Tag Archives: first amendment

Bill to Regulate Political Speech Fails

The Hill:”Senate fails to advance campaign finance bill

The First Amendment: “Congress shall pass no law… abridging the freedom of speech.”

Good news for anyone who wants to engage in political speech. But how sad that this happened because of politics, not principle.

It was mostly Democrats who favored the DISCLOSE Act. And according to today’s Senate vote, it was only Democrats who favored the bill. But Republicans are no heroes on this issue. Don’t believe their posturing. If the political winds were currently favoring Democrats, Republicans would be working their tails off to pass similar legislation.

The primary effect of campaign finance regulation is to stack the rules of the game in favor of incumbents. Both parties know this. And both parties will seek to use campaign finance regulation to their advantage however they can.

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.

Regulation of the Day 134: Not Voting

The lede to this Denver Post article says it all:

RIDGWAY — Residents of this Old West- meets-New Age town can be fined if their fences are too high, they have too many chickens, their dogs aren’t on leashes or their weeds are out of control.

Tom Hennessy would like to add not voting to that list.

There are three things wrong with Mr. Hennessy’s proposed regulation. One is that mandatory voting is a violation of personal freedom. To vote or not is an important choice that people make for themselves. It is not Mr. Hennessy’s place to make that decision for others. Many countries have tried mandatory voting over the years, most notably the Soviet Union.

The second thing wrong with mandatory voting is that it violates freedom of speech. Mr. Hennessy is aware that compelled speech is just as unconstitutional as censored speech. That’s why he proposes a “none of the above” option on ballots. But some people are sending a deliberate message when they choose not to vote. Mr. Hennessy would fine them for sending that message.

The third point is that, maybe, some people shouldn’t vote. If I step into a voting booth not knowing a thing about the candidates or the issues, I am essentially choosing at random. And choosing wrong means voting against everything I stand for.

Even worse, human beings have built-in cognitive biases that affect their voting habits. Economist Bryan Caplan’s book The Myth of the Rational Voter identifies anti-foreign bias, anti-market bias, make-work bias, and pessimistic bias, for starters.

Even relatively informed voters fall prey to these biases. They vote accordingly. The difference of opinion between economists and the general public on economic issues is startling. Nobody argues relativity with a physicist thinking they’ll win. But voters from both parties argue against the laws of economics every election, often in error but never in doubt.

Despite its flaws, democracy has worked tolerably well in this country for a long time. Perhaps the best part of our particular democracy is that people are free to choose their level of engagement with it. That should be your choice. Not Tom Hennessy’s.

(Full disclosure: CEI takes no stance on whether to vote, or for whom. Neither do I. I personally have not voted since 2002, but seriously consider it every year.)

Regulation of the Day 121: Cussing

It’s officially “Cuss Free Week” in California. Last Thursday, the state legislature passed a resolution to make the first week of March swearing-free.

Los Angeles County passed a similar measure last year, inspired by 14-year old who has started no-cussing clubs at schools across the country.

The resolution is non-binding, and will not be enforced. There are no First Amendment issues. It’s just a feel-good measure.

What doesn’t feel so good is the fact busy-body legislators feel it is their place to tell you to watch your language.

Then again, all the time they spent crafting cussing legislation was time not spent digging California even deeper into fiscal hell. Might I suggest that the California legislature also pass a non-binding “Eat Your Vegetables Week” resolution?

Regulation of the Day 49: Political Speech

The First Amendment famously reads, “Congress shall pass no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

Congress, ever sneaky, has looked very closely at the First Amendment’s wording. If they can’t pass laws abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, maybe they can pass laws abridging the freedom of speech and of the press.

I kid, of course. No lawyer in their right mind would use that argument in court. The real justifications for most speech and press-abridging laws — collectively known as campaign finance regulations — are actually much flimsier.

They mainly have to do with protecting politicians from criticism. For example, a group called Citizens United released a partisan documentary last year called Hillary: The Movie. Basically a feature-length missive against then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and her presidential candidacy, the FEC blocked the movie from pay-per-view television during the 2008 primary season.

The movie was effectively censored because corporations (and unions) are not allowed to engage in certain types of political speech when an election is near. Citizens United lists some corporations among its donors, and thus was not allowed to show the movie as widely as they would have liked.

Citizens United got upset about all this, naturally. So they sued. Their case made it to the Supreme Court last year. Unwilling to make too hasty a decision, the Court re-heard oral arguments yesterday. The early bets are that Citizens United will win a partial victory, though one never knows until the decision is actually handed down.

Had the movie not been about politics, it would have faced no such obstacles. Political speech is treated very differently from other types of speech these days. This is a troubling trend. At heart, campaign finance regulations are a roundabout way of saying: no criticizing candidates!

Perhaps the First Amendment is a bit wordy. “Congress shall pass no law” is quite enough.