Tuesday, June 26, 2007

“The Corrupting Influence of Money in Elections”

In the very last paragraph of its front page story on yesterday’s US Supreme Court decisions, today’s Boston Globe reports (without naming it) that the Supreme Court had reduced the constraints of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance “reform” act:

In the other narrowly decided cases, the Supreme Court ruled that a Wisconsin anti abortion group should have been allowed to run ads before Election Day, thus undercutting a restriction in a landmark campaign finance bill, and Alaskan officials had the right to ban a student's banner that said "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" on grounds that it suggested support of drug abuse. The court also sided with developers in a case regarding the Endangered Species Act.

The Globe’s editorial board reacts far more strongly to the news than the Globe newsroom. In an editorial entitled “New rivers of campaign cash”:

[Chief Justice John] Roberts claims his ruling is an important blow for free speech. "Where the First Amendment is implicated, the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor," he wrote.

Then comes the Globe’s “but paragraph”. Note here how the Boston Globe editors would define free speech:

But Wisconsin Right to Life had ample options to speak under the law. It could have run the ads outside the 60-day window, or run the ads within the window without mentioning Feingold by name, or -- importantly -- it could have run the ads exactly as broadcast, so long as they were paid for through a political action committee, which can only accept voluntary contributions from individuals, up to $5,000 a year. The campaign finance law doesn't restrict the protected content of any ad; it just restricts who pays for it and how much.

McCain-Feingold restricts access to the market for speech, which paradoxically the Globe believes is essential to democracy.

McCain-Feingold is no panacea for the corrupting influence of money in elections. A record $2 billion-plus was spent on television advertising in the 2006 election, which didn't even feature a presidential campaign. Still, the court yesterday opened up another easy avenue to circumvent efforts to protect the integrity of democratic elections.

The corrupting influence of money in elections”. A very telling phrase, that. Then what is the alternative to such spending? Should we mandate that all campaign information delivered through supposedly disinterested parties like PBS (!), the League of Women Voters(!!), and (ahem!) the Boston Globe? I’m delighted with Roberts’ sentiment. I’d prefer to allow more political speech rather than less.

Globally the means of mass communication are becoming far less concentrated. This is difficult for businesses with entrenched interests who historically have benefitted from that concentration. TV networks, radio networks, and newspapers (like the Globe) have lost value as their domination of communication media has diminished. Fundamentally, this change has allowed more people to participate.

Then why are many liberals appalled by this change? Only liberals with strong illiberal and authoritarian tendencies are in distress over this…epitomized by the Boston Globe Editorial Board.

And regarding those “river of campaign cash”, billions of dollars are spent every year in this country promoting automobiles, beer, soap, and consumer products. Is $2 billion “too much” to spend for choosing a so many elective offices? Who should decide how much is “enough”. Again, illiberal liberals will tell us that entrenched government should make these decisions. Fortunately, John Roberts, like our nation’s founders, wants citizens to make these decisions.

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