A Dialogue on Money in Virginia Politics

Jeff Thomas: Thank you for having me to Bacon’s Rebellion, Jim. I’m a longtime reader, first-time poster. Money in Virginia politics is an important topic on which I think we both agree, and I’m eager to hear your take on it. As I understand it, we’ll each answer and ask a question of the other within a 500-word limit. So let me begin.What would be the rules for your ideal campaign finance system in Virginia?Jim Bacon:

Jeff, I’m delighted to engage in this exchange. As author of “The Virginia Way: Democracy and Power after 2016,” you are one of the few writers to take a deep interest in Virginia’s political economy, genuinely trying to understand the sources and distribution of power at the state/local level. Hopefully, this dialogue will prove illuminating.

Like you and many others, I find the role of money in politics to be disturbing. It is deeply unfair that the rich and powerful can buy more political influence through campaign contributions than ordinary citizens. But unfairness is part of the human condition. The question is whether the cure is worse than the disease. I do not believe in restricting campaign contributions, even if it means giving a billionaire California liberal like Tom Steyer and his NextGen Climate Action group (more than $3.7 million in the past few years) a bigger voice in Virginia politics than a life-long resident like myself. The Constitution gives Americans the right to freedom of speech and the right to petition government, and I regard the donation of money to political candidates as an extension of both those rights.

Therefore, I believe the best “solution” is radical transparency – the reporting and dissemination of campaign-contribution data, which, thanks to the Virginia Public Access Project, we have in Virginia. With radical transparency, vying factions can offset one another.

If one disapproves of Dominion Energy’s political influence in legislative races, one can set up an organization like Clean Virginia and promise to donate money to candidates who eschew Dominion money. Conversely, if one objects to Tom Steyer’s meddling in Virginia elections, one is free to make an issue of it. (So far, no one has – what a shame!) I think Virginia’s campaign finance-reporting laws work as well as can be expected.

Where the system fails is its inability to track “dark money.” There are many ways to influence political and public policy outcomes – not just through campaign contributions, personal gifts to legislators, and lobbying (which are reported), but through the underwriting of advocacy groups, activist groups, research reports, ad campaigns, lawsuits, media outlets such as The Virginia Mercury and National Public Radio, and the like, all of which shape the political/public policy battlefield. Who funds these groups? Most refuse to disclose their funding sources, and the public has no way to find out. My ideal system would expand radical transparency to cover all such sources of dark money.

So, my question to you is this: How do you justify framing the issue of unequal power and influence as one of “campaign finance” as opposed to a broader definition that encompasses all means of influencing political and policy outcomes?

Thomas: Thanks, Jim. You put it well: “the role of money in politics [is] disturbing.”

I asked my question to learn your views and see what common ground we share. I agree that there are many roots of “unequal power and influence” beyond direct contributions including those you mention and others like wealth and control of resources.

In The Virginia Way, I actually do discuss Clean Virginia, NextGen Climate Action, and new foundations of power. I write how shifting sources of capital in Virginia and nationwide have partially countered Dominion’s historical dominance, which would be predicted by a “Virginia Way” theory that politicians do what donors want. Unfortunately, many politicians are not truthful and support whatever helps themselves.

Your ideal system of campaign finance would abolish contribution limits while expanding disclosure. This would be a major departure from the current system as contribution limits, e.g., $2,800.00 to a federal candidate per election, are constitutional under Buckley v. Valeo, as are disclosure requirements. What you advocate would be illegal at the federal level, which is not to say the law could not be changed.

States set their own limits, which Virginia politicians decline to do. “Virginia is the only state where lawmakers can raise unlimited campaign donations from anyone, including corporations and unions, and spend the money on themselves,” writes Alan Suderman. Citizens can contemplate why this is uniquely Virginian.

I also agree with you that “it is deeply unfair that the rich and powerful can buy more political influence through campaign contributions than ordinary citizens.” Large donations are corrupting, but you believe restrictions on campaign donations are unconstitutional so therefore transparency is better than secrecy. I don’t understand why Buckley would be unconstitutional in its limits but constitutional in its disclosure requirements but I understand that is your First Amendment interpretation.

I support transparency but am more skeptical of its overall benefits. I spoke to someone at VPAP several years ago, and s/he said that VPAP was primarily used by donors and politicians to see what others were donating. VPAP’s donor list is instructive. I am not saying there are no benefits to VPAP’s disclosures or other work, as clearly there are for people like journalists and your readers who are deeply engaged in these issues – I am just repeating what s/he told me and do not know whether it is still true. Furthermore, allowing con men to give cash to governors and billionaires to spend millions to influence elections is not in the public interest. These were disclosed.

Because money can influence public policy, as you note, I support campaign finance limits for the same reason that I support giving every citizen one vote. There are myriad ways to curtail corruption; one solution is for Virginia to adopt federal limits.

Here’s my question. Since you support radical transparency for “media outlets such as the Virginia Mercury,” when will you disclose the amount of money Dominion paid you to write about energy issues from 2015-2018?

Bacon: Jeff, I tell you what. I’ll disclose how much money I’m getting paid by Dominion now: zero dollars. Dominion and I amicably ended our sponsorship relationship more than a year ago. I was tired of others maligning my reporting and commentary and wanted to be free to say whatever I thought free from such aspersions. (Not that it’s stopped some people from casting them.) Let’s have some radical transparency starting now. Who is paying Virginia Mercury and how much? Where does the Virginia branch of the Sierra Club get its money? Where does the Southern Environmental Law Center get its money? Where do all the other progressive activist groups get their money? Did you ask those questions in The Virginia Way?

Here’s my theory on where liberals and progressives are coming from on campaign-donation reform. Here in Virginia, they attack campaign contributions because that’s where non-progressives come closest to parity. Liberals and progressives dominate every other avenue for influencing public opinion and public policy. They dominate foundation money – except for the Koch Brothers, whom they relentlessly attack (through proxy groups funded by god knows who). Libs and progs dominate tax-advantaged non-profit money. They dominate the colleges and universities (which are supported by state subsidies and federal loans). They dominate museums and cultural institutions (also tax-advantaged). They have perfected the art of using lawsuits to bring opponents to their knees. Most importantly, they dominate the newspapers, which have an unparalleled ability to frame issues and drive policy change. Liberals and progressives dominate every non-elected mechanism for influencing politics and policy but one, so they relentlessly go after that one.

It’s all about the power, baby! And please don’t pretend otherwise. Progressives have made an issue of campaign contributions as a stratagem for shaping the political battlefield, and you know it.

So, when you support mechanisms to balance the playing field in these other areas – foundation money, nonprofit money, museums and cultural institutions, newspapers, and lawsuits – I’ll take your critique of the corrupting influence of campaign donations seriously. Until you do, I can conclude only that the outrage over campaign contributions is largely synthetic and guided by partisan political advantage.

As for me, I don’t advocate quashing the advantages of my philosophical/ideological adversaries. I just ask for transparency. Let the sun shine in. Let everybody know who is funded by whom. Let’s be honest about who has the power.

So, Jeff, I’ll repeat my previous question: How do you justify framing the issue of unequal power and influence as one of “campaign finance” as opposed to a broader definition that encompasses all means of influencing political and policy outcomes? No dodging the question this time!

Thomas: Alright – you don’t want to disclose the amount of money Dominion paid you but you want Virginia Mercury to disclose their money, because money influences other writers, but not you. Does this not strike you and your readers as at least a little hypocritical? Why do you think Dominion paid you, out of the goodness of its heart?

I get why you are defensive about Dominion money, and I think you simply made a mistake in taking it. Nothing is stopping you from donating it to charity.

I think the remainder of your argument is a projection, but I’ll address it.

I’m open to suggestions as to better ways to regulate nonprofits to prevent conflicts of interest. I think any organization engaged in electioneering should disclose their funders, which the Virginia Sierra Club does. SELC does not engage in electioneering. I agree that the Mercury should disclose the source of their funding if their sponsor, the Hopewell Fund, is just a shell organization for large donors.

As for “dodging” your question, you and I agree on a “broader definition” of power. I’m unsure how I can be clearer other than to reiterate that the viewpoint you attribute to me is inaccurate. You haven’t even taken the time to read the book, so how can you purport to know what is in it?

If you want to know why I write about Dominion, you can read my methodology. I write about Dominion as a case study on corporate power because it is the most powerful corporation in Virginia. Pretty straightforward. Moreover, “Virginia’s purported pro-business political philosophy [is] jarring to witness in comparison to Dominion and the legislature’s repeated efforts to raise electricity rates.” Unlike the other groups you mention, people do not have a choice to donate to Dominion; two-thirds of its revenue is guaranteed by the state government. Competing with Dominion is illegal. As for partisan advantage, Dominion is not Republican: it a corrupt, socialist corporation that donates to both Democrats and Republicans, scaled to whichever party is in power.

“I feel that chasing partisanship skews objectivity,” I write. “It does not and should not matter whether the perpetrators are of a certain party or position: injustice is injustice, whether it is carried out by Republican gerrymandering, a Democratic city machine, or a corrupt corporation.” Your partisanship thesis isn’t going to fly with me.

My nonpartisan position is that Virginia’s campaign contributions should be capped, as they are at the federal level. This would diminish the power of Dominion, the Sierra Club, Bloomberg, the NRA, and others, and might actually benefit Republicans.

Regarding your assertion that “foundation money, nonprofit money, museums and cultural institutions, newspapers, and lawsuits” are “dominated” by “liberals and progressives,” I don’t follow conspiracy theories.

I understand why criticism of Dominion rankles you: you worked for them. I’m still crossing my fingers that we can have a civil discussion.

Here is my question: what ethics laws would you like to see passed in Virginia?

Bacon: Jeff, I ended my Dominion sponsorship, and I opened up my blog to anti-Dominion points of view. Will Virginia Mercury relinquish its (as yet undisclosed) foundation money funneled through the Hopewell Fund, and open up its publication to anti-environmentalist points of view? I doubt it. More to the point of our discussion, unless you want to start enacting laws that apply after the fact, I would suggest that we pass a law providing complete visibility to nonprofit funding and expenditures from this point going forward.

Nevertheless, I will make this offer: If Virginia Mercury is willing to disclose its sources and the amount of its funding, I will disclose exactly how much money I received from Dominion. Additionally, if Virginia Mercury discloses the terms and conditions of its funding, I will disclose the terms and conditions of Dominion’s sponsorship of Bacon’s Rebellion. (Oh, I already did. I published my agreement with Dominion online, accessible to anyone. But I’ll make it available again.) Perhaps you would be willing to broker such an arrangement.

Now to address the question you raised in your previous response: What ethics laws would I like to see passed in Virginia. To be truthful, I have given the matter little thought. I would suggest (while claiming the right to revise my opinion) that the guiding principle should be transparency. Fully disclose as much as practicable, and then let voters decide if a particular relationship is unethical. It worked for Gov. Bob McDonnell who, though he did not break any laws in the vitamin-supplement scandal, was so damaged in the eyes of the public that he had no political future after stepping down as governor.

If I understand correctly, you are open to capping contributions from non-profit organizations just as you are for corporations. And you are willing to regulate nonprofits to prevent “conflicts of interest.” I would appreciate it if you could elaborate upon what you mean by “conflicts of interest.”

While you are willing to limit the ability of special interests to fund elections, from what I gather – and please correct me if I’m wrong – you appear to be indifferent to the ability of special interests to influence public opinion on issues that might in turn influence the outcome of elections. Many groups purport to have an “educational” mission. In most cases, that educational mission consists of “informing” the public – in other words, influencing voters. Therefore, while a particular entity may not contribute to the election campaign of Del. Nitwit or Sen. Knucklehead, it can spend unlimited and undisclosed sums on influencing public opinion on issues that are directly relevant to the re-election of Del. Nitwit and Sen. Knucklehead. So, for example, environmental groups can spend unlimited sums mobilizing voters to combat climate change and oppose legislative initiatives favored by Dominion, even as candidates running against Del. Nitwit and Sen. Knucklehead are attacking them for… taking money from a special interest like Dominion.

In such a scenario I do not oppose environmental groups from spending unlimited sums of money. They should be free to influence the process as they choose. I argue only that they should report these expenditures so the public can see how they are influencing the political process.

I am surprised that you, as a tribune of an open and democratic process, would not think the same. But perhaps I mistake your view. Do you oppose transparency for groups that influence the political process indirectly, through “educational” spending?

Thomas: That’s a good challenge to the Mercury. I’ve spoken to you more than I’ve spoken to anyone there, but I’m happy to e-connect. I believe you published a redacted copy of one year of your agreement with Dominion, and my guess is that VM would say they similarly disclosed their funder, the Hopewell Fund. I’d love to see you all have a ‘diablog’ and for you to post your sponsorships. Prove me wrong.

I’ll try to write to your points, but I think we’re running into some definitional fluidity with terms such as campaign contributions and nonprofits. In Virginia state elections, what you describe is not as much of an issue, because Virginia does not have campaign finance limits like we do in federal elections.

I do understand what you’re saying vis-à-vis “educational” spending. You’re getting to the heart of Citizens United. I think this was wrongly decided and overturned precedent to open the door to unlimited, putatively ‘independent expenditures’ of the sort you’re discussing. So, no, I am not indifferent to independent expenditures; I oppose the current system, and even the pre-Citizens landscape was far from ideal. Before Citizens, there were limits in place to prevent such electioneering communications for 30-60 days before an election. You and the Roberts majority point out this limits speech; the downside is that wealthy special interests are more able to influence elections.

The majority further argued that it was impossible to differentiate between illegal electioneering and protected speech. I disagree.

You’re also getting into 501(c)(3) v. 501(c)(4) v. PAC v. electioneering law. There are many things to consider including differential tax treatment, but I’ll have to leave it at that due to our agreed word limits. The example and regulation you propose are in accord with current law, and, again, I do support such disclosures.

The way I use ‘conflict of interest’ above meant in the financial sense, e.g., if donors use tax-deductible donations to directly benefit their financial interests. Nonprofit laws prevent this, but my feeling is that they are only sometimes followed. I think transparency could help here, but I’m not positive. One thing to consider is for organizations to disclose their 990-Bs, though there would be privacy concerns. Nonprofits could and I think should be required to provide more detailed accounting of expenditures to the public, and enforcement could be improved. Like I said, I’m amenable to suggestions.

And if you have not given ethics reform much thought, then maybe that is a conversation for another time. We should note that McDonnell did not disclose his relations with Williams and they instead came out in slow drips after the mansion chef reported his concerns to the FBI. The Supreme Court vacated McDonnell’s convictions based on faulty jury instructions and remanded the case to the Fourth Circuit. It has not been determined whether McDonnell broke the law.

My question: do you think ballot initiatives could improve democracy in Virginia?

Bacon: Ballot initiatives? I’m of two minds. On the one hand, ballot initiatives could provide citizens a tool for circumventing Virginia’s sclerotic political processes – a good thing. On the other hand, I’m worried about a dumbing down effect. How do you boil down the wording of an initiative to be short enough to fit on a ballot without grossly over-simplifying the issue. Just ask Californians how the infamous Proposition 13 restricting property taxes 40 years ago worked out.

The other thing that worries me is that ballot initiatives are easily subjected to manipulation by organized special interests – again, look at how the public employee unions influence the ballot outcomes in California. In reality, instead of empowering the public, ballot initiatives will empower moneyed advocacy groups.

As I was writing this, literally five minutes ago a young man knocked on my door. He was representing “For Our Future VA,” a “non-partisan” advocacy group. Says the group’s website: ”For Our Future VA is a collection of activists, community leaders, students, families and progressive organizations working to advance a progressive agenda in Virginia. … Our organizing model involves keeping organizers on the ground throughout the year in order to build lasting relationships and to assist in the development of the permanent progressive infrastructure required to win statewide and legislative races in Virginia.”

Who are these guys? Where do they get their money? Are they really a grassroots organization, or are they bankrolled by special interests with deep pockets? They don’t work for individual candidates, but they do fight for leftist causes. Right now they help shape the electoral battlefield. If ballot initiatives became a reality, they’d be submitting ballot initiatives. You think the system is overrun with money now? Just wait.

Thanks so much for this exchange of views, Jeff, but I think we’ve gone on long enough. I suspect we’ve lost most of our readers by now.  It’s been a pleasure. Feel free to keep the conversation going in the comments attached to this blog post.

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49 responses to “A Dialogue on Money in Virginia Politics”

  1. Anonymous3444 Avatar

    “I suspect we’ve lost most of our readers by now.”

    I don’t know about that, but I certainly enjoyed this whole exchange.

    1. Wow, good to know that at least one reader made it all the way through. Thanks!

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Well, I found the whole exchange interesting and a better pro/con narrative than the solo ones !

    I’m amused that we wonder where the Sierra Club gets their money but not Koch…. one presumes that big donors to the SC – also got THEIR money similar to how Koch and other Conservatives get THEIR money. Right?

    Money is not only fungible – it can and does flow with little or no visibility. One called Donor’s Trust was explicitly formed to funnel money secretely to “protect the donors identity”.

    ” Donors Trust is an American non-profit donor-advised fund. It was founded in 1999 with the goal of “safeguarding the intent of libertarian and conservative donors”.[4] As a donor advised fund, Donors Trust is not legally required to disclose its donors, and most of its donors remain anonymous.[5][6] ”

    so while we worry about the Sierra Club and Southern Environmental Law center nary a whimper about Donor’s Trust.

    So much for radical transparency!

    and who gets the money?

    ” From its founding in 1999 through 2013, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund distributed nearly $400 million, and through 2015 $740 million, to various nonprofit organizations, including numerous conservative and libertarian causes.[7][26][27] Donors Trust requires that recipients are registered with the US Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) public charity. Whitney Ball, the former president of Donors Trust, told The Guardian in 2013 that Donors Trust has about 1,600 grantees.[28] In 2014, Ball said that 70 to 75 percent of grants go to public policy organizations, with the rest going to more conventional charities such as social service and educational organizations.[29]

    In 2010, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation[30] received a Donors Trust grant of $7 million, nearly half of the Foundation’s revenue that year.[7] Other Donors Trust recipients have included the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Tax Reform, the National Rifle Association Freedom Action Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Federalist Society, the FreedomWorks Foundation, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and the Center for Class Action Fairness.[15][21][31]

    Donors Trust paid the legal fees of the Project on Fair Representation, a Washington, D.C.-based legal defense fund that assembled the plaintiff’s legal team in Fisher v. University of Texas, a 2013 United States Supreme Court case concerning affirmative action college admissions policies.[32] In 2011, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, an online news organization, received $6.3 million in Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund grants, 95 percent of the center’s revenue that year.

    Other Donors Trust recipients have included the Foundation for Jewish Camp, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the James Randi Educational Foundation, the Marijuana Policy Project,[29][33][34] and PragerU.[35]

    Climate change related funding
    Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund distributed nearly $120 million to 102 think tanks and action groups skeptical of the science behind climate change between 2002 and 2010.[9] According to a 2013 analysis by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert Brulle, between 2003 and 2013 Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund combined were the largest funders of organizations opposed to restrictions on carbon emissions, which Brulle calls the “climate change counter-movement.”[15][36] According to Brulle, by 2009, approximately one-quarter of the funding of the “climate counter-movement” was from the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.[16]”

    1. I’d like to see transparency for Donor’s Trust, just like everyone else.

      I focus in my writing on left-of-center groups because they have received so little exposure. But there should be no exemptions for right-of-center groups. Transparency for all!

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        but you complain about not knowing about donors to the SC but not Donor’s trust. As far as I know, there is no liberal/progressive equivalent to Donor’s Trust and Donor’s Capital which take money anonymously from anyone and distribute it to dozens of organizations.

        If you specifically called out Donor’s Trust – I’d put more stock in your complaint.

      2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        “I focus in my writing on left-of-center groups because they have received so little exposure.”

        I appreciate you doing that Jim, but obviously we cannot expect the left of center to expose its own to the light of day. Only the right of center can be expected to undertake that task, which now they are slowly beginning to do with far more energy than before. Indeed before they had largely abandoned the field to the left of center. Hence we got Trump carrying most every body’s battle with the left, but its changing now, and hopefully Trump’s lesson is learned for the future as the foe takes no prisoners, and hasn’t for years.

  3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Larry says: “I’m amused that we wonder where the Sierra Club gets their money but not Koch …”

    Amazing, simply amazing.

    By the way, have we figured out who funds Mercury yet, despite blizzards of words and techie talk? Even Steve’s clueless, right, in the dark, right? But is not this the clear right of donors?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Have “we” …figured out WHO funded these groups:

      ” In 2010, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation[30] received a Donors Trust grant of $7 million, nearly half of the Foundation’s revenue that year.[7] Other Donors Trust recipients have included the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Tax Reform, the National Rifle Association Freedom Action Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Federalist Society, the FreedomWorks Foundation, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and the Center for Class Action Fairness.[15][21][31]”

      WHO funded these groups?

  4. Thank you for not limiting that interchange. I am not as positive on VPAP, given 2 “exchanges” I had with them. One really makes me question their allegiance to impartiality.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      VPAP walks a fine line and in my view, has been co-opted in a sense.
      In Virginia, we “hide” donations to groups by identifying donors but then they put money in PACs who then funnel the money to recipients – in effect , taking “direction” from the donors and to where to put the money without being directly linked as a donor to a specific group or person.

      The PACs essentially launder the money … you cannot really “follow the money” It’s a mirage.

      1. Maybe we should have full transparency for PAC money, too. I’m inclined to support the idea, but like to hear arguments pro and con.

        1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
          Reed Fawell 3rd

          Today’s politics is so vicious now that transparency kills free speech. We must fight the terrorists, not limit free speech, whether it be empowered with money or otherwise, save only for bribery, including crony capitalism, which needs to be more broadly defined, and exposed, and prosecuted, including non profits.

          1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            Bribery by politicians today is by far America’s biggest political and electoral problem today. Obama put this problem on steroids, starting with his near trillion dollar stimulus that comprised mostly money handed out to his political supporters for nothing else in return. One result of his actions is today’s Democratic primary candidates’ hard swing leftward into a socialist state that will run our lives soup to nuts.

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Well, I’m not a Virginia Mercury donor….perhaps I should send them $50 first and then ask Zullo again.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      what’s the preoccupation with Virginia Mercury anyhow?

      There are dozens, hundreds of media.. with various finance sources… so why just Virginia Mecury ? why not RTD? or the WaPo or Washington Examiner??

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I have something to add here at the risk of disclosing something confidential but I don’t think I am. Jim’s sponsorship with Dominion was hatched during a brainstorm during session we both had maybe four years ago. I was getting annoyed that I was putting in scores and scores of hours researching and writing content (although I did think both of our doing so was a useful public service). A few years before that, Jim had a sponsorship with the Piedmont Environmental Council which would pay the blog a certain amount of money ($l,500 per item, I think) for an in depth article on land use issues. They did not read or edit anything it. I did some, as did Jim and another freelancer. The stories were good and the money was welcome.
    I suggested to Jim that he approach Dominion and maybe the Sierra Club to see if they’d both agree to independent sponsorships for independent articles we would write on energy and the environment. This is not unusual. A few years ago, I did several long pieces for Slate in a special project that was sponsored by Statoil, the European energy giant. They did not interfere with anything. I thought that Dominion and an environmental group would balance things out.
    Then I got a call from Jim saying “what we feared would happen has happened,” (we had had no such discussion. )He said that Dominion had agreed to a sponsorship but wanted the right to withdraw from it if it disapproved of any other sponsored from any other group. I got a jolt when I heard that. But Jim agreed to it and a little while later I left the Rebellion and also because I had taken a staff job on a local news outlet. I was never told how much Dominion paid Jim. I did not feel comfortable with this deal. Some of the stories about Dominion were fairly straight but others read like press releases that had a little more literary polish in them. I wouldn’t want to go through that. I do not know if Jim ever talked to the Sierra Club.
    I’ll give Jim this. He was upfront about his deal with Dominion. But I also do not understand why the conservative bloggers and commentators on this blog are so up in arms about the Virginia Mercury and its “mystery” backers. They do list them. They do not going into a deep dive listing who is backing their main backer. Would Dominion give us a list of all their shareholders, bond holders, etc? The Mercury does not read like press releases to me. It is doing stories that MSM pubs in this state can’t or won’t do.

    I used to admire Style Weekly’s coverage. But thanks to cut backs, demands for digital material and ownership changes, they have gone from having a news editor and three reporters (full time) to no news editor and, soon, to no reporter. Style used to do deep, richly reported stories. It doesn’t many these days. As for the big papers, I respect some of that the Times Dispatch does, but they have always pulled punches when Richmond’s elite has been involved. This goes back to at least the early 1980s when I was a staffer and we came up with a number of promising stories that drew no interest. The Virginian-Pilot did some good work but it got negative national attention for pulling stories about a Virginia Beach politician who was also a powerful local banker.

    I have seen no evidence that the Virginia Mercury has done anything like this. I also am glad BR no longer has Dominion around its neck. That was a bad arrangement and thank God it is over.

  7. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    It is amusing that conservatives have gotten excited/concerned about the influence of big financial contributors and the political influence on nonprofit organizations now that liberals have finally figured out to play the game. They had no problem with the Koch brothers pouring money into George Mason University; with the Kochs bundling millions of dollars from other big donors; with the American Legislative Exchange Council (funded by large corporate interests) preparing template legislation for introduction in state legislatures; Americans for Prosperity funding Tea Party candidates and others, etc.

    I am torn on the remedies. Ideally, complete transparency should be sufficient. But, the general population does not take the time to learn who is behind all the electioneering or “education” they are subjected to. And, before we blame these people for being irresponsible or lazy or whatever, remember that they have a lot of stuff going on in their lives: making a living, raising kids, taking care of the house, going to church, volunteering in community organizations, etc. These things take up a lot of their time.

    Therefore, in the end, I support limits on contributions. In addition to limiting the influence of big donors, limits could result in the election of lawmakers who have a broader base of support than we have had in the past.

    A comment on another issue raised in the dialog (which was a very good feature, by the way)–initiatives. Please, NO! Most important public issues are too complex to put to the public for a yes or no vote. During my years of involvement in government, I have seen many proposed bills come up that I strongly supported, only to reconsider after hearing debates and questions in committee. Most legislation is improved by consideration and amendment in committee. (That does not mean that all enacted bills are good; some are still bad after amendment, just less bad.) If anyone feels that initiatives and referendums are good for democracy, just ask the British how that Brexit thing came out.

  8. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Man, am I the world’s biggest chump. $1500 per post from PEC, Peter? Wow. Gee, no ethical complications there…I’ve been doing this all wrong. I have a rough idea what Dominion was paying as a sponsorship for Bacon, and I suspect a very high percentage became actual income. In 16 months I’ve been paid nothing from BR. not even an expense check. If any readers have been sending in money thinking I benefited, let me give you another address 🙂

    The secret money all around should make everybody nervous, and suspicious. There needs to be more transparency. Eventually someone will drag the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy into this (a 501 c 3), and over the past year it has paid me a modest retainer and no, I don’t know who all of its donors are. I’m not an officer or a director, only paid “talent.” The fee really was for consulting and writing on the 2018-19 tax issues, but I was leading them to the positions taken, not the the other way around.

    Often TJIPP prints things I’ve written for Bacon in its email newsletter, not the other way around, but there have been things I wrote for TJIPP that then appeared here (several on the tax issue). I think it was always noted that TJIPP had it first.

    I have several specific proposals for VA, and a few unformed ones that might be good, which I will save for a future post of my own….

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      The phrase I hear is “opinion leaders”… folks who write things that influence others.

      I don’t see a problem with that per se – unless one is primarily writing for a particular group and their general philosophy – then it probably should
      be disclosed and thus when it is – like Jim did for Dominion – everything he wrote after that has a taint to it – and I suspect he finally figured that out and realized that no amount of claiming otherwise will remove the fact that Dominion is putting money into the blog.

      If you want a constructive thought – If you receive money from an organization and you write something – get someone else to write the “con” – so people do have the ability to see both the pro and con.

      And we’re actually starting to see a kind of a balance in BR with the return of Peter, Steve coming on board then Dick… Not sure what happened to the other guy that used to be with VDOT. ( my memory is just atrocious in my “maturity”!)

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    As has been alluded to – the money is not just about elections. Money goes into think tanks that do “studies” (that naturally support their view), and organizations like ALEC that actually write regulations and legislation – model versions they advocate to be passed by law.

    Other money goes specifically to try to undermine things like climate or abortion or Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion.

    the actual corruption of money to a candidate is small potatoes compared to some of these other things which no one is talking about limiting or making more transparent as far as I can tell.

    ALEC and the Kochs and Laffer, Stephen Moor and other Conservative/Libertarian groups directly influenced Kansas to implement Supply Side legislation totally separate from any
    money given directly to elected in hops of influencing. If you’re already
    an elected GOP – you’re going to fall in love with groups like ALEC.

    I doubt seriously that one person in a hundred knows who Donor’s Trust is… other than the folks who are sending money to them or receiving money from them. The average guy has suspicions mostly about the party they oppose and are fairly easily influenced by disinformation and misinformation…

    1. Sounds like you favor transparency — at least if it shows where the conservative/libertarian money comes from. How about transparency all around? I’m all in favor of making all the money flows transparent, no matter where the moolah comes from and no matter who gets it.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        I think some of us here might be conflating issues, and being naive about how today’s world works.

        For example:

        I don’t believe anyone has a right to know what my or anyone else’s political beliefs are. Nor do I believe anyone has a right to know how I express my political beliefs with money or otherwise. In today’s toxic political climate, with its partisan shame, smear, exile, and economic terrorist tactics, mandatory transparently requirements imposed on politically active voters cast a HUGE CHILL over their exercise of their constitutional rights.

        Today, and always in times past, such transparency laws can cost citizens their friends, their jobs, their livelihoods, their social and workaday lives, their privacy, even their right to live in a place, and vote with free will and unfettered choice. That is why their are curtains on voting booths. That is why there are privacy laws, laws against self incrimination, secret grand jury proceedings, and much needed rights to be left alone. Think about what’s going on inside Google, for one of endless examples.

        Plus these laws never work. The rich, the dishonest, and the ideologues always find work around ways and loopholes to exploit these laws, using high priced lawyers and tactics. Meanwhile, the honest get smeared, and loss their right to a fair and equal vote, for a candidate given an open field.

        Also, on a related topic, there are real non-profits in this world, and there are crony money making machines designed to grossly game the system for private advantage while disguised as non-profits. These we need to break-up and expose that latter that are robbing us and our government blind with the help of corrupt politicians. This include many functions of health care operators and universities for example, organization that are particularly prone to sucking money out of government treasuries at great public cost for the great private advantage of those who run them, at huge unnecessary cost to their customers too, including patients, students, and taxpayers.

        1. Reed, You raise a legitimate issue about protecting peoples’ privacy in a world where doxxing is now a thing. But what’s the alternative? Limit peoples’ right to participate by capping how much money they contribute? Doing nothing?

          1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            Jim – my knowledge of these laws now in place is quite thin. I would need to sit down and study the broad issues over a day or two in order to feel confident on even my own views as to where workable and productive changes to what is now on the books might be well advised.

            But as to your question, “Limit peoples’ right to participate by capping how much money they contribute?” I think that is quite reasonable as to contributions to the campaigns of particular candidates, whether directly or through conduits like political parties. I think that is reasonable because otherwise particular candidates in particular races too easily can get overwhelmed by rich donors giving to their opponents in order to destroy the effective and diverse views of the less well funded target who is depending on small local donors holding the same views as him or her. This is particularly true with national campaign contributions from outside the state targeting particular particular candidates inside some other state. So too, I also suspect bundling needs to be closely looked both as a practice and how it is deployed in campaigns. I suspect much unfair and ugly gaming of the electoral system might be found here as well. Voters inside the candidates district should have the right to chose their own candidate free of direct outside interference, rather than have their legitimate vote voided or destroyed altogether by rich self interested outsiders (of state) filling the coffers of their opponent candidates in state. But beyond these restrictions, I have grave doubts about curtailing the political process and its dialogue and process, and suspect the current laws might well be best we can hope for.

      2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        “One day an invitation came to me, by word of mouth, to address an underground seminar in Prague. I accepted; as a result, I was brought into contact with people for whom the pursuit of knowledge and culture was not a dispensable luxury but a necessity. Nothing else could provide them with what they sought, which was an escape route from the world of lies by which they were surrounded. And by discussing the Western cultural heritage among themselves, they were marked out as heretics, who risked arrest and imprisonment merely for meeting as they did. Ironically, perhaps the greatest intellectual achievement of the Communist party was to convince people that Plato’s distinction between knowledge and opinion is a valid one, and that ideological opinion is not merely distinct from knowledge but the enemy of knowledge, the disease implanted in the human brain that makes it impossible to distinguish true ideas from false ones. That was the disease spread by the Party. And it was spread by Foucault, too. For it was Foucault who taught my colleagues to evaluate every idea, every argument, every institution, convention, or tradition in terms of the “domination” that it masks. Truth and falsehood had no real significance in Foucault’s world; all that mattered was power.

        These issues had been brought into sharp relief for the Czechs and Slovaks by ­Václav Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless” (1978), enjoining his compatriots to “live in truth.” How could they do that, if they were unable to distinguish the true from the false? And how could they distinguish the true from the false without the benefit of real culture and real knowledge? Hence the search for those things had become urgent. And the price of that search was high—harassment, arrest, deprivation of ordinary rights and privileges, and a life on the margins of society. When something has a high moral price, only committed people will pursue it. I therefore found, in the underground seminars, a unique student body—people dedicated to ­knowledge, as I understood it, and aware of the ease and the danger of replacing knowledge with mere opinion. Moreover, they were looking for knowledge in the place where it is most necessary and also hardest to find—in philosophy, history, art, and literature, in the places where critical understanding, rather than scientific method, is our only guide. And what was most interesting to me was the urgent desire among all my new students to inherit what had been handed down to them. They had been raised in a world where all forms of belonging, other than submission to the ruling Party, had been marginalized or denounced as crimes. They understood instinctively that a cultural heritage is precious, precisely because it offers a rite of passage into the thing that you truly are and the community of feeling that is yours.

        There was another winsome feature of the underground seminars, which is that their intellectual resources were so sparse. Academics in the West are obliged to publish articles and books if they are to advance in their careers, and in the years since the Second World War this had led to a proliferation of literature that, if not always second-rate from the intellectual point of view, has almost invariably been without literary merit—stodgy, cluttered with footnotes, without telling imagery or turns of phrase, and both ephemeral in content and impossible to ignore. The weight of this pseudo-literature oppresses both teachers and students in the humanities, and it is now all but impossible to unearth the classics that lie buried beneath it.

        I sometimes think that the greatest service to our culture was done by the person who set fire to the library at Alexandria, …” END Quote:

        For more of this wonderful article written by Roger Scruton in First Things (April, 2015) please go t0:


  10. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Steve. Give me a break. The PEC sponsorships were disclosed in full. You worked as a lobbyist for a rich shipyard for years. Just love this idea that journalists are supposed to not earn a working wage while getting shat all over. Is that your version if “the virginia way?” Other states had jobs that actually did pay something and then the wonderful internet came along.

  11. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Steve. Before you twist my comment even more, the PEC project involved, per item, lots of travel and days if not a few weeks of work. It was original content, not bloviating on the real work others have done. You may have missed it but the days of “ethical” regional newspapers Bankrolling good reporting are over. In the late 1970s, the Pilot put another reporter and me up for several weeks in DC poring over NRC files on Dominion’s troubled surry nukes. If you want to make a snarky ethical jab at me for that, have at it. But it will not happen today. And like you, my work for BR is not paid. To keep things going, journalists have to become entrepreneurs as well. It may be news to you but it has been this way for years.

  12. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Peter, the PEC is no less a political player than Dominion, and taking money from either is equal in my eyes. It has/had strong political goals. Yes, the PEC sponsorship of Bacon’s Rebellion was no secret, neither was the Dominion sponsorship. And that’s a very nice fee for a spot of freelance writing, agreed. But you do like to poke at others taking money for their writing….you can’t dish it out and refuse to take it in response.

    Dick, you have a fair point that the GOP horror over special interest money seemed to grow as the Democrats caught up and began to pass. It’s much like the posturing on redistricting, with the party in the weaker position suddenly getting all reform minded, until….People need to think long term and set rules for all.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Gotta say, Jim’s work on Piedmont matter was worth every penny of $15oo per post, indeed those posts were a great bargain and public service on behalf on all Virginians save for the moguls intent on greed.

      See for example, this:

  13. “People need to think long term and set rules for all.”


  14. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Steve, fact is you left journalism years ago and it seems you do not know what the new dynamics are and have been for nearly two decades. Peter

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Patronizing as ever…..Peter, one of the oldest rules in the world is if you take the King’s gold you do the King’s bidding. Absolutely nothing has changed, two decades or two millennia! As noted, the relationship between Bacon’s Rebellion, PEC, Dominion etc were all in the open, giving readers the warning to take it with a grain of salt. I’m not being judgmental, but jealous – that’s real money!

      In the world of politics, the elected officials sleep at night by telling themselves they take the money, the gifts, the flattery, and still vote the way they think best. It is an absolute lie, and the donors know it. It is the same with “sponsored” journalism. So just be out in the open with who is paying for it and stay off the high horse.

  15. Re: privacy. The likes of Facebook, compiling dossiers on everyone, offend me. But once upon a time we had City Directories that cross-indexed names, addresses, phone numbers, occupations and non-profit affiliations and brief bios, and these did no harm, in fact they were praised — at some point we have to come out of our caves into the sunlight. And the best way to address hidden sources of political money and allow the public to react appropriately is by disclosure of who donates it and how the different PACs are linked and controlled and who has influenced those who write about it and why. Why is this so difficult to accept?

  16. djrippert Avatar

    For what it’s worth … During the time PEC sponsored Bacon’s Rebellion I wrote an article excoriating the PEC’s plans to designate certain roads as historical byways. My opinion then (as well as now) is that this designation is used to prevent expanding certain roads and limiting development in certain areas. One of the idea’s sponsors was a woman who owned a residential development company that destroyed vast acres of woodland (completely denuded) in order to easily build tract housing in Loudoun County. She then moved to western Loudoun County and was desperately trying to keep other from doing to her what she did to eastern Loudoun. Nobody at Bacon’s Rebellion objected in the slightest to my comments. Later on, I published many articles critical of Dominion. Never was I asked to tone it down or reconsider my position.

    Jim Bacon is hopelessly confused about campaign contributions but he has never, to the best of my knowledge, let sponsorship stand in the way of free expression of opinion on this blog.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Yes, that has been the thing about this effort from the start – in the comment string, all opinions welcome (be civil, please, and if you can’t be civil, be funny….) I was on regularly arguing over transportation policy, usually with a pseudonym. But one day Speaker Howell made a sharp remark about something I’d written and it was clear my secret was out….and I cut back for a while!

  17. djrippert Avatar

    “Virginia is the only state where lawmakers can raise unlimited campaign donations from anyone, including corporations and unions, and spend the money on themselves,” writes Alan Suderman.

    Kind of says it all. Whenever an entity is doing something completely unique and contrary to what other entities are doing it is either genius or stupidity. Trust me, The Virginia General Assembly and the power brokers in Richmond who control the assembly like hand puppets are not geniuses. They are corrupt clowns. However, the comeuppance is on the way. Between this Fall’s elections and the 2020 census the centuries old political torture of all Virginians by a select few in Richmond will be ended. I’d don’t relish living in a progressive centric state but its better than living in a corrupt oligarch centric state.

  18. djrippert Avatar

    Also, Jim … was that photograph of you taken with one of those mini spy cameras that once were sold from the back page of comic books (along with X-Ray specs)? There also seems to be a bird attempting to peck you on the head.

  19. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    He looks like jaws in a james bond movie. Maybe should stop eating at Panera

  20. Let me add another voice to those encouraging this format for “debating” such issues. It wasn’t too long a read for me. But, of course, you both had to leave a lot of the issues raised just hanging there, inviting followups.

    Here are two: (1) Why not simply mandate disclosure of all tax exempt transactions all the way back to the (fully quantified) last non-tax-exempt source of the donations (i.e., the entity in the chain that claimed a tax deduction against taxable income)? That will put an end to the use of PACs as money laundering operations intended only to hide the identity of donors; and anything less will require splitting hairs as to where to end the inquiry, as well as put the IRS increasingly in a hot seat they don’t want to occupy. And (2): You both addressed limits on donations; what about limits or caps on what politicians can take in from all sources? I mean caps on the total amount received per candidate per election cycle, as in the U.K.. The bloated advertising budgets required to run for office today and the enormous time demands of fund-raising to stay in office are often cited as reasons we don’t have citizen legislatures today — was that ever a good thing; what is the aspiration going forward; and what campaign contribution limitations would best bring us towards that goal?

  21. J. Abbate Avatar

    Thank you all for a great discussion.
    I support transparency in all campaign funding and mandatory revealing of candidate’s tax returns.

    Acbar is on point with his suggestions re: improving citizen representation in legislators. Allowing a free for all in campaign donations only leaves our government open to greater domination by the 1-2% of our citizenry with most of the wealth, as well as various stealthy influence from foreign powers who may funnel funds via covert agents and corporations. All citizens have the ability to offer “free speech” and opinions, but all citizens do not have the capability to offer equal money. Is there any reason to believe our founders wished to favor the wealthy or only the wealthy to be represented in our government? Thanks to Jeff and Jim getting this discussion going.

    1. I share your concern about the Top 1% dominating the public discussion. But what happens when you cap campaign contributions? What’s to stop the 1% from buying all the newspapers? Oh, gee, the top 1% already did. Bezos owns the Washington Post, Buffett owns literally half of the newspapers in Virginia (among many others). Do they interfere in editorial policy? Perhaps not directly. Do editors self-censor? Who knows.

  22. vaconsumeradvocate Avatar

    Very interesting and good discussion. Lots of fodder for discussion. Acbar, you’ve pointed to several that haven’t been addressed yet. I’m going to comment on only a couple of aspects of this discussion.

    Jim said: “Most importantly, they dominate the newspapers, which have an unparalleled ability to frame issues and drive policy change. Liberals and progressives dominate every non-elected mechanism for influencing politics and policy but one, so they relentlessly go after that one.”

    I have to disagree that conservatives have the short end of the stick. In my years now of struggling to protect our farm business and our constitutional property rights – our very safety, I’ve had the majority of the things I’ve submitted to editors turned down – and frequently, by multiple media sources. I’ve found the Richmond paper especially unwilling to print either op-eds or LTE’s during this time. I believe they consider me “liberal” and my perspective not fitting.

    Those of us in the pipeline battle have also found it extremely difficult to get the truth out about what is happening at all stages of this process – to even get basic reporting into the media. We’ve resorted to social media in an attempt to get something out. The loss of sufficient numbers of true investigative reporters in our media is staggering. Maybe the situation is that no one can adequately get heard and depending on where we sit and what the issue, we’re all frustrated.

    The second point I want to make is a reminder that non-profits cannot participate in political activities. Groups have been destroyed by government or others claiming that they’ve been political beyond the limits allowed. Thus, groups tend to bend over backwards to protect nonprofit status. In my experience, this makes too many people unwilling to participate in the public discussions – afraid of what they/their organization will lose. Women are especially concerned about stepping over the boundaries of allowed political actions for nonprofits. It stifles many voices.

    IF the groups providing “education” really are non-profits, political activity (broadly defined to include time as well as money) is limited. One cannot create such a group to collect money/ funnel money to one political perspective. Organizations can be forced to return grant money, to pay government penalties, etc. even if they’ve done nothing wrong and interpretations have changed retroactively. The costs of defending the group can be destructive. The risks are real and mean some groups do not accept some forms of funding to avoid the potential costs of years of legal wrangling that can result.

    We also have a problem with groups that appear to be nonprofit and nonpartisan and unbiased that are organized and funded by folks pushing an agenda. We call them artificial turf. It can be hard for the average person to figure out what is real grass roots and real nonprofit and what is a corporate funded turf group.

    1. Your frustrations about being able to communicate your point of view are exceed only by Dominion’s frustrations. But I get what you’re saying. Newspapers feel compelled to provide “balance” in their reporting, but you don’t believe there is “balance” when it comes to the objective merits of the case.

    2. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      “Artificial turf” as opposed to “grass roots.” I like it. I’ll steal it! (Borrow….) Lots of Artificial Turf groups out there. Not too hard to spot usually. I’m told they are all over Facebook but I wouldn’t know….

    3. TooMuchRegulation Avatar

      Always found it interesting that many conservatives lose interest in property rights on certain issues. Seems the utilities have done a good job framing the debate.

  23. Posted with permission of Steve Emmert:

    What an engaging conversation! Thank you for publishing it.

    I’m writing to address one tiny observation in one of your responses: “They [liberals and progressives] have perfected the art of using lawsuits to bring opponents to their knees.”

    Now you’re swimmin’ in MY pool. You may recall that I’m an appellate lawyer, and my website closely follows developments at the Supreme Court of Virginia. I post a same-day essay on each SCV opinion as it comes down. No one else does that, and while I won’t claim any inside knowledge about the court (because I don’t have any), I think I can claim to know more about the court than just about any other outsider.

    That perspective convinces me that the court system is NOT a safe haven for those who advocate the cause of the little guy. While there are liberals and conservatives in the legislature, the Supreme Court comprises 100% conservatives. The least conservative member of the court is the former Republican Attorney General of the Commonwealth, Justice Bill Mims. When the justices meet for their private decision conference after hearing oral arguments, there is no one, no one at all, in the room whose nature is to stick up for the liberal/progressive view for which you display such disdain.

    The results are unsurprising. I post a David/Goliath Index quarterly on my site, setting out percentages in SCV decisions in appeals with identifiable big-guy-vs.-little-guy dynamics. (This means the index includes appeals involving tort victims and insurance companies; criminal appellants vs. the prosecution; a former employee and the company that fired her; etc. It excludes things like boundary-line suits, divorces, and reinsurance squabbles between two insurers.) If you go back about 15 years, the split in those decisions was roughly 50-50.

    No more. Now Goliath is winning about 82-83% of the appeals, a clear result of the court’s rightward vector in the past eight years. The court has proven to be a particularly inhospitable place for tort victims who obtain large judgments in trial courts; it’s the place where large tort judgments go to die.

    This will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. The justices, like all jurists in Virginia, have a mandatory retirement age of 73. The current chief justice, Don Lemons of Nellysford, will age off the court in 2022. The court’s newest appointee, Justice Teresa Chafin, will reach retirement age in about nine years. The next in line (chronologically speaking) won’t reach 73 until 2030. Virginia has a sharply conservative supreme court, and that will continue into the future, even as the citizenry as a whole transforms from purple toward “bluedom.”

    This is likely way more detail than you would like, but please forgive me for waxing eloquent on a topic that is of vital importance to my career. The ultimate point is that the Virginia courts are not a bludgeon for use by liberal and progressive causes. The truth is quite the opposite.

  24. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I do not disagree with that, sir (and welcome.) You should have included a link to your website…I’ll search for it.

    Granted, the decisions at the SCV carry the most weight, but I’ve seen more balance in the Circuit Court appointments, some effort for both parties to name some of the judges. Am I wrong? It all could change in January, of course, but you are right that the court appointments linger, which of course was The Founder’s intention. Checks and balances…

    1. TooMuchRegulation Avatar

      “NOT a safe haven for those who advocate the cause of the little guy” probably true but you later infer that Progressive are sticking up for the The Little Guy and Conservatives for Big Business. This is the fallacy of one-dimension politics. Statists and Individualists (the little guy) exist in both Progressive and Conservative camps.

      [meant as a reply to Steve Emmert post]

  25. TooMuchRegulation Avatar

    First, not only did you not lose me and I thought this exchange was interesting and insightful. I hope you keep up this type of discussion. I’m tired of the “Us vs Them” main stream media style reporting. Would much prefer mature, open dialog between people that can reference facts and disagree on what those facts mean without calling each other names.

    Conceptually, I whole heartedly agree with JBacon that any organization that has a privileged position, be it government, non-profit or monopoly needs to operate with significant transparency. I do have some concerns over privacy matters, especially in this day of doxing people. Perhaps a compromise position of any donations over a certain cap must be public, anything under is anonymized (I recognize some people will take advantage of this to scheme for ways around it.)

    Second, Dick is right that (IMO) that most people just don’t have time to deal with these issues. I hardly keep up with the posts on this site; rarely have time to comment. It’s hard to get people involved in a way that makes a difference. I believe the consumer is the best regulator; that most of us vote with our feet in so far as we can:
    • Don’t like the way a company does business, don’t do business with them.
    • Don’t like the way a local government runs their school system, move.

    Of course, the above points are sometimes easier said than done especially when it comes to crony companies and governments. There are too many embedded interests in big, unwieldy, bureaucratic government for the typical citizen to invest the time needed to make a difference. That also makes it easier for those with the time (and-or money to pay lobbyists, PR, lawyers, etc) to divide and conquer. Too many issues are specific to small groups with little political influence. Maybe other voters would care if they understand the issue, but they don’t have time and they have their own problems. My state rep tells me the utilities are too powerful to fight.

    The other side of Dick’s point is that with today’s technology, getting access to data and making it consumable for averages citizens is technically possible. The USA facts website is somewhat doing that, through I think it tries to connect the wrong dots.

    In an earlier post, you discussed how we should be comparing the performance of local governments. I downloaded the spreadsheets with all the data in it. No time to analyze it yet, but I see no reason that this information couldn’t be posted online in a more consumable way (think charts, with the ability to drill down into details.) The raw data (scrubbed for privacy) should be available online for people and organizations to analyze, make reports, charts, comparisons and their own inferences, etc.

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