Mark Mickelson wants to keep out-of-state money away from South Dakota ballot questions, and if you think that’s unconstitutional, he’s ready to debate.
“I am sick and tired of reading some knothead from some political group that doesn’t have a law degree presupposing he knows constitutional law and asserting something that’s in his own self-interest,” he said [Seth Tupper, “New Podcast: Mickelson Relishes Ballot-Question Fight,” Rapid City Journal, 2017.10.23].
Knothead? Without a law degree? To whom could Mickelson be referring?
Certainly not Paul S. Ryan, one expert Tupper cites contending the unconstitutionality of Mickelson’s money ban. Ryan, vice president of policy an litigation for Common Cause, has a law degree from UCLA. I don’t know of any self-interest Ryan may have in South Dakota ballot questions, but back in June, he gave AP this constitutional analysis:
But, the likelihood the ballot initiative would be upheld in a court challenge is “slim-to-none,” according to Paul S. Ryan, a vice president at the Washington watchdog Common Cause, which opposes big money in politics.
The ballot measure proposal conflicts with a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared that contributions to ballot measure committees can’t be limited under the First Amendment, Ryan said.
“People in other states haven’t really pursued this as a viable reform,” Ryan said. “It is pretty rare to see people pursue a reform that the Supreme Court has said is unconstitutional” [James Nord, “Measure Aims to Ban Out-of-State Giving to Ballot Questions,” AP via U.S. News and World Report, 2017.06.20].
I’m sure that Mickelson’s Harvard Law education included some mention that beating that argument in court will take more than shouting “knothead” at the plaintiffs.
In that same AP article, Koch brothers’ minion Ben Lee called Mickelson’s money ban unconstitutional. Ben Lee only has an MBA and a broadcast journalism degree from USF—maybe he’s the knothead Mickelson has in mind… in which case I welcome Mickelson’s freedom, second the motion, and move to extend and revise Mickelson’s description to include everybody working for the Koch brothers’ self-interest at Americans for Prosperity.
That will bring us all a good laugh, but it still won’t beat the constitutional argument that says South Dakota can’t restrict the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Minnesotans, Iowegians, or any other red-blooded American to support or oppose a ballot measure in South Dakota.
I won’t call Mickelson a knothead for ignoring that point. He’s just… stubborn.
Our problem is addicted politicians. They have become “Koch addicts.”
To be elected and stay elected takes money, lots of money. So politicians depend on their “dealers.” And the “dealers” with the most money are people like the Koch brothers, who get politicians hooked and keep them hooked.
Politicians remain hooked “Koch addicts” through the threat of having their “fix” taken from them (if the “Koch” agenda is not served) and being given to someone else [Murray Smart, letter to the editor, Watertown Public Opinion, 2017.10.10].
“I developed really close relationships and friendships with the folks I work with in my chamber and, in fact, in both chambers, in the executive branch, and the thing is, that doesn’t really go away. My role just changes slightly. I fought for those things as a representative, as a legislator and I’ll continue to fight for those,” Haggar said [Dana Ferguson, “State Legislator Resigns, Accepts Job with Americans for Prosperity,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.06.27].
Note that under current law, SDCL 2-12-8.2, Haggar can’t come to Pierre and lobby for Americans for Prosperity next session the way Ben Lee has for the past few years. As currently written, the law says Haggar has to wait one year to register as a lobbyist. Had he waited until next week to resign, he’d have been subject to the new two-year sit-out period originally enacted by the voters in Initiated Measure 22, then repealed and replaced by the Legislature in this year’s Senate Bill 131, which Haggar did vote for in the House.
Whoo-hoo—new podcast! In this week’s awesome hour of audio from Dakota Free Press, local music teacher Joe Berns tells us what he learned about the Koch Brothers’ vision of “capitalism” at an astroturf meeting in Aberdeen last week. As he critiques some of the claims raised by the Americans for Prosperity speakers, Berns leads us through a delightful adventure in economic philosophy (and really, how could such a philosophical discussion not be delightful?) as we consider “systematic coercion,” slavery, class struggle, Germany, and how maybe healthy capitalism depends on strong labor unions to protect us workers from our corporate overlords… or a world in which there are no giant corporations and we all run our own businesses.
But first, co-host Spencer Dobson and I recap the Aberdeen election, Trump’s proposed cuts to rural economic development, Bob Ellis’s departure from right-wing blogging, and the First Amendment implications of blocking people from the President’s Twitter account. Listen here:
Below are resources for this week’s conversation. If you like what you hear, ring that Blog Tip Jarto help us make the podcast even better!
Aberdeen Election Results (and an invitation to Pope Francis and future contenders to the papacy to join us on the podcast!) [2:15]
Musician and thinker Joe Berns of Aberdeen went to the Koch Brothers’ free pizza and propaganda show here in Aberdeen last Thursday. Here’s his report on the event:
The organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) hosted a presentation, “Making the Moral Case for Capitalism,” in Aberdeen last Thursday evening. AFP, as mentioned on Dakota Free Press, is the “grassroots” arm of the infamous Koch Brothers. Curious as I was about the contents of this event, I honestly had no intention of attending until two words flashed before my eyes: free pizza.
Free pizza? AND a two-hour presentation on capitalism? Count me in!
Let me clarify that I am no capitalist. I’m a dues-paying public school teacher who voted for Bernie in the presidential primary and who has recently taken to reading Eugene Debs for fun. However, I do love expanding my knowledge base and I find the idea of capitalism fascinating.
The slide-show presentation covered a few key points including, verbatim, some anecdotes about panties, Sam Walton, milk, and Communist China I had heard in a YouTube video the previous night. Here are the points I got from the show:
The free market eliminates poverty and raises living standards for all.
Coercion is impossible in a free market system.
Capitalism lets you keep the fruits of your labor.
The only moral economic option possible is free-market capitalism.
As far as actually “making the moral case” for capitalism, they had a few points which made up a generic formula for “making the moral case for X.” Basically: appeal to emotions, refute the opposition’s premises, be polite, and go on the offensive by establishing the moral high ground first.
Very interesting stuff. And they sure sold it. By this point even I was feeling pretty good about all the free-market sunshine and rainbows. I still had a few nagging questions, but I took their advice and politely waited until after the presentation wrapped up to begin refuting their premises.
Civil Discourse part 1: Wage Theft, Magic Numbers, and Swimming Pools
Although the AFP reps offered to take questions at the end, the crowd did not seem particularly talkative or curious. The newly-baptized “activists” filtered out, and I approached the three polo-clad men with my questions.
We touched on profit-sharing, which they supported—provided it was “voluntary” (they repeatedly used the terms “coercion,” “threat of force,” and “at the point of a gun” whenever government was mentioned). I was curious. For whom it was voluntary, and would the workers get any say? However, before I could ask, one AFP rep unveiled his exciting and sure-fire solution for increasing wages: simply increase economic growth. Mr. AFP launched into a short diatribe about the slow growth under Obama. Meanwhile, my mind envisioned filling up a swimming pool, but with only 10% of the water from the hose making its way into the pool. Sure, increasing the water flow would fill up the pool faster, but that’s not really fixing the problem. I shared my analogy and then let the conversation quickly switch gears.
Civil Discourse part 2: Cocercion, Slavery, and Child Labor
I was also not satisfied with the assertion that coercion is impossible in a free-market system. Their logic was that all interactions here are mutually beneficial trades; if I’m buying a gallon of milk, I value the milk more than my four dollars. The store owner values my four dollars more than that gallon of milk. Therefore the trade is win-win. Likewise, workers trade their time and labor for wages in a similar win-win scenario.
Except, sometimes for the worker it’s lose-lose. I see people stuck in under-paying jobs which they can’t leave because there’s nowhere else to go. The economic “choice” they get is either a low-wage job or no means to support their family. The standard AFP answer seems to be that workers in a bad situation should simply find a better job. I’d sure like to visit this magical land where these fabled better-paying job openings abound.
The conversation moved briefly to workplace conditions. AFP claims that under capitalism (which is definitely never exploitative in nature), workplace conditions improve naturally; factory owners strive to maintain worker-friendly environments, which in turn keep workers happy. This is important because mistreated workers aren’t as productive.
Interesting. Just for fun, I made a correlation to plantation owners’ treatment of slaves as farm tools. AFP responded that most slave owners actually treated their slaves quite well, because again, they would not have been productive otherwise. Exactly my point. Their “nice” treatment did encourage higher slave productivity, in addition to helping justify an inherently exploitative system. (They made sure to mention, for the record, that AFP does not endorse slavery!)
Last stop, child labor. According to AFP, child labor laws are unnecessary; capitalism began curbing the practice of hiring child workers long before such laws ever went into effect (a claim that appears partly true but severely lacking*). At one point, as I reasserted my support for child-labor laws, an AFP rep actually asked, “What would you rather see: a child working in a factory or a child starving?” As if to ask how I (or the dreaded State) could have the gall to legislate this poor, hard-working child into starvation. Not until later did the train of logic really hit me—a system which can force such an ultimatum on a child can hardly claim to be coercion-free.
Free trade and markets do some pretty phenomenal things. I am just as amazed as the next guy (though I will admit, a bit disturbed) that I can go up to Kessler’s and buy a tropically-grown coconut at 2:37 am on a Sunday. However, I still see the system which provides all this as imperfect and open to critique.
Americans for Prosperity, the organization which last Thursday boasted of their lobbying success in repealing IM22, promoting “school choice,” and fighting Medicaid expansion, delivered what was ultimately a successful presentation. Their goal was neither to inspire community action nor to seek truth, but rather, to equip their disciples to better preach their hard-line dogma of free-market capitalism—a doctrine which damns innovation and influence from impure (“social-democratic”) or heretical (“collectivist”) schools of thought. They provided a message people wanted to hear and gave them some tools to spread that message whilst sidestepping some logic and real-life facts.
Hot off the Mac—the latest Dakota Free Press Podcast!
In lucky Episode #13, conservative blogger Ken Santema sits down with this liberal podcast to talk about his run for the Aberdeen school board.
But first, co-host Spencer Dobson and I discuss Trump’s budget war on Indians, Big Oil’s mercenary war on pipeline protestors, and the Koch Brothers’ war on democracy (with free pizza!). Then we hash out Billie Sutton’s status as a Blue Dog and newly declared candidate for Governor.
Below are resources for this week’s conversation. If you like what you hear, ring that Blog Tip Jarand help us fill the Internet with more great South Dakota podcasts!
Trump Budget Hates Indians (Noem not Helping) [01:43]
In a real grassroots organization, participants share their ideas, define their own agenda, and compose their own messages. AFP is coming to Aberdeen to stuff the gullible with pizza (and Pizza Ranch chicken and mashed potatoes, I hope!) and prefab, focus-grouped talking points from Koch corporate HQ that will keep them from realizing that they are advocating for billionaires instead of themselves.
Where SB 163 tries to strike the requirement that organizations funding independent political ads disclose their top five donors, HB 1200 would require organizations and PACs sinking more than $25,000 into ballot question campaigns or independent political ads.
HB 1200 exempts from that disclosure 501(c)3 non-profits, organizations “from which any part of the net earnings inures to the benefit of a private shareholder, partner, member, or person,” and donors giving less than $5,000.
South Dakotans have the right to support causes they believe in without fear of retribution, and HB 1200 would remove that protection.
The IRS has determined that citizens who make charitable contributions to 501(c) issue advocacy organizations are entitled to anonymous free speech, because of the sensitive nature of the issues that these groups advocate for or against. Several court cases have upheld this right.
HB 1200 would force all 501(c) organizations to either spend less than $50,000 on their issues, which would limit their impact, OR to place the names, addresses, and employers of their supporters on a searchable government database. Imagine if everyone knew your name, home address, employer, and the amounts you donate to your favorite charities!
When other states have tried legislation similar to this, it resulted in cases where people lost their jobs because their beliefs were different than their employers.
We are better off as a state when more people engage in political discussion, not less. Transparency is important for our government. Private citizens deserve privacy [Americans for Prosperity, “Don’t Allow Your Free Speech to Be Silenced,” retrieved 2017.02.21].
Note that the Koch Brothers are responding to the original text of the bill, not the amended form currently pending in House Judiciary that exempts 501(c)3 non-profits. And HB 1200 silences the speech of no one reading their propaganda, and it only reveals the identity of rich donors who give more $5,000 in one year to a group other than a 501(c)3 that engages in political speech. The Kochs just don’t want us to know when they and their rich friends are spending money to influence our politics.
If it bugs the Koch Brothers, it’s probably good policy. The Kochs and other rich donors targeted by HB 1200 are insulated by their wealth and power from “retribution” far more than we regular citizens are insulated from the predations of rich special interest groups in our political process.
It would be easy to confuse TakeItBack.org and TakeBack.org. TakeItBack.org is the website of the ballot question organization founded by liberal Democratic South Dakotan Rick Weiland to promote ballot measures to take politics back from big-money donors. TakeBack.org is the website of Take Back Our Republic, a largely conservative group dedicated to taking politics back from big-money donors.
Read that again: conservative leaders are coming to South Dakota to defend an initiative composed by a liberal Democrat against attacks from the Koch Brothers.
To confound us further, conservatives Pudner and Painter laid out their conservative case for IM 22 in an interview with liberal Dakota Free Press last night. Also joining the conversation were Republican Don Frankenfeld and Represent.us political director Dan Krassner.
Pudner has buttered his bread campainging for “conservative, reform-minded” candidates around the country, including most recently Dave Brat, who upset House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia in 2014. Over the last five years, he has seen money overwhelming elections and picking out candidates who may not be the “most articulate statesmen” but who can raise money.
Early in our conversation, Pudner attacked one of the Koch brothers’ main positioning lines against IM 22. The cards and calls from the Koch’s Americans for Prosperity say that IM 22 will cut into funding for, among other things, roads. Pudner notes that Koch Industries makes asphalt. Pudner says the Kochs will never oppose raising taxes to build more roads (and you know, Americans for Prosperity sent a flunky to the 2015 Legislature to oppose Medicaid expansion, but AFP didn’t dispatch anyone to testify against the $85-million tax increase for road construction in 2015 Senate Bill 1). Pudner argues that, whatever IM 22 might cost the general fund for public campaign financing and administration of the statewide ethics commission, IM 22 would save South Dakota much more in beating corruption in the bidding process for big projects like the asphalt we might buy from Koch plants in neighboring states.
Krassner further crushed the Kochs’ cost argument against IM22 with empirical data from a 2014 study by Indiana University: in the ten most corrupt states in the nation, including South Dakota, reducing corruption to average levels—not eliminating corruption, but just getting a reasonable grip on it—would reduce annual state spending by 5.2%.
Let’s see: our FY2017 general fund appropriations are $1.598 billion. 5.2% of that is $83 million. IM 22 appropriates a maximum of $12 million every election cycle for Democracy Credits and other expenses, and that assumes that only 22% of registered voters would choose to access their Democracy Credits. $83 million corruption savings would cover Democracy Credits for all 531,584 registered voters in South Dakota and leave another $30 million for the statewide ethics commission to enforce the campaign finance and lobbying rules… or just spend what IM 22 calls for and cut taxes by $70 million… which would pretty much put back the sales tax we had to raise to boost teacher pay this year.
Dr. Richard Painter says that campaign finance reform has been supported by conservative GOP nominees like Barry Goldwater and John McCain and should resonate with contemporary conservatives. Dr. Painter agrees that big money lures even professed conservatives into wasteful pork-barrel spending (he saw plenty of such spending during his stint as chief ethics counsel for the Bush II Administration from 2005 to 2007, during some of which period Republicans controlled the White House and Congress).
Dr. Painter also connects campaign finance reform to national security: if big corporate money dominates elections, and if big corporate money represents multinational owner and shareholder interests, then elected officials who are beholden to that big corporate money will be more inclined to leave our resources open to foreign acquisition. Let multinational corporations buy up our resources, and we become a banana republic (review the origin of the term: rich American companies dominating Central American politics). Dr. Painter says that if we don’t want the Chinese buying up our hogs and dairy and cornfields, we need measures like IM 22 to stop them from buying our elections and our elected officials.
Dr. Painter contends that social conservatives should not let the Koch brothers and other big corporate donors fool them into thinking that alliances with big money will give them access to power to pass social conservative legislation. Dr. Painter says big donors will ultimately betray social conservative allies. His primary example is abortion: he says social conservatives who view the morning-after pill as abortion will never win their point in law against big pharmaceutical corporations who stand to make billions from selling Plan-B pills. Dr. Painter extends his argument to insurance companies: big health insurance corporations can maximize profits by reducing the number of sick policyholders. If insurers can identify pregnancies that might produce children with chronic health problems, profit could motivate those insurers to cover abortion in their policies to encourage women to abort those pregnancies and save the insurers money in the long run.
Dr. Painter notes that the original Tea Party—no, not the Fox News shouters of 2010 who seem now to have collapsed into following a loud-mouth billionaire, but the real Tea Party, Boston Harbor, Founding Fathers dressing up as Indians and pitching tea—reacted to government-corporate cronyism at its worst. Just as the Founding Fathers resisted taxation without representation, Dr. Painter says today’s conservatives should support IM 22 to fight the big money rigs our election choices and denies the majority of citizens true representation.
I asked Pudner how big money works against drawing good public servants into politics. Pudner explained that three main qualities make candidates electable: problem-solving, ability to connect with voters, and ability to raise lots of money. Pudner said we still have plenty of good elected officials who love to use their skills to connect with voters and solve problems, but the “political-industrial complex” throws in with candidates who are good at raising money. True public servants then must focus on raising money just to compete and don’t get to spend as much time doing what they really love. Ultimately we end up with a system where the only people who can win elections are either the candidates who will do the big donors’ bidding or the billionaires like Donald Trump who can spend their own money. Practically excluding decent public servants of modest means from elections is bad for democracy.
Of course, the Koch brothers and other rich donors aren’t interested in real democracy. They want to control the government. As Dr. Painter pointed out, the Kochs aren’t worried about South Dakota taxpayers; they are trying to keep the majority of voters from competing with them in choosing elected officials.
Pudner says Take Back Our Republic will focus on delivering their conservative arguments to conservative South Dakota voters. Pudner’s past consulting and campaigning have identified thousands of conservative activists in South Dakota. TBOR’s intent is to equip those activists with research (like the Indiana corruption-savings study) to rebut the Koch brothers’ propaganda.
While that messaging targets conservative circles, I wondered if portraying IM 22 as a conservative measure could make Democratic supporters skittish. Frankenfeld poo-pooed that thought (as he poo-poos much of what I think). He said he senses that Democrats are pretty solidly behind IM 22 while the Koch propaganda has split Republicans down the middle. Frankenfeld says Pudner and Painter’s efforts will bring some of those Republicans back by reminding them that IM 22 fits with their basic conservative principles… and really, on basic principles like using tax dollars responsibly, stopping corruption, providing fair representation, and protecting our national security and sovereignty, don’t Republicans and Democrats agree?
There are a whole range of issues where the money is on one side and the social conservatives are in the position of — there’s a story from the Gospel of Luke of the widow who puts the few pennies in the coffers while all the rich men are standing around and pouring in lots more and Jesus says, “Well, the poor widow, her contribution is just as important if not more important.” And is that the way we’re running our democracy? I would expect the faith community to rebel against this system and to kick the moneychangers out of the temple of our democracy. This is unacceptable [Dr. Richard Painter, interview with Bill Moyers, 2016.04.20].
The idea that the least among us matters is another principle on which true conservatives and true liberals agree. The Bible, like our Constitution, is for everybody, not just the rich and powerful. That message underlies the efforts of Rick Weiland, Don Frankefeld, John Pudner, and Dr. Richard Painter. That message is why TakeItBack.org and TakeBack.org are working together in South Dakota to beat the Koch brothers and pass Initiated Measure 22.
Note that Lee can cite instances of corruption in states with public campaign financing because the system worked: those states caught and convicted the corrupt pols. Of course, for Lee’s bosses, a statewide ethics commission that would catch such campaign finance chicanery is just more “bureaucracy” and government growth. The last thing the Koch brothers want is a government that’s big enough to check their Big Money corruption of our political process.