Posts Tagged ‘faux populism’

What is a “Special Interest?”

In a daily mailing from Silicon Valley Mercury News, the following blurb caught my attention:

The predicted flood of money behind Proposition 23 has yet to materialize. With barely more than two weeks to the election, opponents of the controversial ballot measure to suspend California’s landmark global warming legislation have far outpaced the proponents in fundraising. As of Thursday, the No on 23 campaign — a coalition that includes environmentalists, venture capitalists, social justice groups and some of Silicon Valley’s hottest cleantech companies — had raised $19.6 million while Yes on 23 had raised $9.1 million.

It was the innocuous description of those raising money to defeat the proposition that stood out.  They are a “coalition” not “special interests.”  It reminded me of something I once read (believed to be from George Will but couldn’t be found) that can be paraphrased: A special interest is a group that contributes to the other guy’s campaign. Those who contribute to mine are constituents.

To be fair, the full article includes this quote:

“It appears that the billionaire hedge fund manager and the venture capitalists — some from California, some from other states — who are bankrolling the No on 23 campaign have decided that defeating Proposition 23 is a good investment that will reap them huge returns,” [spokeswoman for Yes on 23] Mangels said. “Investing in No on 23 is the ultimate self-interested political ploy that will help the rich campaign contributors get richer and make it even harder for struggling California families to make ends meet.”

The article lists Thomas Steyer (hedge fund), John Doerr (and wife Ann) (venture capital), and Vinod Khosla (venture capital) as 3 of the top 4 contributors against prop 23, having given $8 million to the cause. There is no hand-wringing about the probable self-interest of the donors at the expense of regular California citizens.  There is no hue and cry over “special interests” buying our democracy.

There should be yet another layer concern.  Presumably the listing of John and Anna Doerr is because that money came from their foundation.  If so, those are tax advantaged funds paid, likely, to protect vested commercial interests. The probable “defense” of all this monied influence would be that the self-interest is incidental, that the intent is serving the “public interest.” Should that be blindly accepted?

I submit the reason for the blind eye is not simple hypocrisy, but willful ignorance.  If you think you can have a government that limits rent seeking only to those causes you approve, and that such monied influence can be kept benign, than you know nothing of human nature, nor the history of government.  Some would probably argue that lower carbon emissions are an unmitigated public good, the benefits to be enjoyed by all.  Tell that to the people who lose their jobs.

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