Tag Archives: campaign finance

CEI Podcast for March 3, 2011: Citizens United, Annie Leonard, and Free Speech

Have a listen here.

Did the Citizens United decision place corporations ahead of democracy? Activist Annie Leonard thinks so. CEI’s Communications Director Lee Doren disagrees. Leonard views a strong government as an opposing force to corporate power. Doren points out in a new video that the more government does, and the more it spends, the more companies will flock to Washington to get a piece of the action. If you want to keep money out of politics, then keep politics out of our money.

2010’s Record Election Spending Is Surprisingly Small

The Washington Post has a breathless write-up of this year’s midterm election spending:

In the latest sign of this year’s record-breaking election season, an independent research group estimated Wednesday that candidates, parties and outside interest groups together could spend up to $4 billion on the campaign.

$4 billion is a lot of money. The Post’s opinion staff writer thinks that’s frightening. $4 billion, of course, comes to $12.90 per person in a nation of 310 million people. So maybe not.

A bit more context: federal spending costs $11,290.32 per person. Regulation costs another $5,645.16 per person. That’s a total burden of $16,935.48 per person. American democracy is a very expensive form of government with surprisingly inexpensive elections.

Spending $12.90 to influence $3.5 trillion in spending and another $1.75 trillion in regulating seems like too little election spending, not too much. Total election spending is about the same as it was in 2000, when the federal budget was under $2 trillion.

Still, for a midterm, this year’s election spending is historically high. And a lot of people think there is too much money in politics. Fortunately, there is a surefire way for them to fix the problem: get politics out of our money.

Republicans and Democrats alike have made it clear that they have little interest in fundamental economic reform. So maybe the Post is right that they aren’t worth spending $12.90 on.

Unfortunately, as long as the Bush-Obama spending and regulating binge continues, people will be spending a lot more than $12.90 to get a piece of the action.

Send Your Kids to Camp Politics

This new video from the Institute for Justice is funny and sad at the same time.

Disclosure and Campaign Finance

Regarding my last post on the ill-fated DISCLOSE Act, commenter Ben Hoffman writes:

How the [expletive] is disclosure “abridging freedom of speech[?]” There’s nothing wrong with knowing who paid for an ad, especially when it contains lies.

Ben raises a good point, if not very tactfully. The answer to his question is that freedom of speech includes the right to make speech anonymously.

Politics is such a combative sport that even donors are viciously attacked by the other side. Think of how Republicans treat George Soros. Now think of how Democrats treat Charles and David Koch. They are punching bags.

This is a deterrent to speech. It has a chilling effect on people who want to have their say, but would prefer not endure those ad hominem attacks. Or in some cases, threats of physical violence. People like Soros and the Kochs have much thicker skin than most people to endure all the ad hominems thrown their way on a daily basis. Think of how many potential donors stay silent because of that. How much speech is left unspoken?

Supporters of California’s wrong-headed Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage feared physical retaliation for their political donations when some activists published the names and addresses of donors who supported the measure, along with unsubtle hints that they deserved retaliation. Opponents of same-sex marriage are wrong on the merits of the issue. But they do not deserve to be threatened for being wrong. For them, the right to remain anonymous is a key part of respecting their freedom of speech.

Mandatory disclosure actively harms the right to free speech. It would cause a lot of people to stay silent when they would rather speak. That is wrong.

But that isn’t commenter Ben’s only concern. He worries that anonymity would embolden people to tell lies in political ads. Would it?

After all, under today’s partial disclosure system, both parties already tell plenty of lies in their ads every election cycle. Partisanship trumps truth for Republican and Democrat alike. But that does not mean that therefore, more disclosure is needed.

Ads that contain the real names of donors are taken with added credibility by people. Anonymous ads are taken with a grain of salt. And sometimes for good reason. That means anonymity has a cost. People hold an anonymous message to a higher standard before taking it seriously. Shockingly, voters are smart enough to come to their own conclusions.

According to the law of demand, raising the cost of anonymity means there will be less of it. If an anonymous ad has less impact of an otherwise identical disclosed ad costing the same amount of money, any rational donors will disclose their names unless they place very high values on avoiding Soros-Koch-style attacks. And if they feel that’s a fair tradeoff for reduced credibility, that’s their right.

There are already plenty of regulations for truth in advertising, libel, and the like. Let’s try doing a better job of enforcing those instead of passing more restrictions on the right to free speech.

A Telling Headline

From The Hill: Vulnerable Democrats defend support for campaign finance legislation

Campaign finance regulations are an incumbent’s best friend. The incumbent already has name recognition, and a deep network of fundraising contacts. Heck, Congress’ franking privilege allows incumbents to send out de facto campaign messages for free. Challengers have none of those advantages.

It takes a lot of money to buy enough ads to get a challenger’s name recognition anywhere near the incumbent’s. Campaign finance regulations make it harder to raise that money, and harder to put up a fight against established officeholders. No wonder so many incumbents from both parties favor strict campaign finance regulations! It’s good for their job security.

On the Radio – Campaign Finance

In about 20 minutes, I’ll be appearing on Paul Molloy’s radio show to talk about campaign finance regulation and free speech. Give a listen if you’re in the Tampa, FL or Little Rock, AR area.

You can also tune in by clicking here.

A Good Day for Freedom of Speech

“If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits jailing citizens for engaging in political speech.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, introducing today’s Citizens United decision.

Precisely. The correct way to rebut unwelcome speech is not to silence it. It is to counter it with more speech. Let the best arguments win. Advocating speech restrictions is a fancy way of saying, “my arguments are too weak to withstand criticism.” Get better arguments, then!

Free speech issues aside, there is a reason why McCain-Feingold is informally known as the Incumbent Protection Act. It stacks the deck against challengers. No wonder so many incumbent politicians from both parties have come out against today’s decision. It’s bad for their job security.