George Will

Alarmists say the court's ruling will mean torrential spending by large for-profit corporations. Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union -- it has spent $20 million on politics in the last five election cycles -- says a corporation will "funnel its shareholders' money straight to a campaign's coffers." Wrong. Corporate contributions to candidates' campaigns remain proscribed.

Cleta Mitchell, Washington's pre-eminent campaign finance attorney, rightly says that few for-profit corporations will jeopardize their commercial interests by engaging in partisan politics: Republicans, Democrats and independents buy Microsoft's and Pepsi's products. If for-profit corporations do plunge into politics, disclosure of their spending will enable voters to draw appropriate conclusions. Of course, political speech regulations radiate distrust of voters' abilities to assess unfettered political advocacy.

Mitchell says the court's decision primarily liberates nonprofit advocacy groups, such as the Sierra Club, which the FEC fined $28,000 in 2006. The club's sin was to distribute pamphlets in Florida contrasting the environmental views of the presidential and senatorial candidates, to the intended advantage of Democrats. FEC censors deemed this an illegal corporate contribution.

Barack "Pitchfork" Obama, in his post-Massachusetts populist mode, called the court's ruling a victory for, among others, "big oil" and "Wall Street banks." But opensecrets.org reports that in 2008 lawyers gave more money than either of those, and gave 78 percent of it to Democrats, who also received 64 percent of contributions from the financial sector.

Even if it were Congress' business to decide that there is "too much" money in politics, that decision would be odd: In the 2007-08 election cycle, spending in all campaigns, for city council members up to the presidency, was $8.6 billion, about what Americans spend annually on potato chips.

Critics say raising such sums requires too much of candidates' time. Well, then, let candidates receive unlimited -- but fully disclosed -- contributions, and trust voters to make appropriate inferences about the candidates.

Undaunted, advocates of government control of political speech want Congress to enact public financing of congressional campaigns, and to ban individuals from participating in politics through contributions. Fortunately, this idea -- "food stamps for politicians" -- is wildly unpopular. Public financing of presidential campaigns has collapsed. Obama disdained it in 2008; the public always has. Voluntary, cost-free participation, using the checkoff on the income tax form, peaked at a paltry 28.7 percent in 1980 and by 2008 had sagged to 8.3 percent.

This is redundant proof that the premise of campaign finance "reform" is false. The premise is that easily befuddled Americans need to be swaddled in regulations of political speech.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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