Bradley Smith

And it's not just individual taxpayers who would fund Williams' vision of "clean elections." Campaigns have to advertise, after all, and that can cost a great deal of money. So in addition to the new "campaign tax," Williams advocates "extensive free advertising on all public television, radio, print, and online media outlets." But just like there's no such thing as a free lunch, there's no such thing as "free" advertising. What Williams is really advocating is nothing less than the government seizing control of the media and giving those resources to candidates to use as they wish. And because his plan embraces all "online media outlets," it presumably applies to itself. I wonder how the readers of feel about that plan (not to mention Williams' publishers, whose assets will be taken under Williams' scheme).

Williams finds confidence for his scheme in the McCain-Feingold law, which he asserts, "showed that we can actually do something to stem the importance of money in politics." His timing is less than impeccable. Next week, Wisconsin Right to Life will appear before the Supreme Court to contest a Federal Election Commission ruling that, back in 2004, prevented WRTL from running advertisements that asked Wisconsinites to contact their Senators -- Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl -- and urge them to oppose filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees. The FEC held that the ads were illegal under McCain-Feingold. Apparently, what McCain-Feingold shows we can do is silence criticism of, or even exhortations to, politicians.

What has McCain-Feingold given us in return for this affront to the First Amendment? Certainly it is not better or less corrupt government -- the era of McCain-Feingold is the era of Jack Abramoff, Duke Cunningham, and thousands in cash hidden in the refrigerator of Congressman William Jefferson. Five years after the passage and failure of McCain-Feingold, Williams' argument for tax-funded campaigns and more restrictions on voluntary, private political participation, simply boggles the mind.

When the Founders drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they were not naïve. They knew that men weren't angels, and that factions would sometimes try to harness the power of government for their own benefit. They wrote the First Amendment with full knowledge of this threat. Indeed, they wrote the First Amendment because they also knew that one of the surest checks against government corruption was the unfettered ability to criticize those in government. Williams' scheme abandons these cherished First Amendment principles. The likely result is more and harder to detect corruption. The long term effects could be even worse. As the Founders knew, prohibiting ordinary citizens from effectively discussing politics is no prescription for clean government. It is a prescription for tyranny.

Bradley Smith

Bradley Smith is Chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics and is one of the nation’s foremost experts on campaign finance law.

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