Wednesday, March 30, 2016

If you're concerned about money in politics, stop gaming the FEC

Hillary Clinton's campaign is gaming the Federal Elections Commission. They have explicitly admitted this. They are openly coordinating their messaging with super PACs, which in turn have direct ties to media outlets like Peter Daou's Blue Nation Review. As the Campaign Legal Center's Larry Noble notes,
you start a quick slide down a slippery slope and begin to lose credibility as a champion of campaign finance reform when you follow the herd and claim independence from your super PAC while taking actions anyone in the real world would consider coordination, relying on a useless FEC and a 9-year-old’s “everyone is doing it” defense...And you slam into the bottom of that slippery slope when you create loopholes that undermine the law.
Here, I just want to elaborate on a related point I made here, which is that if you're a journalist who's helping the Clinton campaign get around FEC regulations, you, too, are abdicating any credibility you have to talk about campaign finance.

It is perfectly clear that dozens of journalists and columnists are coordinating their efforts to campaign for Hillary Clinton. At least some of them are doing this quite deliberately and formally, through things like mailing lists, conference calls, and so on. More often, it's "spontaneous" in the trivial sense that no one is explicitly telling them what to do. Writers see each other pick up on certain talking points and themes, and they start signal-boosting: they churn out a variation on the same article, they name-check each other on broadcasts, corporate-promoted social media feeds, and so on. They do this because they understand that a message is much more persuasive when it's everywhere and coming from multiple channels at once.

So what's the problem?

This is campaigning. If you are a writer who publishes in a major publication with a marketing budget, or who has access to a social media channel (even "yours"!) that gets promoted by that company, you aren't an independent voice. Sorry. And when you use your platform to campaign, you're making the sort of massive in-kind donation that's ordinarily subject to FEC regulation. Trying to get around that regulation by coordinating "spontaneously" doesn't justify what you're doing - it just makes you an enemy of democratic sovereignty in addition to being a shill.

Journalists don't like to think of themselves as 1) agents of capital or 2) subject to democratic regulation of their political advocacy. Unfortunately for them, when one is true, two is true. If you want to campaign for Clinton, don't use your platform as a journalist to do it. And if you actually care about campaign finance, stop gaming the rules.