Don’t second-guess yourself…
By now, most folks in the tech world have learned about the controversy surrounding a donation to an anti-gay-marriage organization by Mozilla’s new CEO. The controversy around that is being robustly discussed elsewhere, but it’s made me think hard about the issue of “clean money” and the conflict between transparency and anonymity.
I may down on this by the end of this post, but let me start from the a position of individual liberty: It’s a violation of a person’s rights to have the government surveil and record acts of political speech, which includes donating money to chosen political causes. If I purchased $1000 worth of paper, markers and sticks, and made a pile of yard signs to support a cause or candidate and then gave those to passers by, should I be required to register this act with a government agency? What if I paid my out-of-work friend to help me? What if I gave $1000 to a like-minded campaigner to do it for me?
At the other end of this spectrum is the corrupt situation we’re in today: Money that supports political campaigns comes in no small part from corporate special interests, and it’s not easy for a voter to understand where politicians get their money, and thus who is going to have influence about how our government functions.
Maybe the solution is to draw a hard line between corporation and individuals…or so the thinking goes. I question this rationale for several reasons. If I want to open a issue-oriented hot dog stand and put my profits towards a political candidate, what right does anybody have to tell me that I can’t do that? Large corporations may not be hot dog stands, but they are by definition good at acting in their own financial best interests, and even if you could convince me that there’s a moral way to disallow corporate speech, I don’t think that there’s a practical way to do it: Money finds a way of getting whether it “needs” to go despite rules to the contrary. If corporations can’t speak, the money will find a way to things that can…I think it’s a hopeless game of cat and mouse, and frankly I’m glad the game was lost more quickly with the Citizens United decision because it means we might be able to work on a real solution more quickly instead of just band-aids.
This is a classic battle between a real-world problem that desperately needs to be fixed and a natural right that is at risk of being violated if you try.
I’m inclined to think that honoring the rights of individuals to anonymously speak is worth going to great lengths to protect, and I therefore think that the right thing for our country to do is to adopt public financing of elections…not because it’s going to result in a radical change of who’s in office in the short term, but because it means that those who do hold office don’t have the same incentives they would otherwise have to please their campaign funders.
And let’s not forget to mention changing our voting system.
Short version: The passport office near where I live is so understaffed, people are expected to line up outside on Saturday morning at 7AM so they can take a number when it opens hours later. I was so stunned I created a petition on Whitehouse.gov about it.
Long version: I also wrote to my representatives (Lofgren in the house, Feinstein and Boxer in the Senate):
Thank you X,Y,Z for your service to our country. I was stunned by what I saw at the Willow Glen passport office (1750 Meridian Ave, San Jose, CA) this past Saturday (March 15, 2014), and I’m writing to make sure my representatives are aware of the situation and hoping that this awareness will spur them to act.
I went to mail a package on Saturday morning about 10:15 with my two daughters. We walked by the passport office (a separate entrance, but part of the same building the post office is in), and I saw that there were signs on the door…I figured that perhaps someone was out due to illness or something. When I went in to mail my package, I asked the postal employee what was happening over at the passport office. They said there had been “cutbacks” that reduced the number of clerks to only 1, and that all passport appointments were consumed for the day. She went on to say that if I ever needed something from the passport office, I should plan to arrive at 7 in the morning and stand in line for hours until the office opened.
Passport offices are an important resource for all Americans, and it’s a mark against our country that it would be so overwhelmed with customers that it would take hours and hours for a family to perform a routine task. I’m especially saddened at how this harms working people who cannot necessarily take time off work during the week.
This lack of appropriate staffing hurts not only employees and customers, but it also damages the standing of the United States abroad by making it more difficult for US citizens to travel and positively represent the American people to the world community.
I would appreciate any efforts you could make, especially in partnership with your colleagues from across the isle, to study and remedy this situation hastily. Thank you again for your service to our country and best wishes.