sebastian on 23 Aug 2000 16:48:20 -0000

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[rohrpost] fwd: <rolux> everyone is making money off elections except the voters


    /*  another very interesting dotcom failure  */

        Wired News

        Close Vote? You Can Bid on It

        by Mark K. Anderson

        3:00 a.m. Aug. 17, 2000 PDT

        This week, as the country endures a second foregone convention,
        a website is gearing up to convert voter cynicism into voter
        income. If citizens do indeed find the choice between Gush and
        Bore meaningless, the proprietors of say, why
        not at least make a little cash on the side?

        That is, after all, the American way.

        "The clearest language is, we're selling votes," said James
        Baumgartner, an MFA student at Troy, New York's Rensselaer
        Polytechnic Institute and founder of Voteauction -- the subject
        of his thesis.

        "The person who raises the most money is the person who almost
        invariably wins," Baumgartner said of the current political
        system. "And they're treating the voter as an end-product, like
        how the television industry treats the viewers.

        "In the current election system, the voter is a product to be
        sold to the corporations. But they're being sold through this
        convoluted method of advertising, consultants, (and) traveling.
        Voteauction is making a more direct line -- the old cutting-out-
        the-middle-man approach."

        It's a ploy that certainly strikes the untrained ear as a
        violation of something -- whether it's election laws or just
        basic democratic values. It's also an eventuality some framers
        of the Constitution feared.

        According to Sheila Krumholz, research director at campaign
        finance watchdog organization Center for Responsive Politics,
        the concept is clever as well as incendiary. "I can't imagine
        that this wouldn't be rife with legal entanglements and cause
        legal appeals," she said.

        Nevertheless, she added, "I think it's really a brilliant ploy
        on their part. Through sarcasm it shows how absurd the system
        is. It tells voters to prize their voting franchise, and yet it
        tells them it's just another commodity."

        Jamin Raskin, a law professor at American University, takes
        Krumholz's reactions further. He noted that, for starters: "For
        someone to facilitate an exchange of money for a vote would in
        most jurisdictions constitute criminal conspiracy."

        However, he added, depending on the cleverness with which
        Voteauction is designed, the site could actually test the limits
        of the Supreme Court's 1976 "money equals speech" ruling.

        "The proposition being tested here is whether the general theory
        that it's OK for money to buy elections extends to money buying
        individual votes," Raskin said. "The insight of the authors is
        that we have now evolved a system in which it's OK for money to
        buy elections, and yet we somehow cling to the fantasy that
        there's something deeply immoral about the purchase of an
        individual vote.

        "It's as if we don't care about the big things -- that is,
        people purchasing public offices. But we obsess over the little
        things -- that is, people buying votes."

        Sign up with Voteauction, and potential vote sellers are
        notified that the Voteauction legal agreement (still being
        hammered out) will be sent to them at the end of the month.

        Baumgartner said he's currently considering a process in which
        the Voteauction participant fills out an absentee ballot and
        votes for whomever they want in every race but the presidency.
        Whether that choice will be Bush, Gore, Nader, Buchanan, or
        someone else entirely is determined by the outcome of the online

        "Then when the time comes, whoever wins the auction decides who
        this group is going to vote for," Baumgartner said. "So I tell
        those people you should vote for this person. Then they fill in
        the form, and then they send it to me. And I just verify that
        they're voting for the correct person."

        Online auctions will be conducted at state-by-
        state in September and October, he continued. The blocks of
        votes will be marketed primarily to businesses and interest
        groups -- Voteauction does not plan to court the candidates

        The kitty for each state will be split among the Voteauction
        voters in that state. And the winner of each state's auction
        will then be able to cast its procured ballots for the contender
        of its choosing.

        Raskin audibly shuddered when he heard the process spelled out.

        "That sounds pretty serious," he said. "It's possible that some
        aggressive prosecutor could try to bring solicitation charges
        against him just for setting up the possibility of this scheme."

        For American historical precedent, Baumgartner cites the 1757
        Virginia House of Burgesses race in which George Washington
        bought each of the 391 voters in his district a quart and a half
        of alcohol in exchange for their support.

        And, of course, the presidential Iowa straw poll offers hardly
        little more than an opportunity to exchange money for political

        Yet no American example Baumgartner can point to even approaches
        the proposed scope of For something of similar
        magnitude, one must look overseas to cases in India, Montenegro,
        Japan, Morocco, or Taiwan.

        Given that upwards of 100 million potential eligible voters
        won't be casting their ballots this November, Baumgartner said
        perhaps an appeal to the bottom line might get them to the

        "Right now the corporations are just passing money around to
        other corporations," he said. "One corporation is giving money
        to the campaign, and the campaign is turning around and giving
        money to television stations, advertising agencies, consultants,
        things like that. The money is not reaching the people at all.
        It's leaving them out of the equation."

        Raskin concurred. "If this is intended as a cyber satire on the
        commodification of American politics, one can only applaud the
        spirit of the authors," he said.

        "Right now everyone is making money off elections except the
        voters.... Everyone is enjoying a lavishly subsidized ride on
        the back of the American people, and it is ironic that we have
        replaced old-fashioned vote-buying and bribery with much more
        sophisticated forms of financial takeover of the electoral

        Paul Rapp, Albany attorney and thesis advisor to Baumgartner,
        did caution that individuals participating in
        could technically be putting themselves in legal jeopardy.

        "Then again, it strikes me that it's on the same level as the
        Napster controversy," he said. "If you're downloading a song,
        what is realistically the possibility that Lars Ulrich and the
        Feds are going to bust your door down and drag you off to art
        jail? Highly unlikely.

        "It would be a victory for James if it generated the same sort
        of discussion about the nature of our democracy that Napster has
        had on the nature of ownership of music," said Rapp. "I suspect
        if James got the sort of traffic that Napster got, one of two
        things would happen. He would either be facing a considerable
        jail sentence, or he would become one of the most powerful men
        in America.",1283,38229,00.html

        Wired News

        Voteauction Bids the Dust

        by Mark K. Anderson

        8:20 a.m. Aug. 22, 2000 PDT, which attempted to sell presidential votes to
        the highest bidder, is no more.

        Quietly operating since the beginning of August, the site posed
        a simple question: If entire elections can be bought and sold to
        the individual or corporation with the most money, why can't
        individual votes?

        Last week, Voteauction received a spate of publicity that began
        with a Wired News story. Two days of intense press and Internet
        attention followed, which concluded in legal threats that
        compelled its operator to shut it down.

        "I acted immediately when I found out about [Voteauction]," said
        Doug Kellner, one of two Manhattan representatives on the New
        York City Board of Elections.

        Kellner said selling votes is not only illegal within New York
        state law, but the state constitution also bars it. The only
        other crime the constitution defines, he said, is treason.

        Before last week, Voteauction had received emails from five
        voters indicating their interest in selling their votes. When it
        shut down on Aug. 18, Baumgartner said, an estimated 200 had
        expressed their initial interest in participating. Although no
        contracts had been signed -- legal language was still being
        worked out when the site was shut down -- the interests of
        potential participants ranged from the pecuniary to the polemic.

        "Some were doing it as a joke, some were serious, some were
        cynical, some were sincere," Baumgartner said. "Somebody else
        said they were going to buy"

        When visited on Monday afternoon, -- with the
        extra "r" -- appeared to be a mirror of the George W. Bush
        campaign website. Although given the history of web-based satire
        inspired by the Texas governor's presidential bid, one can never
        be sure.

        Kellner stressed the seriousness of the criminal consequences
        for those who even indicate their interest in buying or selling
        a vote.

        "The message to get out to the public is that posting (intent to
        sell votes) to a website even in jest is a serious matter. It
        could subject you to prosecution, or in New York you could
        forfeit your vote," Kellner said, referring to a New York state
        law that imposes a one-year forfeiture on vote buyers and

        Baumgartner, who continues to stress that his site holds a
        mirror up to a larger corrupt electoral system, offered no
        comment in response to Kellner's charges.

        Kellner indicated that the New York City Board of Elections will
        meet this week to decide whether to open an investigation into
        Voteauction participants within the five New York metro-area

        "There's nothing we can do to him," Kellner said of Baumgartner.
        "That's in the hands of the Rensselaer County District

        Kris Thompson, a spokesman for Rensselaer County District
        Attorney Kenneth R. Bruno declined to elaborate on any plans for
        to pursue legal action.

        "This is very new stuff," he said. "We've never really ventured
        into something like this before."

        Baumgartner, who created as the subject of a
        master's thesis, said he intends to do no more with the site and
        was uncertain what his next step will be in developing the
        academic project. He speculated that he may simply center his
        thesis around the outpouring of press, publicity, and public
        outcry that his site generated.

        Nevertheless, the site itself appears to have a life beyond
        Baumgartner's plans. Solicited by an Austrian investor over the
        weekend, Baumgartner said he has taken steps to sell Voteauction
        itself. However, the purchaser's plans for
        remain unclear. Attempts to reach the reported buyer proved

        Baumgartner sees the immediate public and prosecutorial reaction
        to Voteauction as a confirmation that his idea resonated with
        the American public. "I got 80,000 hits on Thursday and Friday
        alone," Baumgartner said. "I think that that along with what was
        going on with eBay and Yahoo auctions shows that this is
        something people are really concerned about: If the politicians
        are selling their votes -- and they clearly are -- then the
        people should be allowed to as well.",1283,38355,00.html

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