Last election, millionaires and billionaires were able to help a number of groups, known as 527s, raise issues and state their opinions. These rich folk, by making massive contributions, allowed organizations to purchase costly TV time. The meat of the new legislation is to prevent this speech from breaking out again. If the current bill passes, donations to 527s would be limited to $32,500 ? not unlimited as in this past election. Gifts of $32,500 would thus be deemed pristine and patriotic, while spending one cent more would be corrupt and criminal.
The arbitrary nature of such limits is obvious, but often the impact on the process is not so clear. Silence is the result. Or, at least, less speech. Less speech can go unnoticed.
Look at it in economic terms. When capital cannot form in sufficient quantities to start new enterprises, few people notice the stores that haven't opened, the products that haven't been launched, or the innovations never attempted. But, despite the ignorance of the many, an economy with capital formation so restricted will stagnate.
Like our politics stagnates.
The last election was made far more interesting to voters by the ability of groups to accumulate the capital necessary to go on television and reach a mass audience. Without million-dollar donations, the liberal groups funded by George Soros and wealthy liberals ? as well as the Swift Boat Vets funded by wealthy conservatives ? would not have communicated to such a wide audience.
This round of campaign finance reform, like those before it, is designed to silence voices the political establishment doesn't want heard. Less speech is not merely the unintended consequence of these acts; when it comes to campaign finance regulation, the very goal is less speech.
Some will argue this analysis is itself too negative. After all, the legislation recently moving in the Senate bans any regulation of blogs by the Federal Election Commission. "Hooray!" you say? But this "ban" will last only as long as incumbents in Congress feel like permitting such speech. That's not the right to freedom of speech, but the offering of a privilege. It's as temporary as a press-on tattoo, and can as easily be smudged out by those in power. Congress has banned itself from regulating bloggers, but Congress clearly asserts it has the power to regulate bloggers. It's a question of timing, not principle.
The blogosphere is a growing area for campaigning and political discussion, but bloggers certainly don't threaten the re-election of incumbents in the way TV and radio ads do. Rest assured, however, that once they do "negatively" impact incumbents, Congress will be back for them. (Congress has a knack for this, as I often point out in my Common Sense e-letter.)
America has become a land in which committees and commissions in the nation's capital decide who can speak, when, where, and how much. Yet more control by self-interested political hacks is no solution at all, it's more of the problem. We need more speech, not less. We need more freedom, not less. We even need more money in politics, not less.
Money doesn't equal speech, you say? Tell that to your ad buyer and see how much TV time you get.
The campaign finance laws that have eviscerated the First Amendment are not without an official rationale. Our slippery politicians and their robed guardians in the courts justify the tyranny as a means to prevent undo influence from special interests. And, of course, the appearance of corruption in government. The reality is that our present campaign finance system hands control over political speech to the biggest, most corrupt special interest of all: career politicians in Congress.
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