Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Do Pundits Oppose the Secret Ballot?

A few weeks back we celebrated the two year anniversary of the Citizens United decision so upsetting to liberals, though breaking news indicates President Obama is now eager to have supporters set up a SuperPAC for his benefit. (see this LA Times story. )
A major riff from the establishment opinion-making class after the 2010 election was: our democracy was being stolen by secret money fueling the election campaign. Unless you listened carefully, it appeared this money only came from the right. In fact, in the 2010 election, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was taken advantage of most by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the government workers’ union AFSCME, to the tune of over $87 million. But the pundits seemed more concerned about groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, or Dick Armey’s Americans for Prosperity. AFSCME obtains the funds it gives to politicians from forced union dues—one cannot work without joining the union, and one cannot join the union without paying dues—but the pundits were not worried about forced political contributions. Instead, they were worried about “lack of transparency” because “we don’t know who contributes” to groups like Armey’s and Rove’s. We don’t know their motivations for donating. So for America’s pundits, corruption of the political process from forced contributions was not the issue. Corruption of the political process due to lack of transparency was. With the 2012 elections now only 9 months away, there is no doubt these concerns about secret influence through funding political ads will soon again be discussed on the nation’s editorial pages and Sunday talk shows…
Yet--isn’t it strange?--no one complains about the secret ballot (also known as the Australian ballot), a relatively recent 19th century invention—Grover Cleveland was the first US President elected using this technique—that was criticized in the United States when first adopted… because of concerns over the potential for corruption, the lack of transparency. 
Barack Obama won the Presidency in 2008 by 10 million votes, and I don’t know who these people are, or what their motivations were for supporting him! Maybe some of them voted for Obama because they expected special favors. Maybe some voted for Obama just because he was black. Maybe some voters chose Obama because they believed he’s a Muslim and they long for an Islamic caliphate in the U. S. If we don’t know their names and motivations for voting, isn’t that a threat to democracy?
Isn’t non-transparently voting more dangerous than non-transparently raising money to urge other people to vote? Consider a well documented problem with secret voting: the tendency of dead people to vote. If you have to put your signature on the ballot, it is harder for dead men to vote. It is even harder to get dead men to contribute funding than it is to get them to vote, yet no one concerned about secrecy in fund raising and advocacy is concerned about the secret ballot. 
Frankly, the “money in politics” argument is bogus. It raises the importance of the messenger above the importance of the message. It implies that if you see an ad that you find repugnant, you’d suddenly find it brilliant and incisive were you to learn it was produced by a political group you support.
In this country we spend more money advertising potato chips than politicians, yet no one thinks we’re forced to buy potato chips, or believe we can’t eat just one. We watch advocacy ads daily, produced by the Ad Council (“and this station”). No one watching those ads knows who sits on the Ad Council. Yet no one is concerned about this…