My last column on the incestuous relationship between Big Business and Big Government was effectively a rant on “corporate personhood,” limited liability, etc. Before going any further down the trail, I’d like to backtrack just a little bit to one important point that I missed:
The idea of the “corporation” is just a codification of certain artificial state privileges into law — an effect, not a cause. Corporate power has certainly subsequently become the cause of, or at least compounded, many economic distortions itself, but in principle those distortions could have, and probably would have, been implemented through single proprietorships and limited partnerships if the corporation had never been invented. It’s the impulse (and the ability) to seek wealth and power through government privilege rather than through market competition which is the problem; the corporation just happens to be the best available tool for the job.
That’s one of two reasons why I disagree with a reader who emailed me, and who agreed to be anonymously quoted, when she writes:
Absent corporate campaign donations, all those K Street offices and the minions who toil on their behalf for the purpose of skewing and corrupting the government agenda — lobbyists, advertising companies, image-meisters etc. — are out of work.
Looking for a quick fix? How about this: The only individuals legally permitted to make campaign contributions are those that are at present entitled to vote. The maximum amount of money any one voter may make by way of campaign contribution is $300.00 per year.
I could pick that proposal apart from any number of angles that aren’t appropriate to an anarchist argument (constitutionality, for example), but I’m going to try to stick to two points.
First, such a limit would probably not change the balance of power from a “businesses buying influence” perspective. Even if it had the effect of reducing the overall amount of money in elections, the fact is that you’d see businesses owners and corporate figures making those $300 maximum contributions more so than you’d see, for example, fry cooks making them … and those business owners and corporate figures would also be more likely to actively and visibly solicit such contributions for the candidates they favored.
After which, as a matter of course, they’d exercise the influence due benefactors on those candidates after the election. This isn’t speculation. There are already numerous contribution limits, all of them advertised as targeting “the malign influence of corporate money,” and yet the amount of money injected into political campaigns continues to increase every election cycle.
Secondly, campaign contributions are a small part of the business-government power-sharing mix.
A businessman, corporate or otherwise, doesn’t have to make a campaign contribution to tell a politician “if you vote for the appropriation to build the new battleship, we’ll locate one of the factories in your district. You constituents will have you to thank for 1,500 new jobs.”
A businessman, corporate or otherwise, doesn’t have to make a campaign contribution to tell a politician “if you help make that inconvenient amendment on contractor oversight go away, there’s a director’s chair waiting for you when you’re ready to leave ‘the public sector.'”
A businessman, corporate or otherwise, doesn’t have to make a campaign contribution to tell a politician “thanks for playing ball — here’s a brown paper bag full of unmarked, non-sequential $20 bills.”
And a politician isn’t necessarily asking for a contribution to his campaign treasury when he tells a businessman, corporate or otherwise, “fork over if you want things to go your way,” either as an inducement or as a threat.
All the election reform in the world won’t solve the problem of Big Business’s influence in government. The only thing that will solve that problem is eliminating the power of government — to put a finer point on it, eliminating government itself. As long as government power exists, people will attempt to use it to increase their own wealth and power … and the people best positioned to use it in that way are the people who are already wealthy and powerful. Government, any government, is inherently and progressively plutocratic.