action if the system runs amok. That distance is only maintainable because elected politicians currently don't have to interfere much with the judiciary to reach their wider goals: if they want judges to make different decisions, they can make laws that the judges have to follow.

The US supreme court shows what happens when you cast some laws beyond the reach of politicians (as libertarians advocate for far more decisions): the political fight shifts to the appointment of judges, instead of the content of the law, but the fight remains.

An alternative could be to put the judiciary entirely outside of democratic control, to have existing judges pick new judges without any possibility of outside oversight. But that essentialy gives the judiciary a status like the Party in a one-party state. There will still be political fights (and corruption) within the judiciary, but now common people have no influence at all, except to join the system.

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby lutzj » Sun Sep 09, 2012 11:51 pm UTC

omgryebread wrote:Let's say I'm a car manufacturer. My cars have a serious flaw in the engine that can, in rare instances, cause the car to blow up. Fortunately, the check engine light will always turn on several days before the car blows up.

Someone driving one of my cars ignores this check engine light and continues to drive. The car blows up. His family sues me for negligence. However, I've contributed heavily to political campaigns. I've especially targeted for defeat politicians who want to have a system of "comparative negligence." Therefore, our district has "contributory negligence." The driver is at least partly at fault, for still driving the car with the light on, so the judge finds him say, 10% responsible and I win the case and owe nothing.


Then the solution is to require a doctrine of comparative negligence by statute. Any legal question, be it a tort case or regulation enforcement, is going to come before a public official anyway.
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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby Iulus Cofield » Mon Sep 10, 2012 1:09 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:An alternative could be to put the judiciary entirely outside of democratic control, to have existing judges pick new judges without any possibility of outside oversight. But that essentialy gives the judiciary a status like the Party in a one-party state. There will still be political fights (and corruption) within the judiciary, but now common people have no influence at all, except to join the system.


I like putting the selection of judges outside of democratic control, but not the judiciary entirely. For example, by giving Congress the authority to remove judges from office at the Federal level, state legislatures at the state level, and voters at the county level. Whether that would work better than the pretty heavily politicized current system or not, I have no idea.

I'm also not entirely convinced by your Party analogy. Judges are largely autonomous, with very tight constraints on their authority. There could be long term problems if a substantial number of the higher judges responsible for promotions support particular judicial philosophies (harsher sentencing or constitutional literalism), but such problems would be slow to manifest and still mitigated by the extrajudicial removal process. Furthermore, standards for promotion would make it harder and slower for politically preferred judges to rise in the ranks versus more qualified and experienced rivals.

We already have a similar system for military officers that works pretty well, although the military is naturally shielded from most political interests. And the biggest weakness there is from corrupt presidents' control over the highest offices.

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby Zamfir » Mon Sep 10, 2012 7:08 am UTC

I think that's a misunderstanding. The party analogy was for removing oversight entirely, for making the judiciary an entirely independent branch of government. Most places make it (on purpose) difficult and slow for elected politicians to influence the judiciary, but that's very different from making it legally impossible. Especially because elected politicians do not have a pressing need to influence the long term choices of most of the judiciary: if they want that power, they can simply make laws that the judges will follow.

This in the light of lutzj's remark about shrinking the size and scope of the government. Presumably, that shrinking would take the form of constitutional rules that forbid elected officials from making and changing many kinds of laws that they currently can make or change. That would increase the power of judges: at the top by deciding which laws are constitutional, but also throughout, because the laws and statutes that politicians are no longer allowed to modify will become outdated, and judges will be the only people whose interpretation can apply them to new situations.

In such a system, it becomes far more important who controls the long term behaviour of the judiciary. Your proposal of an extra judicial removed process for example would become one of the most important and most pressurized powers of elected politicians, and they would use it to undermine the goals that lutzj aims for.

So if lutzj wants to have his limited government, he needs some organ that will regulate the scope of government and that cannot be undermined by democracy. But without a democratic check, he also needs to show how that organ won't suffer from the same corrupting pressures that currently operate on elected politicians.

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby lutzj » Tue Sep 11, 2012 6:23 am UTC

But without a democratic check, he also needs to show how that organ won't suffer from the same corrupting pressures that currently operate on elected politicians.


This is easily the biggest problem; barriers to government overreach are typically weakened or corrupted over time. But that's hardly an argument for simply letting such corruption happen. I think most would agree that checks like the Bill of Rights have generally been a positive influence, even if an Espionage Act or Patriot Act slips through every so often.
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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby Zamfir » Tue Sep 11, 2012 6:37 am UTC

You are proposing to dismantle many government programs that many people consider benefial, in order to reduce corruption. That's a heavy price to pay, and there has to be something awfully good in return. You can't just handwave that away by some appeal that limited government will necessarily be less corrupt. History is filled with government that are both far more limited and far more corrupt than present democracies, so it's in no way obvious that a reduction in government scope will carry the benefits you claim for it.

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby lutzj » Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:48 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:You are proposing to dismantle many government programs that many people consider benefial, in order to reduce corruption.


I don't think I've explicitly said that yet. Personally, I'd be quite satisfied with tax reform and a serious look at economic regulations and the effects they have. There are many government functions whose benefits outweigh the potential for abuse and corruption they provide (else I'd be advocating outright anarchism). To borrow a more specific example of the sort of check on government I find useful, the constitution of the US explicitly proscribes export taxes. I'm confident that without that restriction the tax code would become more convoluted than it is today, economic competitiveness would be diminished, and there would be hardly anything in meaningful extra revenue to show for it.
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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Sep 11, 2012 2:49 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:So if lutzj wants to have his limited government, he needs some organ that will regulate the scope of government and that cannot be undermined by democracy. But without a democratic check, he also needs to show how that organ won't suffer from the same corrupting pressures that currently operate on elected politicians.


This is a huge long-term stability issue. I entirely agree that one of the biggest problems with democracy is the pervasive attitude that my ignorance is as good as your knowledge...after all, votes all count the same. So yeah, all the elected positions are vulnerable to compromise by terrible voters voting for terrible people.

But if you've got that many people who are simply uninformed/misguided/etc...there's really no better solution there. Judges are good for long term stability, but like you say...corrupt the selection mechanism for the judges, and you corrupt the judges. You probably can't get judges better than we do right now...or at least, not much better. Our judges are probably the closest thing to an impartial, non-partisan agency of justice in the government.

Now, you can *somewhat* lower the states for an election by moving certain elements entirely out of the governments purview(like the current separation between church and state), but that only goes so far....so long as you have a functional government, there will always be some amount of stakes for winning elections, and at least some motivation to donate. It's only a question of degree, not kind.

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby omgryebread » Tue Sep 11, 2012 3:07 pm UTC

lutzj wrote:Then the solution is to require a doctrine of comparative negligence by statute. Any legal question, be it a tort case or regulation enforcement, is going to come before a public official anyway.
At which point, I just have to lobby the legislature to overturn that statute.

In order to actually make government less worthwhile to lobby, you not only have to reduce the scope of government, but you must also introduce a body of law that cannot be edited (or at least a body of law that is extremely hard for those in power in government to edit), and is not subject to differences of opinion in its interpretation.

Destroying a regulatory agency doesn't prevent a later government from bringing it back, or introducing a worse one. After the Ronpaul takes out the EPA, whose to say that President Chelsea Clinton won't bring it back, with even more regulatory power? Or that President Jackie Gingrich Cushman won't make it illegal to protest polluting companies? (For the record, I realize that's pretty hyperbolic. I don't think Mrs. Cushman, or anyone who isn't a Captain Planet villain would actually do that. I will say that the idea that Gingrich had kids is somewhat terrifying.)
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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby LaserGuy » Tue Sep 11, 2012 3:24 pm UTC

This is like the Godel's Incompleteness Theorem for governments. For any government that is sufficiently interesting to discuss, there will always be a way to introduce corruption into the system.

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Re: Campaign Finance Reform

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Sep 11, 2012 3:56 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:This is like the Godel's Incompleteness Theorem for governments. For any government that is sufficiently interesting to discuss, there will always be a way to introduce corruption into the system.


Oh, certainly. But we can discuss ways to minimize corruption, still.

To tag onto omgrybread's idea of a law that's hard for them to modify...we have examples like the US constitution. I think that can reasonably fulfill the criteria laid forth...it wasn't perfect, and it HAS been modified, but I think it's generally been modified for the better, and it's been a generally positive influence on US government as a whole, often providing courts with the necessary backing to check some government excesses.

Could you reasonably restrict the government more in the same fashion? Possibly. But, there's always the option of them simply ignoring it. So, if respect for it drops too low, you might lose the whole ball of wax.


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