Monday, April 16, 2012

Gary Becker, on controlling campaign finance ... as well as other manifestations of special interests, such as lobbying and volunteering

Sharp restrictions on campaign contributions would make more sense if monetary contributions were the only major force that shapes who wins elections and the policies goverment officials support.Yet that is very far from the situation that prevails in American politics, and in the politics of most other democratic nations. One reason for this is that interest groups can often avoid the intent of restrictions on campaign contributions through other ways to influence political outcomes. For example, many industries hire lobbyists and spend other monies to try to persuade legislators, regulators, and others in important political positions to subsidize their industries, or to reduce the taxes on their industries, or to gain other advantages.

It is not only business that is active in these ways since, for example, unions of government employees use political clout to obtain generous pensions and health plans for their members. The tight budgets that are currently being imposed on many national and regional governments-such as the Greek government and state and local governments of the United States- have induced government unions to fight hard to keep their pension and health benefits, and to limit any reductions in these benefits. Similarly, unions of public school teachers have spent considerable money and time to defeat efforts to introduce school vouchers and many other changes in public school systems.

Candidates who galvanize enthusiasm with their oratory and political positions induce many supporters to spend considerable time working to elect these candidates and to promote policies the candidates favor. Time spent by supporters is often as effective and “corrupting” as money spent influencing political outcomes and policies. This is probably especially true in the age of the Internet and other methods of mass communication. Supporters of a particular candidate may spend a lot of time on political issues through blogs, Facebook and other social networks, and through other forms of mass communication. Radio, television, and Internet stars, such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill Moyers, and Matt Drudge, not only affect the views of followers, but also how active they are in supporting conservative or liberal policies.

These reflections lead me to question whether it is wise to control one form of interest group politics; namely, direct and indirect monetary contributions to political campaigns, in an environment where other types of interest group politics are important and are only weakly controlled.
Read the whole thing here.

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