Jeb Bush

Can We Afford To Talk About Campaign Finance Reform Without Talking About Voting Rights?

voting rights campaign finance

On a sunny Saturday earlier this year, I stood across the street from Town Hall Seattle on an oil-stained driveway in front of a condo building I’ll never be able to afford as a man in Transitions® Lenses shouted at me about how Bernie Sanders was going to get money out of politics.

“He’s going to overturn Citizens United!” the man, who was caucusing for Sanders, yelled at our precinct. “He’s going to make sure that corporations can’t buy elections anymore!”

“And then what?” I asked.

“And then the billionaires can’t buy elections anymore!” the man stated triumphantly to applause.

That wasn’t exactly what I was asking.

This campaign promise has been a keystone for Sanders (Hillary Clinton’s campaign has stumbled on this talking point but has been refining it as the race trundles on) and it clearly resonated deeply with this man. On his campaign site, Sanders outlines his hope for the nation:

Our vision for American democracy should be a nation in which all people, regardless of their income, can participate in the political process, can run for office without begging for contributions from the wealthy and the powerful.

Which is, of course, an extremely great goal—but, in the absence of a plan to address another huge, looming issue that’s aggressively threatening democracy, it feels a little hollow. What I wanted to ask the man at my caucus, and what I’m still wondering about, is this: If you spend all of your energy rallying to get money out of politics, but at no point work to get more people involved in politics, what is the end result?

Or, put more simply: Can we afford to talk about campaign finance reform without talking about voting rights?

Interestingly, in August of 2015, Bernie Sanders has addressed this question directly:

We are facing a two-pronged attack on our democracy — unlimited money poured into the political process, paired with the systematic suppression of the vote.

These are two sides of the same coin.

This is so true! This is a great platform! This is a message that is extremely important! However, as the campaign has heated up, this side of the coin appears to have fallen away; on his main Issues page now, voting rights and attacks on voter suppression efforts are nowhere to be seen.

The idea of getting all people, regardless of their income, involved in politics is a paramount goal for true democracy—however, as long as we’re barring huge numbers of voters from registering, casting ballots, or running for office, it kind of doesn’t matter how much money is or isn’t being poured into campaigns because there will be neither the voters nor the candidates necessary to support or mount those campaigns. 

There are plenty of examples of times when millionaires and billionaires have tried to buy elections, only to find that it can’t always be done because voters are autonomous human beings with needs and desires and wishes.

Allow us to leap into our time machines to the halcyon days of 2015, long before anyone thought that a man with tiny hands and big dreams of bigotry as policy would ever be leading the pack. Here’s a bit from a piece in the Nation in May of last year:

A few weeks after Texas Senator Ted Cruz announced his candidacy, his Super PAC took in $31 million, thanks to the support of Long Island hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer. Florida Senator Marco Rubio has won a $10 million pledge to his Super PAC from the billionaire Miami auto dealer Norman Braman. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been asking donors to give $1 million a pop to his Super PAC, which expects to bring in $100 million by end of May, the most ever for an unannounced candidate this early in the process.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we now have a new piece of information, which is that Ted Cruz is trailing in delegates and Marco Rubio and Jeb! Bush have both already bowed out. Which goes to show that yes, campaign finance is serious business—but it’s also actually not enough to buy elections when the electorate isn’t interested in what you’re selling.

Jeb! serves as an easy example of this; in February, the Huffington Post calculated that his campaign spent about $2,800 per vote in Iowa just to come in sixth. From the piece:

That’s about 18 times as much money as first-place winner Ted Cruz spent for each vote he received. It’s also 34 times as much as silver medalist Donald Trump spent, and 10 times the amount spent by third-place winner Marco Rubio.

Yes, he outspent the eventual frontrunner for the GOP nomination (who’s basically funding his own campaign and making oodles of money doing it) by a factor of more than 30—just to lose spectacularly.

No amount of money seems to be able to slow the Trump Train; GOP superPACs are funneling tens of millions of dollars into anti-Trump ads and campaigns while his image improves and Cruz’s continues to nosedive.

The message of these examples is clear: Some campaigns are simply so power (or so wretched) that no amount of money can net the desired results.

This isn’t to say that campaign finance reform isn’t absolutely necessary—it is. Congressional leaders are required to do so much fundraising just to stay competitive that they are able to do very little actual lawmaking.

Candidates raise literal billions of dollars, most of which is spent funneling money into your local TV news station; according to Harper’s, “a week before this year’s New Hampshire primary, the contending campaigns had already spent $100 million there on TV ads.” Fundraisers, phone calls, door knocking, and other methods of squeezing money out of people are so time-consuming that legislators may not have time to show up and vote on bills. Which is clearly a problem.

There’s also the very apparent issue of dark money and shady campaign contribution practices; even with stronger campaign finance laws on the books, it would be silly to assume that organizations like ALEC would suddenly become lawful and compliant. Instead, what’s more likely is that the end result of many campaign finance reform policies will be that extremely wealthy contributors will just get craftier in how they work around them.

Which means that by focusing completely on “getting money out of politics”—and by dropping that nuanced but extremely salient connection between voting rights and campaign finance—we’re missing that entire other side to this conversation. We are failing to ask what that money even buys, and whose vote exists to be bought. Even in the event of total campaign finance reform, voter suppression—whether in the form of policies which make voting difficult or impossible, or through gerrymandering that all but ensures legislative district strongholds—will continue to plague the Democratic party and the left’s ability to get anything done or anyone elected.

There is a sort of chicken/egg issue at play, of course. A campaign finance system which benefits moneyed interests and helps them plant lawmakers who bend to their wishes and write policies which benefit them directly makes it difficult to pass voting rights reform—while voting rights reform can help take the wind out of the sails of even the most well-funded campaign.

That said, while it’s extremely difficult to expand voting rights, it’s certainly not impossible; between 1996 and 2008, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 28 states passed new laws on felon voting rights. All things told, the majority of states now re-enfranchise felons once their time is served (with a lot of other restrictions, including financial hurdles that are downright undemocratic)—and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe just recently announced his decision to restore the voting rights of over 200,000 felons (though Republicans announced today that they’d be filing a lawsuit to attempt to block him).

Meanwhile, new voting restrictions are being passed every year under the guise of “fending off voter fraud.” This year, 17 states will require voters to present ID just to vote, which disproportionately impacts turnout among African American folks and younger people. And despite boasting a Democratic Governor and House of Representatives, Washington State’s proposed Voting Rights Act—which would have allowed cities and counties to re-district based in a more egalitarian way, essentially ensuring that they could actually elect a representative body of officials—died on the floor in the 2016 session.

Why does this all matter? For Democrats, doubling down on the expansion of voting rights means literally increasing the number of people who can turn out and vote for their candidates and issues, regardless of how much money the opposition spends.

A 2003 study found that “survey data suggest that Democratic candidates would have received about seven out of every ten votes cast by this disenfranchised population in 14 of the last 15 Senate election years.” We’ve also seen the way that fights to make voting more inclusive have netted direct results; a years-long battle in Yakima, Washington, last year produced the city’s first Latina City Councilmembers in the city’s history.

Voter suppression can also shield lawmakers from unpopular decisions, ensuring that even largely-reviled policies aren’t enough to unseat them. In North Carolina, where HB2 (the trans bathroom bill that also preempts minimum wage increases by cities) is drawing international backlash, Congressional leaders may be able to weather the storm, according to a professor at North Carolina State University:

About 90 percent of the legislators that voted for the bill either face no challengers in their elections this fall or won their last election by more than 10 percentage points. In North Carolina, both parties have embraced gerrymandering — the drawing of election districts for partisan advantage — to such a degree that most incumbents face no challenge. For many, re-filing is effectively the same as being re-elected.

Which again, makes an important point: Regardless of spending on any side of a campaign, if the voters can’t show up to vote and have their votes be counted, it really doesn’t matter who’s funding what. And on the state level, that’s an extremely pressing issue.

Yes, I used two John Oliver clips because they are both relevant. 

Some of the worst laws we’ve seen come out of states—Indiana’s religious freedom act that legalizes discrimination against LGBTQ folks, the various TRAP laws and others which restrict abortion access or straight-up make abortions illegal—are the result not of big money being heaped upon these candidates, but rather, districts which make even running in one of these races a fool’s errand. From a 2014 piece in Mother Jones about Alabama (a state which is currently fighting against minimum wage increases):

One district in Montgomery—nearly 72 percent black and already represented by an African American Democratic senator—needed an additional 16,000 residents to make up for population loss since 2000. GOP map makers reconfigured the district to add 15,785 new residents. Only 36 of those new residents were white. While working hard to add every possible black voter in the vicinity to the district, legislators moved white people out of the district and creatively drew the map to exclude a majority-white area of Montgomery. The impact of the segregated redistricting on this month’s election was stark: The number of white Democrats in the state Senate fell from four to one.

On the other side of the districting issue is California who just recently managed to get a minimum wage increase through all of their legislature and out of the Governor’s office in no small part because of the anti-gerrymandering work by Democrats several years ago.

Because while money in politics certainly matters, in the absence of policies which ensure that voters can actually turn out and vote for people who look like them and care about the same issues as them and push the legislation that benefits them, campaign finance reform is extremely limited in its capabilities.

It would be great to “get big money out of politics” and make it so that “billionaires can’t buy elections,” but like basically everything else in politics, it’s simply not that simple. If we’re truly serious about shaking apart a broken system, we have to look at every side of every issue—and the other side of the campaign finance issue is voting rights.

It’s the Productivity, Stupid (or Why Rising Wages Drive Economic Growth)

WalmartI agree 100 percent with Forbes blogger Tim Worstall. No, not with his blind faith in the divine wisdom of the free market, or with his pioneering use of intra-word semicolons. I simply agree with Worstall’s belated acknowledgement that higher wages lead to higher productivity:

Costco pays very much higher wages than Walmart. It also employs about half the amount of labor per volume of sales. Costco is therefore simply in a different model along that same spectrum of trading off hourly productivity against hourly wages. And note the obvious point here: Costco pays much better but also uses many fewer labor hours. And as Walmart moves along that same spectrum of possible labor models it is facing exactly the same calculation. Raise the wages in order to get more productive staff and the very point and purpose of what you’re doing is to reduce the number of labor hours you must purchase.

Of course, this is part of what we’ve always argued when we’ve insisted that a higher minimum wage won’t inevitably lead to some combination of higher prices, lower profits, worse service, and/or shuttered businesses. There are real benefits that accrue to employers in moving toward a higher wage business model, two of which include lower rates of turnover and higher rates of productivity.

Higher productivity—even according to traditional economics, that’s a good thing, right? Indeed, throughout the course of US history (if in fits and starts), the steadily rising productivity of the American worker has helped to lift living standards for us all.

And yet, from his headline—”Of Course Walmart Cut Hours After Raising Pay–What Did You Expect?”—Worstall seems to imply that rising productivity is actually bad for Walmart workers? Weird.

The implied threat is that if workers are more productive, Walmart will need less of them, meaning a higher wage will at least indirectly cost some Walmart workers their jobs. It’s a more nuanced argument than the old “if the cost of labor rises businesses will purchase less of it” meme that minimum wage opponents usually put forth, but it still oversimplifies what is actually happening on the ground at companies like Costco and Walmart.

You see, Costco’s higher-wage model doesn’t just deliver substantially higher sales per employee than Walmart, it also delivers substantially higher sales per store and sales per square foot. But more importantly for the purpose of this discussion, year after year, Costco’s same-store sales growth is consistently higher than Walmart’s—7 percent versus 3.5 percent in the most recent quarter. And even though Costco requires fewer employees per unit of sales, the faster Costco grows sales, the faster it adds workers. And the same dynamic should hold true for Walmart, at least once it fully realizes the productivity enhancements that naturally come from employing a more experienced, loyal, and competitively compensated workforce.

Thus when Worstall concludes that “the very point and purpose” of what Walmart is doing is “to reduce the number of labor hours you must purchase,” he’s actually missing the point entirely. Yes, a more productive workforce means Walmart will need fewer labor hours per unit of sales. But sales are not static. In fact, rather than lowering labor costs, the very point and purpose of what Walmart is doing is to increase same-store sales.

Worstall describes the wage/productivity calculation as a “trad[e] off” between wages and jobs, but this isn’t a zero-sum game at either the micro- or macroeconomic level. After all, there’s a reason why Republicans are running on economic growth: because economic growth is how we generate jobs. “That will be my goal as president,” Jeb!™ absurdly promised back in June, “4 percent growth, and the 19 million new jobs that come with it.” Okay, whatever. Still, GDP growth is mostly a function of change in the size of the workforce plus change in productivity. The more we increase productivity, the more the economy grows. And the bigger the economy, the more jobs.

So if (as Worstall correctly argues) higher wages drives higher productivity, and higher productivity drives economic growth, and economic growth drives the creation of new jobs—then logically, higher wages must drive the creation of new jobs. Worstall can’t have it both ways. Rising productivity can’t simultaneously increase and decrease net employment. And since over the history of market capitalism rising productivity has generally led to more jobs, higher wages, and higher living standards, I’m guessing it’s the former.

Interestingly, the whole implied threat in Worstall’s wages argument is identical to the threat at the heart of the “robots are coming for your jobs” meme: rising productivity is somehow bad for workers. (That is the whole point of automation, after all—to increase productivity.) But in the long term, at the macroeconomic level, this dystopian vision of productivity as a job-killer simply cannot come true… at least not in any economic, social, or political system remotely similar to the one we live in today.

In our current economy, productivity drives growth, and growth creates jobs. That’s how it works at Costco. That’s how it works at Walmart. And that’s how it works in the economy at large.

What Is It that Jeb Bush Doesn’t Understand About “Keep Your Government Hands Off My Medicare”…?

Responding to a question at a forum hosted by the ironically named Americans for Prosperity, presidential wannabe Jeb Bush made clear that Republicans have learned absolutely nothing from former VP candidate Paul Ryan’s stupid proposal to scrap Medicare“We need to figure out a way to phase out this program” and replace it with something, Jeb!™ earnestly argued, providing fodder for endless Democratic attack ads (assuming “the smart Bush” manages to get as far as the general election).

Um… what exactly is it that Jeb!™ and his Republican cohort don’t get about “Keep your government hands off my Medicare”…?

Not sure Jeb!™ really wants to be running as the "Phase Out Medicare" candidate.

Not sure Jeb!™ really wants to be running as the “Phase Out Medicare” candidate, but whatever.

I guess, kudos to Jeb!™ for not hiding his intentions, but running as the “Phase Out Medicare” candidate is just stupid politics, at least in the general election. Americans love Medicare, especially the aging white Americans who disproportionately comprise the Republican base. In fact, they love it so much, that Republicans cynically painted Obamacare as a threat to Medicare in an effort to stir up opposition to health care reform.

And now Jeb!™ wants to phase it out? Sure, like Ryan, Jeb!™ insists that he would preserve Medicare for folks who already receive it, but if millions of seniors could be convinced to fear Obamacare as a slippery slope toward phasing out Medicare, what’re they going to think about a proposal that actually, you know, phases out Medicare?

So yeah, not a smart political move. But more than that, it’s a stupid, stupid policy.

The reason we created Medicare to provide health insurance to elderly Americans in the first place is that there’s no possible way to effectively do it through the market. You see, the way insurance works is that it pools risk, and this is a pool filled entirely with old people!

During college I worked my summers as a lifeguard at a pool filled with old people, and you know what I learned? Old people tend to be frail. They get injured. They get sick. They sometimes pee in the pool. Not to be ageist or anything, but they get very, very old.

Okay, different kind of pool, but the point remains: old people consume a lot of expensive health care. Thus, the only way to turn a profit offering primary health insurance to old people is to charge a premium higher than most old people can afford—which means there really isn’t a way to turn a profit offering primary health insurance to old people.

That’s why the government needs to do it. Unless Jeb!™ is just fine with letting millions of old people do without.

Finally, I’d just like to add a very personal and admittedly selfish objection to The Ryan/Bush Medicare Phase-Out Plan, in that I really, really, really don’t want to emigrate to Israel. (Stick with me.)

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Jeb Bush “100% Wrong” on Overtime, Economists Say

Met Jeb

His campaign website really wants you to know that Jeb!™ takes selfies at diners, just like everybody else! And it turns out, his understanding of basic economics is just as ordinary.

Jeb!™ has long been billed as “the smart Bush,” which turns out not to be a very high bar judging from the GOP frontrunner’s tenuous grasp on economics.

First there was Jeb!™’s clueless prescription for 4 percent growth: “People need to work longer hours,” he told the New Hampshire Union Leader, apparently oblivious to the fact that Americans report working longer hours and taking fewer vacation days than workers in any other developed nation. And then there is his bizarre insistence that expanding overtime pay would result in “less overtime pay,” “less wages earned,” and fewer jobs.

And it’s not just smart-ass bloggers like Paul and I who think Jeb!™ is talking kinda stupid. According to The Guardian, economists from across the spectrum think he “should be embarrassed” by his recent overtime claims:

Numerous economists attacked Bush’s statement, calling him woefully misinformed. And several studies on the rule contradict Bush’s assertion that the overtime rules would “lessen the number of people working”.

Daniel Hamermesh, a University of Texas labor economist, said: “He’s just 100% wrong,” adding that “there will be more overtime pay and more total earnings” and “there’s a huge amount of evidence employers will use more workers”.

It’s a consensus joined by the not-so-lefty economists at Wall Street kraken Goldman Sachs, who estimate the higher overtime threshold would create 120,000 new jobs, and corroborated by the overtime-rule-hating National Retail Federation, which bemoans that the proposed rule would force employers to hire 117,500 new part-time workers in the restaurant and retail industries alone.

Oops.

Republicans like to defend the tenets of trickle-down (that lower taxes, fewer regulations, and smaller government is the only path toward growth and prosperity) by rolling their eyes and exclaiming: “It’s Econ 101!” As if taking an introductory economics course 40-some years ago during one’s beer-addled freshman year of college is qualification enough for running our nation’s economy.

If Jeb!™ wants to maintain his reputation as the smart Bush, he better get himself some better economic advisors. And listen to them.

Jeb Bush Rushes Out Video Claiming He’ll Repeal and Replace Obamacare

After this morning’s excellent news that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of keeping Obamacare, Jeb Bush has doubled down on negativity. In fact, he just released the above video, succinctly titled “This Is Not the End of the Fight Against ObamaCare.” It seems that Bush will try to pick up where Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign left off: with a charge to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The thing that really bugs me about Bush’s video is that it’s built on an untruth. In the middle of the video, Bush says “any family will tell you that the premiums have gone up” on insurance since Obamacare was implemented. This is just not true, but Bush allows for a certain amount of disingenuousness by couching his claim in the language that “any family will tell you” that the premiums have increased. It’s a clever little trick.

Jeb Bush's Official Portrait But in a broader sense, I’m annoyed that Bush is still ringing the “repeal and replace” bell. Today’s ruling should have marked the end of that particular gambit. Republicans have had seven years to create and present a viable replacement for Obamacare. None of them have done so. In fact, the closest thing to a proposal for a Republican Obamacare replacement I’ve ever heard of came directly from Jeb Bush, and it was a stupid, untenable system that, interpreted the right way, could result in the creation of a single-payer catastrophic emergency room care program for the poorest Americans.

Do Republicans honestly intend to run on repeal and replace again in 2016? If so, this is a baffling decision. While the Affordable Care Act continues to be unpopular, most of the elements of the law are overwhelmingly popular. If Republicans were to somehow repeal Obamacare, the American people would notice that they are being dropped from plans for having pre-existing conditions, for example, or that women are being charged more than men. Then, they’d (rightly) blame the Republicans for taking those benefits away. It seems hard to believe that Republicans would want to rebuild America’s health care system for the second time in a decade. Plenty of people speculate that Republicans don’t really want to repeal Obamacare, but that they’re more than happy to capitalize on the crowds that anti-Obama sentiment delivers to them. As Romney proved in 2012, those crowds are loud but they’re not large enough to win an election.

The Media Obsesses Over Jeb Bush’s Diet Tips

"Mister President! Mister President! How many calories are in that turkey?"

“Mister President! Mister President! How many calories are in that turkey?”

Look, I’ve worked in the media during a presidential campaign. I know what it’s like. You get swept up in the craziness of it all, and sometimes your good sense goes out the window. You forget that these politicians are trying to be leader of the free world and you start to think of it as some sort of weird sport. The next thing you know, you’re cranking out one thousand words about Rick Santorum’s love of sweater vests and you haven’t thought about a real issue in a week and a half.

But it’s a little early for this kind of zaniness to seep into presidential coverage: the New York Times‘s Michael Barbaro has written a long story about Jeb Bush going on the Paleo diet.

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