[FoRK] Justice Defends Ruling on Finance

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Thu Feb 4 12:07:40 PST 2010

Damien Morton wrote:
> On Fri, Feb 5, 2010 at 5:18 AM, Stephen Williams <sdw at lig.net> wrote:
>> Of course we want and need to prevent corrupt self-reinforcement of
>> government.  Is it really the case that we can only control this at the
>> Pavlovian level of money->speech->votes?  Isn't that what the First
>> Amendment specifically allows and trusts: Listener beware - survival of the
>> fittest memes.  If you are worried about the prospect of sheeple, then work
>> to cure people of sheepleness.  If you want an advantage in influencing
>> sheeple, then shame on you.
> The First Amendment doesnt say anything about money, and was framed in a day
> and age where communications was fragmented and population relatively small.
>  It simply wasn't possible to get a message across to the entire population,
> let alone do so 24 hours a day.
> Here's a way of drawing the line: make a distinction between a corporation
> formed for the purposes of speech and one formed for the purposes of
> business. A corporation formed for the purposes of speech needs a democratic
> charter and gets certain tax advantages advantageous to political speech,
> while a corporation formed for the purposes of business needs no democratic
> charter, and gets certain tax advantages directed at business and tax
> penalties aimed at political speech.

Full of fuzzy definitions, however I don't necessarily disagree that it 
seems reasonable on general principles.  I'm not sure what a democratic 
charter for a corporation means.  The shareholders vote?  The 
employees?  The public?
> Corporations are islands of fascism in a democractic system - they
> certainly aren't democracies, and that's where the problem lies.

I can too easily read this as a slippery slope to: "wealthy people are 
islands of fascism in a democratic system"...  Are you sure that you are 
less concerned with a person with a billion dollars in cash vs. a 
corporation with a billion dollars in cash vs. some group of people not 
part of a corporation with a billion dollars in cash?  What about an 
interest group or association that tell their members how to vote along 
with lobbying?

Direct funds to politicians should be completely public, immediately and 
have whatever restrictions make sense.  Politicians should be able to 
have talks with people in private so that people can try to persuade, 
however any action or substantive change at all, including current 
rationale for current and future decisions, should be immediately and 
publicly documented.  Perhaps quarterly sync points where the "state of 
the politician" has to be published.

I'm all for completely identifying the source of ads run, while keeping 
in mind that individuals should be able to publish anonymously.  There 
should also be severe punishment for misleading and untrue political speech.

In general though, hard for me to justify a priori control.
> Allowing powerful non-democratic institutions to participate in a democracy
> is suicide, pure and simple.

All of this hinges on the definition of "participate in a democracy".  
Is communication participating in a democracy?  If all of the school 
children in Africa send email messages or postcards to every voter in 
America asking for help, are they participating in our democracy?  What 
about someone who writes a novel about life in Afghanistan?  If they 
influence us, are they participating in our democracy?


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