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Ask Auntie Pinko
June 3, 2004

Dear Auntie Pinko,

With all the money that George Soros has given to political groups, do you think that he is a threat to democracy?

Wayne, MI

Dear Murray,

In Auntie Pinko's opinion, any time money is exchanged for influence on the outcome of elections, the potential exists for a threat to democracy. This is true whether it is Mr. Soros on the left, or Mr. Scaife on the right. The potential is always there, unless we are vigilant in ensuring that the playing field is sufficiently leveled that no cabal or individual has a disproportionate amount of influence.

At the same time, the restriction of individuals' rights to express their political opinions and attempt to influence their fellow-citizens is also undesirable. There is no perfect answer that will settle the matter equitably for all time. Rather, it's a complicated cycle that includes many elements:

(1.) Constantly working to build a public consensus about our comfort threshold on the issue of money in the democratic process;

(2.) Keeping a vigilant eye on the "big picture"of how money is affecting the democratic process;

(3.) When the "comfort threshold" is crossed, developing a regulatory remedy that will re-open the process and re-level the playing field on a new basis;

(4.) Monitoring the inevitable process of people learning how to subvert or circumvent that regulatory remedy (because it will always happen, eventually); and

(5.) Starting all over again from (1.)

The damage done by money in the political process does not relate to the agendas of the people with the money. Rather, the problem is posed by ensuring that the interests and agendas of those citizens who do not have millions to spend receive similar consideration in the political process. Without a concerted attempt to keep the playing field level, we run the risk of becoming an oligarchy of wealth, rather than a representative republic governed by democratic process.

This issue, like many others, is part of the cycle of American political life. The problem manifests itself, concern builds, attempts are made to alleviate it until a sufficient level of comfort is restored, and the problem "goes away" for a time, only to recur in the same pattern later.

Mr. Soros, like Mr. Scaife, represents his giving as motivated by a desire to maintain some kind of ideological parity in the influence of money. It is a powerful argument, since the wobbly wheel of the American political cycle only functions effectively when there is strength on both sides of the spectrum to keep it in balance. If one side of the equation is silenced, the wheel is at risk of falling - which is perhaps a worse risk than the risks attached to the continuing money/influence/reform cycle.

No voice - left or right - should be silenced. At the moment, when we are in the part of the cycle where money's influence is very high and our mechanisms to level the field are very ineffective, we should count ourselves fortunate that there are wealthy individuals of many different viewpoints to keep a wide range of issues and views effective in the political process.

It is not enough - there are important issues and views that are still not being heard because the money is not there to get them heard. But until we have better mechanisms to purge money from the system for a while, it is reassuring that the variety is there. Is it damaging to democracy? Certainly. But until we can achieve some level of reform, the greater risk lies in attempts to limit the influence of money to only that which flows from one side of the ideological spectrum.

Our job is to let our legislators know that the cycle has passed our comfort threshold, and we will hold them accountable for acting - coming up with new ways to limit the influence of money, while preserving as much freedom of speech as possible. It will only be a temporary expedient, but it is long overdue. Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko, Murray!

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