Monday, September 20, 2010

Interstate influence

Consider the following:
  • In 2008, California voters passed Prop 8, which restricted the state's recognition of marriage to that between a man and a woman. 40% of donations that funded the campaign for the proposition came from out of state.
  • In the recently concluded Republican primaries in Alaska, incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski was unexpectedly nudged out by an upstart, Cristine O'DonnellJoe Miller. An often cited force behind the upset is The Tea Party Express, a California based conservative group which supported O'DonnellMiller.
  • In the current campaign in California for Prop 23, which aims to freeze the state's efforts to curb global warming, a key player supporting the campaign is Valero, a Texas-based oil company. It has already poured $4 million into the fight.
What is common in these stories is the influence of out of state players on matters that concern the state. This seems highly inappropriate, but is perfectly constitutional and legal (per current interpretation). Political donations are considered 'free speech' and are thus protected by the First Amendment.

This was mostly recently illustrated by the highly consequential judgment by the Supreme Court that corporate donations to political campaigns may not be restricted by law. Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority:
If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.
One thinks, sooner or later, American polity would have to re-address this issue from the point of view of influence from outside on electoral affairs within a political jurisdiction (perhaps it has already tried; this writer is too lazy to do his due diligence).

Edit: A kind-hearted but caustic-tongued friend points out I got my politicians wrong. My bad, correction made above. How can anyone get Alaska and Delaware mixed up?

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