Thomas Sowell

The recent Supreme Court decision over-ruling some Federal Election Commission restrictions on political campaign contributions has provoked angry reactions on the left. That is what often happens whenever the High Court rules that the First Amendment means what it says -- free speech for everybody.

When the Supreme Court declared in 2010 that both unions and corporations had a right to buy political ads, that was considered outrageous by the left. President Obama called the decision "devastating" and said it "will open the floodgates for special interests."

Those unfamiliar with political rhetoric may not know that "special interests" mean people who support your opponents. One's own organized supporters -- such as labor unions supporting President Obama -- are never called "special interests."

All politicians are against "special interests," by definition. They all want their own supporters to have the right to free speech, but not those individuals and groups so benighted as to support their opponents.

Even in an age of polarization and gridlock, the one area in which it is easy to get bipartisan support in Congress is in passing campaign finance laws, restricting how much money can be spent publicizing political candidates. What Congressional Democrats and Republicans have in common is that they are all incumbents, and they all want to keep their jobs.

Publicity is necessary to win elections, and incumbents get millions of dollars' worth of free publicity from the media. Incumbents can all pontificate in Congress and be covered by C-SPAN. They can get interviewed on network television, have their pictures in the newspapers, and send out mail to their constituents back home -- and none of this costs them a dime.

Congressional staffs, paid by the taxpayers, are supposed to help members of Congress with the burdens of their office, but a major part of their staff's work is to help get them re-elected.

That's not just during campaign years. Everything members of Congress do is done with an eye toward re-election.

Any outsider who wants to challenge an incumbent at the next Congressional election has to pay hard cash to buy ads and arrange other forms of publicity, in order just to get some comparable amount of name-recognition, so as to have any serious chance of winning an election against an incumbent.

Few people have the kind of money it takes for such a campaign, so they have to raise money -- in the millions of dollars -- to pay for what incumbents get free of charge.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate