Thursday, November 10, 2005

$ Not For Nothing

In today's NY Times Joyce Purnick clearly lays out($) the case that unlimited private spending is as great a threat to a democratic decision making process as the influence of special interest funding. She goes on to stress that the Supreme Court’s equation of campaign spending with free speech is the biggest barrier to reforming the system so that candidates like a Mike Bloomberg don' have a completely unfair advantage.

Obviously we agree with her and it is a point that we ourselves have emphasized. When one party is able to set the terms of the debate and drown out alternative views, it taints the electoral process and prevents the kind of democratic discussion that a democracy needs. In addition, when one candidate can overwhelm the other it becomes quite like a poker game where one guy is light in the wallet and the other has unlimited wealth. In this case, as in its electoral analogy, it's fairly simple to intimidate the opposition or just buy the pot.

This brings us to the special interest debate and the prospects for the next four years. In yesterday's Times Jim Rutenberg discusses the mayor's maneuverability given the fact that he is not beholden to the "Special Interest Savings and Loan." As we have stressed all along, special interests are not a monolith. When we met with the Manhattan Institute folks, their special interests were the labor unions. If we chatted with the editorial board of the Times these interests would be business groups and rich people looking to lower taxes (along with Christian fundamentalists).

It seems to us that the real challenge is to find the ways to insure that a plurality of interests are represented in the policy making process, something that an ultra-rich candidate will make more difficult in a number of ways. The smaller competitors and the disenfranchised will, at least in the case of a Mike Bloomberg-style elected official, have to depend on noblesse oblige.

Once again it is important to stress that freedom from interests does not in any way automatically translate into good government or enlightened policy. In some ways the presence of someone with great wealth, who is perceived as not beholden to those interest bogeymen, can lull the public and the media to sleep by reducing worry and proper vigilance.