Monday, January 25, 2010

Supreme Court on Campaign Finance

I am not sure why, but it appears that most of the dissension about the recent Supreme Court decision concerning campaign finance comes from the liberal side. Mark Shields was quite literally apoplectic on the News Hour last Thursday saying that now the country is truly doomed. As far as I am concerned, the Court did not go far enough. It should have been a 9-0 decision to toss out all laws governing election advertising.

It's true that the rcent Supreme Court ruling may result in various corporations, unions and large special interest groups spending HUGE amounts on electioneering. Big Oil alone spent some $45 million in one year lobbying Congress. But that amount pales against the amount congressional leaders spend on influencing the votes of its own members. Sure, we know about the $300 million awarded to Louisianna and the virtually unlimited dollars promised to acquire Ben Nelson's vote. We have NO idea how many other deals were cut behind closed doors, but you can bet it was WAY more than the total that was spent by the various special interests to try to influence the outcome of the last election.

Generally speaking corporations may now spend corporate money to try to get their guy elected for the benefit of their shareholders. Rationally they will spend only a fraction of their profits to achieve this goal. They cannot spend too much or the shareholders will bail. At least they have that option. And don't forget that various corporations and large special interests often have conflicting agendas which tend to expose both sides of the argument.

When government uses your and my tax money to buy votes, we're totally screwed. We don't have the option to bail. Oh, sure, we can vote them out, but when? Two years, four years from now? By then the damage is done.

The simple fact is that governments at all levels have tried for decades to "fix" the campaign problem, and they have only succeeded in messing things up. It's that danged troublesome 1st amandment -- always in the way.

What I find interesting is how folks trust the government to come up with "fair" campaign rules. Why on this planet would you think that the folks making the laws about campaign finance would make laws that would hinder their own chances for re-election?

The first amendment was specifically crafted to prohibit any restrictions on political speech. The Supreme Court over the years has differentiated commercial and private speech, but of all the types of speech you may define, the one that is (or should be) sacrosanct is that around elections. Is the electorate so stupid that it cannot wade through all the competing claims to come to a rational decision? I dare say that all 140 million or so voters would tell you that they personally can weed out the lies and misinformation in political ads. What worries them are the other 139,999,999 voters who are not so bright and need to be protected.

The systemic, underlying problem is simply that there is too much money in Washington. There is not and never will be a campaign law that will be successful in limiting the dollars spent on trying to influence election outcomes. As long as you can get all the drugs you want in a maximum security prison, so shall money influence elections.



"An election is nothing more than the advanced auction of stolen goods." - Ambrose Bierce