From the manichean perspective of some Republicans and libertarians, the ongoing debate over campaign-finance regulation is a struggle between the private sector and the "political class." For those who support unlimited donations to candidates or other political causes, spending money is the only way private citizens can overcome the otherwise overwhelming advantage incumbent politicians enjoy in dominating public discourse. The only reason to limit private or corporate donations, from this perspective, is to prevent the private sector from raising legitimate challenges to the dogmas and failed policies of the political class. This viewpoint presumes a dependable solidarity within the private sector vis-a-vis the political class. The presumption is undermined by an op-ed in which Cynthia DeBartolo, a CEO and current chair of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, calls for stricter limits on campaign donations.
In DeBartolo's case, whatever solidarity may exist within the private sector (against excessive taxes, excessive regulation, etc.) is outweighed by the private-sector norm of competition. She opposes unlimited campaign donations because she believes that some businesses will use donations to influence legislation in their favor, if not at the expense of competitors. From her perspective, the campaign-finance debate doesn't break along private sector/public sector lines, but along big business/small business lines. "Voters across the state are concerned about their lack of a real voice in Albany," she writes, "Small-
and medium-sized business, like the ones I represent, also worry their
needs get overlooked in the shadow of jumbo contributions. To fix
Albany, New York's business community needs to come together to support
Here is a businesswoman who seems to have a more realistic idea of how politics works than those libertarian purists who claim to speak for the business class. The purists envision a private sector ever on the defensive against a political class whose hunger for power is a sufficient motive for any legislation that appears to hamper free economic competition. As a CEO, DeBartolo presumably is involved in economic competition on a daily basis, yet her presumption is that businesses are not passive victims of power-mad politicians but competitors ever tempted to use their wealth to influence politics to their competitive advantage. Her conclusion: "We cannot continue to foster a system that risks elevating businesses
with the best political connections above those with the best business
practices." She claims that 72% of New York State's "business leaders" support her preferred option, in which government matches small private contributions with public funds for candidates. She argues that New York City has enjoyed an economic boom that can be traced to its early implementation of that policy. I'm not sure whether that can be proven, but DeBartolo's is a compelling argument that should be taken seriously -- on the understanding that what goes for small employers and big employers also goes for employees and employers in general. Any proposed reform should also make it easier for the working class to have its just share of influence in politics. One hopes that this suggestion won't scare DeBartolo and people like her into redrawing the lines of the debate yet again.