Archive for the 'Contribution Solicitations' Category
The FEC has once again deadlocked on an enforcement case and left an important question dangerously open. Months ago, the FEC could do nothing useful with a case about the use of LLCs to make contributions. Now it is inviting trouble, and not for the first time, with a case about how hard a corporation may press its employees to support the employer’s political program.
In the recent case, the FEC was forced by the usual 3-3 division to dismiss a complaint that a company pressured employees to make political contributions to its PAC and favored candidates. The question before the agency was whether to investigate. There were reasons, including internal company documents. In one of them, the company advised managers that “we have been insulted by every salaried employee who does not support our efforts.” There was a press report recounting the experience of unnamed employees with coercive practices, and one employee put her complaint on the public record as part of a wrongful termination action.
It cannot be known if, on investigation, the FEC would have found enough to support a conclusive finding of violation. The dissenting Commissioners who declined to support further inquiry may have had their so far unexplained reasons. But with the dismissal of the Complaint and nothing more heard from the agency, the regulated community has a fresh signal of either Commission paralysis on an issue of central importance, or of ominous possibilities now available to employers in soliciting political contributions from their eligible managerial ranks.
A number of political candidates over the years have recounted the experience of raising too much money, too much of the time, for their campaigns. They find it awkward and embarrassing to ask for the money, and the pace and intensity of this fundraising consume too much time that could be diverted to more productive uses. They understand the suspicions it raises in those looking on from the outside. Congressman Steve Israel is the most recent to write about experience, and he is a respected elected official whose contribution to this narrative will not be ignored.
Israel is not talking about fundraising events to which tickets are sold, or about appeals on line or in the mail. It is about the person asked for money face to face, or ear to ear: the direct "ask", which will be answered positively, negatively, or somewhere in between. It is a personal appeal, but one that is managed and strained: the candidate crammed in the cubicle with a phone, staff at his side, reading off notecards with bits of data about the fundraising target on the other end of the line.
Reform theorists worry about the risk in this contact of trading policy for money, or about the dangers of intense association over time with people who have lots of money. On the conscious level, the politician may be tempted to offer something for cash; on the subconscious level, he simply may come to prefer the company of rich people and identify with their policy objectives and interests.
But it can be more complicated than that. Gift theorists—not to be confused with reform theorists—tell us that the psychology of giving and receiving is never simple. William Ian Miller has written that “central to the notion of the gift is the way in which reciprocity is effected and enforced,” and this is tricky business, because gift giving and receiving have the potential to “threaten, humiliate, annoy, manipulate, and vex.” William Ian Miller, Humiliation (1993), 21, 23.
In a thoughtful article, Michael Kang of Emory has taken on the question of whether de-regulated political parties, taking in larger sums of money, can truly act as a bulwark against polarization—or only as yet another agent of the wealthy and their policy preferences. He doubts donors would expect from parties any less responsiveness or gratitude. If the committed class of large donors is ideologically polarized, it is hard for him to see how party officials could resist its demands and retain the freedom to move party politics toward the center, closer to the ground for compromise.
This is one aspect of the normative case against party de-regulation he would put up against views presented by Rick Pildes, among others. (He has other concerns: for example, that "even if de-regulation of party campaign finance assigns the right balance of power among party actors, it neglects distributional equality concerns that were once a main focus of campaign finance policymaking." Kang, Michael S., The Brave New World of Party Campaign Finance Law (2015). Cornell Law Review, Vol. 101, 2016; Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-365, at 57. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2674406.)
On this question of the direction into which parties would be pushed by the larger donors, Professor Kang gives a fairly straightforward picture of the donor and her motivation, and of the relationship of donor to party official. The donors on this account will give only on conditions; the party officials, to get the money, will meet them. The well-to-do donors do not have multiple motives: their demands, at least as the party official would interpret them, are of the “all or nothing” kind. Is this a fully satisfactory account?
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear argument on the challenged ban on personal fundraising by judicial candidates, writers arguing for the preservation of this prohibition continue to make their case. Kate Berry of the Brennan Center replies to a posting here and disagrees with the proposition that it is hard to see a major benefit from a restriction on speech described as “modest.” Garrett Epps shares her position that the prohibition should be upheld. In each case, the writers maintain that if we have to have judicial elections, they should be subject to special rules to safeguard public confidence in an independent judiciary and that this is one such rule.
What is offered in support of this position?