SODOM & GOMORRAH: Everyone seems in agreement that corporate influence in politics is bad. Tea Party Republicans are upset that Mitt Romney’s political action committee (PAC) is able to outspend their favored candidates. Liberal Democrats say that Wall Street is silencing the voices of the poor. Libertarians suggest that if the government was smaller, super PAC’s would contribute less. So why does everyone and their mother own a PAC?
Super PAC contributions are at an all time high. Campaign finance laws, first put in place in the 1970’s, have limited how much money individuals and groups can give to American politicians. In most cases, donations were capped at $5,000 per election cycle. The laws were intended to eliminate fears of bribery while still allowing popular candidates to raise money.
Since a Supreme Court ruled in their favor in 2010, super PAC contributions have been growing because the groups are associated with particular issues instead of elections. The Supreme Court has ruled that super PAC contributions can be as large as desired, and that unions and businesses could participate so long as they remained independent of any particular candidate or party.
Independence has been a loose term of late. Candidates can raise money for PAC’s and former campaign staff members are often seen running them.
There has been some mumbling in political corners to limit how much money PAC’s can contribute to campaigns. As stated above, people from various points of view seem in agreement that corporate influence on politics is bad. Very few seem willing to give up their PAC’s and fewer still have identified the real problem.
Libertarians, however, come close. They suggest that the government is too involved in economic affairs. As a result, there’s a huge incentive for businesses, unions, and other interested parties to make large super PAC contributions to sway elections. Elections are life and death issues for certain groups, since different parties often cut or expand funding to particular groups when they make it into office. The libertarians are closest to the answer because they’re the only group suggesting that political influence over economics is the real evil, not as others believe, the other way around.
The libertarian answer falls short in one respect. They criticize the government’s involvement in economics for economic reasons; they say it disrupts the free exchange of goods, the division of labor, private property, etc. In other words, they are operating from a position that believes that there is too little economic reasoning in politics, not too much.
We must always remember that classical liberal America birthed modern liberal America. There is no escaping this historical reality. Our task is to identify what elements of classical liberal America led to the crisis we’re in now. It would seem that using economic reasoning in politics is part of the problem. Economics is the science of household management (that’s what the word originally meant). It is a fundamentally self-interested science; when it’s used in a sphere previously dedicated to the common good, it turns previously altruistic actors into self-interested actors. The over-regulation of America, the large super PAC contributions, the fears about bribery, and even libertarians are all a symptom of a society that has lost sight of its common good.