Recently, an initiative has emerged within the state of California that would require politicians to wear logos that clearly display the top financial contributors to their campaigns. This sample politics essay will explore this initiative in greater depth. The essay will have five main parts.
- A description of the initiative
- The origins of the requirement
- The significance of the recent Supreme Court ruling
- A consideration of the moral implications
- A recommendation in favor of passing the initiative
Description of the donor logo initiative
It is worth describing the basic nature of the initiative under consideration here. Richardson has summarized the thing in the following way:
“You can tell who sponsors NASCAR drivers by the patches on their jumpsuits. So why not do the same for politicians? That’s the idea behind California entrepreneur John Cox’s proposed 2016 ballot initiative, which would require state legislators to wear the logos of their top 10 campaign contributors on their clothing” (paragraphs 1-2).
The main idea here is that politicians are obviously funded for and lobbied by many rich and powerful stakeholders; but this information remains quite opaque to the average citizen, with even intensive research often being unable to provide any kind of truly clear insight. The proposed initiative would remedy this issue by forcing politicians to clearly and publicly represent the main stakeholders who have financially contributed to their campaigns and careers.
Candidates bought by donors
This initiative would appear on the California ballot has a kind of referendum, in the event that it is supported by an adequate number of signatures. The initiative is related to the current race for the presidency of the United States. As Nelson has pointed out, the sponsor of the initiative is:
“seeking the endorsements of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, both of whom have rallied passionate supporters in part by denouncing their rivals as indentured servants to corporations and other wealthy donors” (paragraph 4).
In other words, the idea that Washington has been bought by big money is a major issue in the current presidential race; and the proposed initiative would provide citizens with a way of very clearly identifying who exactly has been bought by whom.
Candidate support and opposition of logo requirements
Of course, if a given candidate or politician would support the initiative, then this would imply that he has nothing at all to fear from embracing financial transparency, insofar as they are not accepting money from anyone who would compromise their reputation or status with potential voters.
The main values behind the proposed initiative are exemplified in the very name of the advocacy group California Is Not for Sale. This group argues that insofar as politicians within California are being supported by “big money,” the politicians representing the citizens of the state would have a vested interest in working in favor of the interests of those donors and not in the interests of the citizens themselves.
In an almost literal sense, this would mean that those politicians are selling the state of California to the highest bidder, without truly considering the interests of the people of California themselves. The proposed initiative would prevent such a state of affairs from developing by making potential voters directly aware of exactly what interests are funding any given politician within the state.
Pandering to donors and allowing them to dictate or accelerate a candidate’s chances to win the election is not a new prospect. Donors have funneled millions into candidates’ campaign accounts. Until recently, this was not publicly announced or taken credit for in the media. Most candidates chose not to acknowledge that big business donated for fear of being accused of bribery. The recent changes show that times have changed from the early 1900s elections to current elections.
Origins of the donor logo initiative
The proposed initiative emerged from a man named John Cox. According to Wedler, Cox:
“is an entrepreneur from San Diego and long-time advocate of reforming the California legislature, which is rife with scandal and corruption. The legislature has been plagued with multiple ethics violations and hearings, and last year, members of the governing body flew to Maui to meet with corporate executives and union bosses, who funded the trip by funneling funds through a non-profit organization” (paragraph 3).
Cox is thus a private citizen who makes a business out of supporting winning ideas; and from his observations of governance within the state of California, he has clearly determined that the idea of proposing that legislators within the state wear the logos of their main donors is in fact such an idea.
Interestingly, Cox himself would seem to be a wealthy Republican. The initiative thus did not emerge with partisan motives. Indeed, this is made clear by the fact that Cox has sought the support of both the Trump campaign and Sanders for the initiative. Cox is thus a private citizen who makes a business out of supporting winning ideas.
From his observations of governance within the state of California, he has clearly determined that the idea of proposing that legislators within the state wear the logos of their main donors is such an idea. Interestingly, Cox himself would seem to be a wealthy Republican. The initiative thus did not emerge with partisan motives. Indeed, this is made clear by the fact that Cox has sought the support of both Trump and Sanders for the initiative.
Significance of the initiative and impact on elections
The significance of the initiative that is being discussed here is strongly connected to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2009 case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In this case, the Court determined that it is legal for PACS and lobbyists to essentially provide unlimited amounts of money to politicians and candidates, on the grounds that spending money is a form of speech, and that it would be unconstitutional to limit free speech by imposing restrictions on this kind of spending.
Some conservatives have hailed this decision as a victory for liberty from the undue interference of the government in private matters; on the other hand, progressives have generally condemned this ruling as a gross violation of the actual intent of the Constitution and the laws of the nation (Cole). In any case, the significance of the initiative to make politicians in California wear donor logos cannot be understood independently from this legal decision.
In all fairness, it would seem that the progressives would seem to have the better point in this situation. The Supreme Court’s decision was based on an interpretation of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States that qualifies corporations and special interest groups as “persons” for all legal intent and purpose.
Misunderstood Amendment used to justify logo requirement
The actual amendment in question was originally passed not in order to protect the rights of corporations, but rather to protect the rights of Black people in the aftermath of the Civil War and the abolition of the institution of slavery. It is quite clearly congruent with neither the spirit nor the letter of this legal provision to interpret it to mean that corporations can make unlimited investments in the campaigns of politicians, and thereby essentially buy those politicians and ensure that the politicians act and vote in accordance with the corporate agendas.
This would seem to clearly constitute a serious misinterpretation of the nature of free speech listed in the Bill of Rights, insofar as there can be no real free speech at the level of politics within a democratic society without working toward ensuring that the representatives of the citizens of the nation cannot be bought by special interests.
In this context, the proposed initiative in California that politicians be made to wear the logos of their top sponsors could be seen as an important counterbalance and corrective to the implications of the Supreme Court ruling in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The main idea is that perhaps politicians can now legally receive unlimited funding from any number of major stakeholders.
But on the other hand, those politicians will also be forced to clearly disclose the sources of their own funding to the voters that they will work to court over the course of their campaigns and careers. In a way, this could be understood as an effort to balance the value of free speech with the value of transparency, and thereby actually hold politicians accountable for the “speech” to which they are listening most closely (i.e. the sources of money to which they are most beholden).
Moral implications and future voting
The main moral criticism that could be made of the proposed initiative in California to make politicians wear donor logos is that it constitutes a kind of violation of the rights to privacy and free association on the part of the politicians. As a free citizen, it could be suggested that a politician should be able to fraternize with whomever he wants, and that this would really be none of anyone else’s business.
Of course, if the principle that people should publicly wear the sources of their money were to be universalized to the general citizenry of the United States, then this would clearly seem tantamount to a kind of fascism: individual persons in a free society would be fully correct in expecting the right to keep such matters private. Insofar as a politician is a private citizen like any other, it could be argued that it is also inappropriate to force politicians into wearing such logos on their own persons.
Moral judgments and responsibility
On the other hand, however, this line of argument ignores the crucial point that greater power entails greater moral responsibility and that the power to politically represent a citizenry thereby implies a greater responsibility of transparency than is held by the ordinary citizen who only represents himself. Essentially, when citizens elect a politician, they are trusting him to represent their desires and interests in as effective a way and with as much fidelity as possible.
Therefore, the argument can clearly be made that there is nothing wrong with those citizens expecting their potential representatives to make a full disclosure of any conflicts of interests that may prevent those representatives from fulfilling their duties and obligations in an optimal way. In short, if accepting unlimited sums of money can be regarded as a form of free speech, then it seems reasonable that the obligation to disclose what has been talked about should be part of the standard responsibilities of what it means to be a politician within a democratic society.
In summary, the present essay has consisted of a discussion of the proposal that politicians in California be made to wear the logos of their main donors. The essay has considered the proposal itself, its origins, and its significance; and it has also formulated a recommendation regarding the proposal. The main point that has been made here is that as matters currently stand, politicians have an extravagant capacity to draw large amounts of money from unspecified donors and also to keep that information confidential from the citizens whom they are courting for votes. In a word, this is unfair. It also contradicts the basic values underlying a democratic society. The California initiative should thus be passed.
California Is Not for Sale. 2016. Web. 12 Mar. 2016. http://www.californiaisnotforsale.com.
Cole, David. “How to Reverse Citizens United.” The Atlantic. Apr. 2016. Web. 12 Mar. 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/how-to-reverse-citizens-united/471504/.
Nelson, Steven. “Politicians May Have to Wear Donor Logos in California.” U.S. News & World Report. 30 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015- 12-30/politicians-may-have-to-wear-donor-logos-in-california.
Richardson, Valerie. “Californian’s Ballot Initiative Would Require Legislators to Wear Logos of Top 10 Contributors.” Washington Times. 26 Nov. 2015. Web. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/nov/26/john-cox-california-entrepreneur-proposes-donor-lo/?page=all.
Supreme Court. “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.” Oyez, 2009. Web. 12 Mar. 2016. https://www.oyez.org/cases/2008/08-205.
Wedler, Carey. “California Politicians Could Soon Be Forced to Wear Logos of Top Corporate Donors.” Anti-Media. 28 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016. http://theantimedia.org/california-politicians-could-soon-be-forced-to-wear-logos-of-top-corporate-donors/.
United States. “U.S. Constitution: Amendments XI-XXVII.” Constitution. Avalon Project, 2016. Web. 12 Mar. 2016. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/amend1.asp#14.