Sunday, October 07, 2018

Current political climate (over midterms, following Kavanaugh confirmation) could bring renewed attention not only to "campaign finance" but also "issue advocacy" transparency; could bloggers be viewed as de facto non-connected PAC's?

The recent acrimony over the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and the general level of combativeness on both partisan sides (especially the Left) has led me to have some concerns over broader interpretations of campaign and issue advocacy financing rules.  This concern has been exacerbated by an issue I have with Facebook right now over boosting a post on power grid security, but I’ll come back to those soon on my main blog.

The campaign finance issue seems critical now over the 2018 “midterm exams” on Nov. 6, and it seems that the Left is committed to the belief that taking Congress, especially the Senate, can keep another anti-Roe judge off the court until the 2020 presidential election. That’s why the Left is so aggressive in personally contacting people to join their partisan cause. That’s what it had counted on to keep Kavanaugh off until Saturday.

This leads me to review the whole topic of not only campaign finance as it is normally understood, but the embedded problem of issue-advocacy financing.

Typically, with many issues (gay rights, climate change, national security, freedom of speech, freedom of the press—which may be different) the public has an often inaccurate perception that support of one side is inherently partisan.
Wikipedia has an important page, Campaign finance in the United States, link. There is a long history, with controversy over Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold), which was thought through 2005 to threaten even amateur political blogging (details; note The Washington Times links from 2005). Indirect campaign financing was eased by the Citizens United and SpeechNow decisions in 2010.  Furthermore, in 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC enabled what we call “soft money” to become more or less unlimited if going to political parties separately from actual candidates’ campaigns for party operations.
The most troubling part of the legal framework may be that which deals with PAC’s, political action committees. In particular, issue-oriented (as opposed to candidate-focused) campaigns are usually viewed as run by “non-connected PAC’s”.  Apparently, these groups must pay for their own administrative expenses out of fund-raising. 

That raises a logic-driven question: is an independent blogger who writes about issues legally a “non-connected PAC”?  That could imply that the blogger must disclose not only all money raised by contributions or revenues (paywalls, ads, and item sales such as books).  But can the blogger legally be a member of his own PAC and fund his operation out of his own wealth?  (That means wealth in his name and not in inherited trusts, which could indeed be monitored for laundering.) Or must he/she actually raise money in a conventional way by charging or content or asking for contributions?  I note that most of the popular "issue" sites do have revenue streams that could lead themselves to formal CPA analysis; but this question could explain why some of them have recently become so aggressive with readers now in asking for donations (they may need more people with small donations for what they perceive as legal requirements). Could platforms (hosting and social media both) start to pay attention to this question, given the current political contentiousness?

I think you can see where the political arguments could fall.  Better-off people would have more influence on policy (sometimes in sudden, asymmetric ways with ‘tail risks” as from Taleb’s “skin in the game” theory) and that could distort results (although the likely result is to dampen or moderate extreme proposals, because well-off people don’t want radical change that can expropriate from them). More strategically, better-off people would have little incentive to work with more embolden activists, whose tactics demanding “solidarity” would offend them.
I’ll follow up on this with some other posts (on other blogs) although I could be talking about my own circumstances.

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