Transparency in influence

This latest post by Steve Pizer caught my eye:

The New York Times reported on Sunday that a coalition of groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had spent $11 million running ads in key districts against health care reform so far this month.  Where is the money coming from?

Pizer goes on to cast suspicion upon a number of industries and associations, headed (of course) by the health insurance industry.  He’s probably right, too.  I don’t care who’s funding these ads (well, not much), but I’m keenly interested in the fact that the ads, by their very presence, make one wonder where the money came from.

This is why I welcome — embrace might be a better word — the Citizens United ruling.  (The fact that it makes hippies cry is just a happy side benefit.)  When powerful interests participate in public political speech, it’s facepalmingly obvious (as it is with the Chamber of Commerce’s ads).  People can look at the ads and wonder who paid for them.  More importantly, people can look at the ads and change their minds (or not), and those people can be swayed by other, countervailing ads.  It doesn’t take much in the way of resources to get a message out these days; shit, I’m getting hundreds of eyeballs a day just by virtue of a free WordPress account and a gratuitously foul vocabulary.  The public-speech playing field is, if not exactly level, then at least easily-accessible.

Now that I’ve infuriated my statist-progressive readers (do I have any of those?), recall that every dollar a corporation or industry group spends on public advertising is a dollar that group doesn’t have to spend on back-room lobbying. If some random moonbat in San Francisco with a pirated copy of Photoshop and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree wants to wage war against the Chamber of Commerce’s ads, hey, welcome to the internet!  We can make this work.  If that random moonbat wants to lobby undecided congresshitbags against the creeping influence of the insurance industry, it starts getting awfully expensive right around “plane ticket to Washington” and only gets worse from there.  Can one concerned individual compete against interests that casually sling around carrot-and-sticks like “jobs in your district”?  Oh, sure, but it’s rare enough that they make movies about it.  Nobody makes a fucking movie about some sweaty guy in his basement posting on his blog — not even Michael Moore.

Public speech is also at least glancingly transparent.  If I want to know what kinds of ads are running in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, I can buy one and find out.  If I want to know what kinds of ideas are being pushed by lobbyists on Capitol Hill, I’m shit outta luck.  I guess I can call each and every congresshitbag and ask who bought them drinks this week, but forgive me if I’m a little bit cynical about my chances of getting an honest and comprehensive answer.  Those are private dealings.  Public speech is, er, public.

I love it when it’s so damn obvious that I’m right.


1 Response to “Transparency in influence”

  1. 1 Michael M. Butler
    March 18, 2010 at 04:35

    Linkin’ this on FB. Carry on.

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