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The Mechanics
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Election 2011 Mon Mar 21 2011

Chicago For Sale

Here's a troubling bit of news.

The Illinois State Board of Elections issued a decision denying that the For a Better Chicago PAC, which distributed as much as three quarters of a million dollars on the municipal election on behalf of pro-business candidates, had to disclose its donors. A complaint was lodged by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform against the PAC, which is operated by Greg Goldner, principal at Resolute Consulting and a former campaign manager for both Rahm Emanuel and Mayor Daley.

The Board has in practice created a form of legal political money laundering in our elections. Any party can, by first giving to a corporate entity that subsequently creates a PAC, pour as much money as it wants into that PAC to be spent on elections. While campaign contribution limits would restrict how that PAC gave to candidates directly, there would be no practical limits on electioneering, a distinction hardened in law under the regime created by the Citizens United decision.

Information can now be disseminated without giving voters the benefit of knowing who is providing that information.

I wonder if groups like the Commercial Club who have for generations mewled and puked about city machines giving out $40k a year jobs to those who provide political support, will buck and howl about this new regime of unrestricted cash in politics, cash coming from unknown sources and therefore for unknown reasons. The legal trend has not been to limit the influence of this cash, but instead to protect it.

The result? Corporate power will continue to dominate our elections, and those on the side of economic justice will have to find some way beside elections to pursue that justice.

 
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WAJ / March 22, 2011 2:49 PM


"Information can now be disseminated without giving voters the benefit of knowing who is providing that information"

Um, that happens now, does it not?

Let's illustrate:
SEIU was a founding sponsor of Progress Illinois and remains its sole sponsor.

http://gapersblock.com/mechanics/2010/03/05/the-big-purple-dog-barks-1/

From their web site: Who are your sponsors?

Our sole sponsor at the moment is the SEIU Illinois Council.

For every article that you reference Progress Illinois, which is quite a lot, do you inform readers (who may or may not be these voters who apparently require such disclosures) that the information presented is provided by SEIU?

Nope.

Do you inform readers that Illinois Campaign for Political Reform's largest funding comes from SEIU?

Nope.

Is the donation amount of For a Better Chicago, as much as $750,000 relevant when SEIU spent up to $2,500,000 on aldermanic campaigns in 2007 and $235,000 on Toni Preckwinkle's 2011 campaign?

Eh, not really.

http://www.chicagonewscoop.org/after-a-string-of-political-victories-a-union-has-clout-to-spare/

So I'm going to call this out as manufactured baloney designed to sell the narrative that "corporate" money involved in politics is somehow evil while labor money is on the side of angels.

Its framed nicely as a question of transparency, but its really a rumination about the loss of control and increased competition.

Ramsin / March 23, 2011 2:07 PM

Uh...SEIU sponsors Progress Illinois.

There is not only a visual disclaimer on their front page, but they cite their sponsorship whenever necessary.

Their money comes from SEIU. That is transparency.

Where does FABC's money come from?

Yes, SEIU gives lots of money to candidates. You know how I know that? Because it is disclosed. The money comes from SEIU, so everybody knows the organization that is providing the money. Nobody knows the source of money going into FABC. So, what's your argument, that because SEIU gives more, FABC shouldn't have to disclose the source of its cash?

I feel sad for you that your entire thinking life revolves around Glenn Beck's talking points and "Demmy'crats are a-bad!"

I'm going to say this again: I didn't say that corporations shouldn't be allowed to electioneer--I'm the one who argued that Citizens United seemed correctly decided. I don't care if they spend money, I just think people have a right to know the money is being spent.

WAJ / March 23, 2011 4:20 PM

Nice ad hominem. Naturally, it underscores a weak argument.

On two points

1.) You state, unequivically, that information can now be disseminated without giving voters the benefit of knowing who is providing that information. This implies that the IL SBOE decision is the active condition, which it is clearly not, and we can find a multitude of examples in conflict with that assertion.

In my example, your post stands as the dissemination point to the audience, not the Progress IL post. Nowhere in the course of the dissemination do you inform the reader that the information is provided by SEIU, hence the information is disseminated without giving the reader the benefit of who is providing that information.

The reader, if they have the interest, can find that
source of information by doing their own research, which is essentially the same protocol that the IL SBOE decision supports.

2.) The second area is that your argument requires an extra level of disclosure that apparently isn't required of organizations like SEIU. It is not enough to mark contributions as made by FABC, you belive that the FABC should disclose individual donors, whether private individual or corporation.

You are content to allow disclosure of SEIU contributions to be marked SEIU, but no further, apparently.

Why would FABC be required to disclose more information? Especially when the group filing the complaints is a SEIU beneficiary, and that SEIU has a history of threatening and violent behavior.

http://money.cnn.com/2010/05/19/news/companies/SEIU_Bank_of_America_protest.fortune/index.htm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTXBOgPCh9w&feature=player_embedded#at=20

Given that disclosure could very well open individuals to violence and intimidation tactics, the IL SBOE made the right decision.

And of course, I'm sure that you had decried the executive order by President Obama that removed mandates on financial reporting by unions, so that individual union members had less ability to see what their dues were being spent on. You know, cause "people have a right to know the money is being spent."

Ramsin / March 24, 2011 12:29 AM

That was an ad hominem. What can I say? You frustrate me, because you don't really argue to know what's true, you already know what's true and argue whatever you have to to back it up.

SEIU's disclosure, even after the executive order, is extensive. The LM2 and -3 reports are still wildly detailed.

Even if that were not the case, SEIU's money comes from one source: its members; PAC funds are collected separately (and voluntarily) from members, separate from dues. The average from each member is probably in the neighborhood of $30 a month. Would knowing the individual name and address of people giving $30 a month be equivalent to handful or even a few dozen people giving tens of thousands of dollars in single shots to a specific campaign? The mere suggestion is laughable. When SEIU gives, it is giving to serve the interests of its members, or at the very least the interests it imputes to its members.

When a dozen corporations or individuals are giving an average of say $50,000, shouldn't I at least know that, to know what interest they serve? I mean, it is facially ludicrous to say they should be allowed to obscure their interest in giving money because SEIU doesn't make public the million or so people who give in tiny dollar amounts.

As for the idea that I have to announce SEIU's sponsorship every time I link to PI, it's not worthy of deep reply. You equivocate, "SEIU provided the information," SEIU did not provide the information, PI's journalists did. Just as I wouldn't bother listing the Tribune's various business entanglements through the Tribune Co., nor would I qualify every piece of information--particularly if it doesn't relate directly to SEIU--from Progress Illinois as being somehow directly attributable to SEIU.

Also: you seem to demand a whole lot of disclosure from the likes of me and SEIU, but not from these corporate givers. So, which is it? Do you agree with Obama's executive order, since you clearly agree with the ISBOE's decision? If not, is the answer that you think unions are inherently bad and therefore not worthy of equal treatment? And if that's the case--on what grounds would you criticize me?

It seems more and more like you impute your same partisan, intellectually dishonest motives to every writer you don't agree with.

Chris / March 24, 2011 1:16 AM

WAJ,

The facts about For A Better Chicago are right in front of you. The former campaign manager of Emanuel's congressional campaign runs it. Rich people donate to it, but we only know of one person, the billionaire. They give to politicians to gain some access into what happens when the politicians win. We will never know who the donors are, and that information will never have to be disclosed for this election cycle. But you don't seem the least bit interested. I'm so glad that we have apologists to the millionaires and billionaires buying influence with little accountability for it.

By the way, the Progress Illinois site reports on different issues, and when it touches on candidates that were endorsed by SEIU, it mentions the connection to SEIU, or if SEIU has a view on a particular subject, it mentions the connection to SEIU. That's a disclosure.

SEIU has a membership. Their membership pays dues, which then funds the various things that SEIU spends money on, including Progress Illinois.

WAJ, I personally question your intelligence. Candidates for office are required to submit disclosure information regarding their donors, but I never hear about bomb threats, violence or intimidation. Do you have an example where the disclosure of a political donation led to violence or intimidation? I am interested in knowing.

WAJ / March 24, 2011 9:52 AM

Chris,

When writing in the first person, it is implied that you would "personally question", so your ad hominem is a bit redundent isn't it? I won't reply with some sophmoric comment about your intelligence...

See, I dont' buy the line about millionaires and billionaires buying influence because that standard is never held equally. You have individuals like George Soros, Herb Sandler, and Peter Lewis, etc... who are all billionaires who donate to left-wing organizations. Its odd that these donors are not under the scrutiny that others are - i wonder why. So its either naive or disengenuous to rail against these evil millionaires without an even hand.

...but if you are really interested in learning about intimidation tactics, then you can look at this campaign in Wisconsin, where public unions, including the police and firefighter unions, demand (including an ultimatum) that a business publicly denounce the state's legislative action or face a boycott of that company.

http://radioviceonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/union-wisconsin-letter.pdf

The letter demands a public denounciation of the budget or the business will face consequences. The business is not offered the option to remain neutral, or maintain a position of support for the bill. This is analagous to extortion.

and you have these nice wishes.

http://www.doj.state.wi.us/absolutenm/templates/template_share.aspx?articleid=2448&zoneid=1

Its all very troublesome, I'm sure you'd agree.

WAJ / March 24, 2011 10:43 AM

Ramsin,

Of course it does not need deep reply. You have agreed to my point - that information has always been disseminated without giving the reader the benefit of who provided the information. (I just used your actions and protocol to make my point, which you back up with your above statement). The IL SBOE decision did not cause this to be the case, as implied in your original post.

Where your argument is additionally incoherent is that an organization that mandatorily takes funds away from its members in order to provide donations (and transitively, their right to free speech) to candidates and causes is to be protected by a blanket identification of "members", thus negating any need to disclose any additional information about whose speech is being exercised, i.e. individual SEIU members, etc. However, if an individual or corporation wishes to voluntarily donate (and exercise their right of free speech) to an organization that will fund candidates and causes, then you presume to have a right to know who they are. It seems that this right is based on the nominal amount of money per donation.

Again, its an uneven hand.

Thus, in your argument, there are two operative conditions for disclosure - 1) whether the organization mandatorily takes funds from members vs if members voluntarily provide funds. 2) The nominal amount of donation per individual.

The amount of funds provided is irrelevant, unless you claim that the excercise of free speech is weighted by an arbitrary nominal factor, which it seems that you do, since the mere suggestion is "laughable". That then begs the question, what nominal amount requires that free speech is not protected speech?

As for the voluntary vs. mandatory donation model, if FABC became a membership organization that deducted dues from its members, and those dues added up collectively to the nominal amount you protest, would you require their member lists to be disclosed? Of course not, because you do ask that of organizations like SEIU.

Ramsin / March 25, 2011 11:48 AM

Nothing has been acceded to, WAJ. Your continue to mischaracterize.

And let me add: your continued efforts to try and force this site and writers you disagree with to "write from nowhere," to not advocate for their beliefs, and not try to persuade won't succeed. I'm going to ask you one last time to stop posting here. I have a point of view, and I will argue for it. You won't get me, or any of the other writers here, to stop that. It is in the finest tradition of journalism going back to the founding of the republic to argue persuasively in print.

The difference between you and me is that when I read an article on Reason, I don't dismiss it because it was on Reason, imputing motives and leaving it at that; or saying the writers there aren't credible merely because they have an opinion or point of view. I will disagree with them and argue against their points, mentioning sure the interests it may serve but never dismissing it solely for that reason, as though because they have a point of view, their arguments are wrong.

Note that I don't take money from any group or organization or individual I write about; your problem isn't that I'm hiding my paymasters, but what? Not prefacing every article by saying, "I have a point of view; here are my various principles and opinions....now for the article:"

Your arguments are poorly reasoned. You question our credibility as writers or thinkers because we have a point of view, and then do all these dances to pretend that all you want is disclosure--then you turn around and defend a decision that precludes disclosure when it comes to millions of dollars being spent directly on elections, as though that's equivalent to me not announcing who sponsors or advertises on every website I link to.

Absurdity upon absurdity.

Look: you want to make this about SEIU. I'm talking about disclosure. Of course, that's your purpose; let's not engage the issue, that an organization was able to conceal the source of a million dollars spent on a local election. Let's point elsewhere and call Ramsin a hypocrite.

If you spent a moment to think about your position outside of partisan context its obviously flawed.

First off, PAC money is voluntary. Remind yourself.

SEIU as an institution has interests that it broadcasts to the public; in any case, they can be inferred by its stated mission and by its very public political activities.

That its money comes in such small quantities from so many people means precisely that it is QUALITATIVELY DIFFERENT from small groups of donors giving huge amounts.

Do you think one of SEIU's members can call President Obama and say, "Hey, I give $20 a month to SEIU's PAC, and since WAJ says we own your presidency, here's what I want: some big dollar contracts, a night in the Lincoln bedroom..."

Now, consider the people who give FABC $50,000. Do you think they can call an aldermanic candidate up? Do you think they have bought access and influence that an individual at SEIU does not have? Now, surely SEIU's leadership has high level of access--but their giving in their capacity as organizational leadership is disclosed. Nobody is blindsided by their influence, because the numbers you yourself harp on have clearly been disclosed to the public for them to analyze and use in their decision making, which is all I'm arguing for--I never state anywhere that people who give to FABC shouldn't be allowed to, only that it should be known by the public.

You oppose informing the public, because they don't have a list of the 100,000 or so people in Illinois who gave $20 to SEIU's PAC?

Do you see the difference? Answer that question before going on.

Do SEIU's individual members, whose free speech is no more violated than a minority shareholder's, or mine when the US government acts in my name against my morals using my tax dollars (SEIU being a membership organization where all members have voting rights in leadership, as I have in Congress' leadership--does their spending of my tax dollars on programs I oppose violate my free speech?) have the same clout, qualitative and in fact--not in the hypothetical world you've created in your mind--as someone who gives hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Why do we compel disclosure? It is to allow voters to know what interests are influencing politicians. SEIU is not "obscuring" the names of its members to protect their influence from scrutiny.

I mean, that you've dragged the argument into a territory where a homecare aide who gives $5 out of each paycheck should be publicly disclosed, as though she may have some influence on Barack Obama, before a city contractor who gives $100,000 to a Mayoral candidate should have to disclose his identity, shows that you aren't serious about this debate. You are laying false equivalence after false equivalence, in an effort to position yourself as a neutral and me as a nefarious partisan.

Your hatred of labor--your view that SEIU is some kind of omnipotent mafia-style organization that violates free speech rights, and that can go around beating up on billionaires who cower in terror at its legions of cappers and thugs is not based on any bias, right? It's based on objective fact. But me saying that corporate givers who want their own interests served should merely have to disclose themselves? That's bias. That's "arbitrary". That's against free speech?

Your whole point about "nominal arbitrary factor" is confounded by settled law--disclosure for campaign committees in Illinois starts only when you've raised and spent a few thousand as a campaign; federal disclosure rules start at $250; give $249 and you can remain anonymous--and common sense. In fact, on this point you contradict yourself; again, you think the ISBOE decided correctly, but what, you think SEIU's disclosures aren't sufficient? People capable of writing $10k checks need protection but an employee who gives $25 does not?

You try to make my point arbitrary and capricious, when state and federal law has a clear position on this point--that quantity does make a difference, because the amount you give is obviously in clear proportion to the amount of influence you have. If I give $5 through a website and you write a check for $10,000 we have not engaged in an equal activity, as any reasonable observer would know, on its face, just as the law differentiates between qualitative degrees in all its sanctions--criminal and civil, from homicide to breach of contract.

WAJ, I don't think you deal honestly here. You loathe my opinions and my point of view, and rather than just engage my arguments on their merits, you bring me into it personally; you imply I'm a slave to interests I don't disclose, you undermine my argument on the premise that I have a point of view, rather than on its merits.

So, to sum up: no, FABC's donors who are writing checks in large amount are not equivalent to small-dollar donors. The law distinguishes between amount given precisely for the reason that disclosure is about making influence plain to the public, and influence is in direct relation to quantity; and that sufficient differences in quantity lead to objective differences in quality, even if no bright line can be drawn where giving starts to tip into meaningful influence. Congress set this amount at $250; it could have set it at $50 or $1,000 or more. But the creation of the disclosure line shows this presumption.

Perhaps you disagree; clearly the federal government has violated your free speech, perhaps you can ask for a refund of your taxes in the amount proportionate to that spent by the federal government on--wait, you don't have that right. But you know who does? Union members.

Someone else who lacks that right: employees of a corporation that is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on political activity their labor enables but in which they have no say; and same for the corporate shareholders who have sunk their capital into an enterprise.

Your unwillingness to abide by a qualitative distinction here where an objective observer standard, common sense, and settled law clearly acknowledge what is plainly there lays bare that your sole purpose is harassment, not debate.

The point as far as I'm concerned is settled, and I won't be engaging you in fruitless debate any longer.

Chris / March 25, 2011 10:33 PM

You said violence and intimidation. The last time I looked, boycotts are not intimidation. People or business related political groups can donate to who they wish. If people disagree, as people in a free society may, it's up to those people to decide the best response. Boycotting a business is a fair, legal, and political response to a political decision (to give money to a political campaign). Sorry that you were not informed, but this is the United States, though in Chicago we need to be reminded of it from time to time.

WAJ / March 26, 2011 1:22 PM

Chris,

Perhaps you should actually understand what the word means.

Merriam Webster - Intimidate: to compel or deter by or as if by threats.

The letter threatens a boycott if the desired action is not taken. That is intimidation and it is solely based on the company's donation to Scott Walker in WI. Boycotting is not an ethical response by public organizations who have a sworn duty to provide services, i.e. public safety services, fire safety services etc..., to the entity they wich to boycott.

What is worse, especially since you are such an "informed" and intelligent person, is that the individual who crafted and sent the letter, James Palmer, head of the WPPA, must not have consulted with actual members of the WI police force, otherwise he would not have put every law enforcement official under the WPPA in breach of the WI law enforcement code of ethics.

Madison Police Procedure Manual Page 8 Code of Ethics:
“I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions, I will affirmatively seek ways to avoid conflicts and potential conflicts of interest that could compromise my official authority or public image”

http://www.town.madison.wi.us/police/information/Town_of_Madison_Policy_and_Procedure_Manual_080905.pdf

Does a threatening letter imply a conflict of interest for an police force? or a fire department? Of course it does.

Do you see how the letter issued by Mr. Palmer has now created partiality on behalf of WI law enforcement officials when their duty to the state requires them to have impartiality? I'd really hope that you can make that distinction, because its an important point.

WAJ / March 28, 2011 10:43 AM

...and Ramsin, for all the projection that you include in that lengthy and most verbose response, it serves to back up my point that the objective of disclosure, in your case, is to control.

It isn't necessary for you to concede the point when reality does it for you. The IL SBOE did not create a new environment where information is disseminated without giving voters the benefit of knowing who is providing that information. This has always been the case, and by holding you to that standard, which you then refuse to accept, forces the concession of the point by default.

I don't need to make the issue about the SEIU, but they, as the WPPA action, serve as illustrative examples of how disclosure benefits certain groups and not others, and how certain groups utilize disclosure to target organizations. It has been an uneven field and abused by certain groups, which is why the trend is to provide protections on such activity.

For all talk of impugning motives and mischaracterizing, you have no problem implying that an individual or corporation makes a donation in order to buy influence and to use that influence for nefarious means. Your position is that you have some "right" to know the "motives" behind a private activity. It appears that your basis for having this "right" is so that you can position yourself as the arbitor of whether that activity meets your approval or not. As I said originally, its about control, and the loss of that control.

I do find it funny and amusing that you mischaracterize my posting as attempts to force you or your writers to discontinue that activity. Your ideas are challenged, and your response is to paint that challenge as an attempt to silence your ideas, and that challenging your ideas is "harrasment" (apparently harrassment includes supporting references to ones argument!?!). That is not the sign of a valid idea, nor is it the sign of an effective argument. Its an attempt to silence me by mischaracterizing my argument, or in otherwords, projecting...

...and what is best is that you have racist commentary on your site and you choose not to address it. Look at the time stamps.

http://gapersblock.com/mechanics/2011/03/23/better-ideas-many-humboldt-park-residents-unsurprised-by-recently-released-cpd-footage/#comments

...but if someone challenges your argument, you ask them to stop posting.

Nice work.

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