Commentary Magazine


Topic: campaign finance reform

Live From D.C., It’s the First Amendment

Liberals are mocking Senator Ted Cruz for his speech yesterday claiming that a proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Democrats would give Congress the power to shut down political satire such as that shown on NBC’s Saturday Night Live show. They say all they want to do is to restore the campaign finance laws of the country to what they were before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and ensure that elections are clean and free of the taint of big corporate money. But those dismissing Cruz’s speech as nothing more than a publicity stunt are wrong. If Democrats have their way, no one’s political speech would be safe.

Read More

Liberals are mocking Senator Ted Cruz for his speech yesterday claiming that a proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Democrats would give Congress the power to shut down political satire such as that shown on NBC’s Saturday Night Live show. They say all they want to do is to restore the campaign finance laws of the country to what they were before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and ensure that elections are clean and free of the taint of big corporate money. But those dismissing Cruz’s speech as nothing more than a publicity stunt are wrong. If Democrats have their way, no one’s political speech would be safe.

Let’s specify that the entire Senate debate on this issue is the real political stunt. The amendment has no chance of getting cloture in the Senate and will not get a hearing in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. And even in the highly unlikely event that the Democrats were to get control of both houses of Congress in November, it’s even less likely that enough state legislatures would subsequently vote for the measure in order for it to become law. The only reason Majority Leader Harry Reid has put the issue on the calendar for debate is that he wants it to help drum up interest in the issue as a way to help Democrats in the midterm elections. He believes that more attention to campaign finance reform will further his goal of demonizing GOP donors like the Koch brothers.

Reid’s anti-Koch crusade won’t save endangered red-state Senate Democrats any more than it will generate enough congressional support to pass the amendment. But voters would do well to pay attention because the issue here is nothing less than the future of free speech.

Democrats scoff at Cruz’s claims about the amendment being the end of SNL because they say all they are trying to do is restore the pre-Citizens United status quo that prevailed in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s when the program was as big as it is today. They claim all they want to do is to give back Congress the right to regulate the political speech of corporations and that no one is trying to silence satirists.

But the point of Citizens United was precisely the willingness of Congress and regulators to play favorites with speech and to silence those they didn’t like such as the donors who produced a film critical of Hillary Clinton that was at the heart of the case. Those determined to bring back the old campaign-finance regime are not so much trying to “reform” our electoral system as they are trying to ensure that corporate speech is limited to those media entities that have their own First Amendment protections.

It’s not clear whether SNL could claim the First Amendment protections afforded the press because it is part of the same corporation that broadcasts NBC news programs. But what we do know is that until the Citizens United decision was handed down Congress had the power to stifle the political speech of non-media corporations. Democrats think limited campaign expenditures makes things more fair but all campaign-finance reform has done is to create a regulatory minefield that employs armies of lawyers as well as vehicles for paying for politics that are far less transparent than anything that previously existed. Moreover, if these laws are broadly interpreted, as the film controversy in that case illustrated, it could mean effectively shutting down a broad range of political expression.

In his remarks, Cruz referenced SNL’s “wickedly funny” takedown of his friend Sarah Palin that he rightly noted had a not insignificant impact on the course of that campaign. It is difficult to imagine the federal elections bureaucracy seeking to shut down an iconic program like SNL under virtually any circumstances. But if a corporation not as well connected with the liberal establishment were to fund some forms of political commentary or satire there would be nothing, other than the good sense of the American people, to stop Congress and the regulators from seeking to impose limits of some sort.

What liberals have attempted to impose on the country in the name of campaign-finance reform is nothing less than the old “free speech for me, but not for thee,” spirit that separates banana republics from genuine democracies. If the First Amendment means anything, it ought to mean guaranteeing the rights of individuals and groups of individuals to pool their resources and speak out about issues and candidates to help influence the debate about elections.

We should be grateful that Reid’s assault on free speech is going to fail this year. But the left will not rest until they have restored the old regulations and expanded them to shut up their critics. Liberals can ignore or laugh at Cruz. But he deserves credit for calling to the nation’s attention the hypocrisy of a political left that is willing to defend corporate political speech only when they can be sure it will work to their advantage.

Read Less

Who Buys Votes? Incumbents, Not the Rich

The furor over the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission handed down yesterday revolves, as I wrote earlier, around the problems liberals have with the First Amendment’s protections of political speech. But what liberals claim they are seeking to protect is the integrity of our democratic process from those seeking to buy the votes or the influence of public officials. Given the stringent rules that exist to limit the behavior of officeholders, the line between making your voice heard and a corrupt quid pro quo can be hazy at times, but it is still there. Yet what often goes unnoticed or is, in fact, tolerated, is a different sort of corruption that is far more common than millionaires purchasing members of Congress. As Byron York wrote yesterday in the Washington Examiner, the ability of incumbent politicians to raid the public treasury for expenditures to buy the votes of certain constituencies is not only legal, it is the most decisive form of campaign finance available.

York went to Louisiana to report on the uphill race of Senator Mary Landrieu, an ObamaCare supporting Democrat seeking reelection in an increasingly deep red state. Polls show her in a dead heat against likely Republican opponent Rep. Bill Cassidy. But, as York found out, a lot of people whom one would think would be working to defeat Landrieu—including at least one local GOP official—are backing her. Why? Because Landrieu, who is seeking a fourth term in the Senate, has been lavishing some of New Orleans’ white suburbs—whose swing voters will probably decide the election—with a deluge of federal money, including a loan forgiveness provision inserted into a Homeland Security Appropriations bill, and every manner of post-Hurricane Katrina disaster funding known to the federal government.

While the ability of incumbents to use earmarks to feather their own political nests was supposedly banned by new rules, it appears Landrieu and most of her colleagues are undaunted by the regulations that were supposed to make it harder for members of the House and Senate to selectively fund favored constituencies while portraying themselves as hard-working servants of the people. As York makes clear, Mary Landrieu is buying more votes in Louisiana with taxpayer money than any Republican with access to the checkbooks of the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson ever could.

Read More

The furor over the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission handed down yesterday revolves, as I wrote earlier, around the problems liberals have with the First Amendment’s protections of political speech. But what liberals claim they are seeking to protect is the integrity of our democratic process from those seeking to buy the votes or the influence of public officials. Given the stringent rules that exist to limit the behavior of officeholders, the line between making your voice heard and a corrupt quid pro quo can be hazy at times, but it is still there. Yet what often goes unnoticed or is, in fact, tolerated, is a different sort of corruption that is far more common than millionaires purchasing members of Congress. As Byron York wrote yesterday in the Washington Examiner, the ability of incumbent politicians to raid the public treasury for expenditures to buy the votes of certain constituencies is not only legal, it is the most decisive form of campaign finance available.

York went to Louisiana to report on the uphill race of Senator Mary Landrieu, an ObamaCare supporting Democrat seeking reelection in an increasingly deep red state. Polls show her in a dead heat against likely Republican opponent Rep. Bill Cassidy. But, as York found out, a lot of people whom one would think would be working to defeat Landrieu—including at least one local GOP official—are backing her. Why? Because Landrieu, who is seeking a fourth term in the Senate, has been lavishing some of New Orleans’ white suburbs—whose swing voters will probably decide the election—with a deluge of federal money, including a loan forgiveness provision inserted into a Homeland Security Appropriations bill, and every manner of post-Hurricane Katrina disaster funding known to the federal government.

While the ability of incumbents to use earmarks to feather their own political nests was supposedly banned by new rules, it appears Landrieu and most of her colleagues are undaunted by the regulations that were supposed to make it harder for members of the House and Senate to selectively fund favored constituencies while portraying themselves as hard-working servants of the people. As York makes clear, Mary Landrieu is buying more votes in Louisiana with taxpayer money than any Republican with access to the checkbooks of the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson ever could.

Political machines have always thrived at what might euphemistically be called “constituent service” since the earliest days of the republic. The men who ran Tammany Hall were able to dominate New York politics and loot the city’s coffers with impunity for more than a century because they were always willing to give a little of the money in their control back to loyal voters for minimal services or charity while they kept most of it for themselves. The same applied to every other political machine in the country. But while we think of legendary thieves like Tammany’s George Washington Plunkett as in no way comparable to many of those who serve in our government, his concept of “honest graft” has more in common with the way Landrieu and other contemporary politicians play fast and loose with the rules than most of us would like to admit.

Like Plunkitt, Landrieu, who is part of a political dynasty in Louisiana, views the federal budget as a piñata waiting to be broken open for her benefit. The ability of senators and members of the House to lavish money on people they want to curry favor with—and deny it to those they don’t care about—remains the biggest ethical dilemma facing the nation.

You can call that constituent service, but after the excesses of the last decade in which both parties plundered the federal treasury and created our massive budget/entitlement crisis, Congress was supposed to have turned the page and adopted a more fiscally sound approach to governance. Landrieu’s stands on the issues, especially on ObamaCare, have left her out of step with the views of most Louisianans. But York’s reporting leads him to believe that her ability to manipulate allocations and use taxpayer dollars to buy the votes of Louisianans is enough to make the difference between winning and losing in November.

Liberals can complain all they want about the efforts of large donors to support conservative causes and candidates, but neither the Kochs nor Adelson can boast of the kind of efficient vote buying that Landrieu is practicing on the banks of the Mississippi. Even more to the point, while those billionaires are trying to influence elections with their own money, pork-barrel politicians like Landrieu are doing it with yours.

Read Less

Anger at SCOTUS? Liberals v. Constitution

The rage directed at the U.S. Supreme Court in the last 24 hours is instructive. From the White House to the editorial pages of most of the mainstream media, Democrats and liberals have depicted the court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission as a lamentable victory for the wealthy few that contribute to Republican and conservative causes at the expense of democracy. To listen to them, the court’s decision to remove the cap on how much money individuals could give to political parties, PACs, and candidates will create a plutocracy. To them, it seems obvious that the only way to make the system fair is to make it hard for citizens, whether as individuals or as a part of group, to make their voices heard in the public square.

Yet when faced with the ruling majority’s opinion that much of what they seek to achieve with these laws directly contradicts the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, liberals are flummoxed. They say that the justices are either naïve or seeking to promote some nefarious agenda by asking those who defend much of the body of campaign finance legislation to take the basic protections afforded political speech in the Constitution into account. Though the left thinks it is self-evident that campaign contributions are an evil that must be severely restricted if not banned altogether, their problem is that they keep forgetting about the First Amendment and that language about free speech. While we are being told the debate about campaign-finance laws is about the rich versus the “people,” their argument with Chief Justice John Roberts and the four other conservatives who voted with him on McCutcheon is really with the Constitution itself.

Read More

The rage directed at the U.S. Supreme Court in the last 24 hours is instructive. From the White House to the editorial pages of most of the mainstream media, Democrats and liberals have depicted the court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission as a lamentable victory for the wealthy few that contribute to Republican and conservative causes at the expense of democracy. To listen to them, the court’s decision to remove the cap on how much money individuals could give to political parties, PACs, and candidates will create a plutocracy. To them, it seems obvious that the only way to make the system fair is to make it hard for citizens, whether as individuals or as a part of group, to make their voices heard in the public square.

Yet when faced with the ruling majority’s opinion that much of what they seek to achieve with these laws directly contradicts the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, liberals are flummoxed. They say that the justices are either naïve or seeking to promote some nefarious agenda by asking those who defend much of the body of campaign finance legislation to take the basic protections afforded political speech in the Constitution into account. Though the left thinks it is self-evident that campaign contributions are an evil that must be severely restricted if not banned altogether, their problem is that they keep forgetting about the First Amendment and that language about free speech. While we are being told the debate about campaign-finance laws is about the rich versus the “people,” their argument with Chief Justice John Roberts and the four other conservatives who voted with him on McCutcheon is really with the Constitution itself.

Of course, it’s not that liberals don’t believe in the Constitution at all. It’s just that they think free speech protections are only somehow relevant to a few specific categories of activity. Liberal jurisprudence has applied First Amendment protections to lots of things that used to be illegal, like flag burning and pornography. They’ve also applied it to activities such as allowing a Nazi march in a heavily Jewish town.

Thankfully, there is also a consensus that the First Amendment clearly applies, as its text indicates, to the right of the press to operate without interference from the government. But, as any media veteran knows, freedom of the press in this country has always meant the right of those who own the press to promulgate whatever views they like. The only way for most of the rest of us to gain some of that same freedom was to pool our money to buy time or space in the media to put forward a different point of view. Though liberal ideologues like Jeffrey Toobin mock the notion that giving money to a campaign is, as Roberts says, “participating in a political debate,” that is exactly what it is. Thus, as Roberts also pointed out in his opinion, the main impact of laws that drastically restrict the ability of individuals to spend money on politics was to disadvantage one group in favor of others.

For liberals, democracy has somehow become dependent on the enforcement of a complex labyrinth of laws first enacted in the wake of the Watergate scandal that have created a bewildering legal landscape for all those who wish to take part in our electoral system. Each new piece of legislation intended to further the principle of good government has created new inequities and anomalies that have further distorted this system to the point where no one but a lawyer who specializes in the field can truly know whether a candidate or campaign has violated them–and even then there is no guarantee that an arbitrary federal prosecution may not ensue. The campaign-finance movement is aimed not so much at the threat from corruption as it is to grant government enormous power over the electoral process. But if the framers of the First Amendment meant anything when they forbade “abridging the freedom of speech,” surely it was to prevent the government from trying to limit political expression.

In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer complained that the majority was “eviscerating campaign finance laws.” Though the ruling in McCutcheon was narrow and left standing laws that limit contributions to individual candidates, it may well be that the court will soon take up other related issues as well. But if it does, it will not be because they want to steal from the poor and give to the rich or turn the United States into an oligarchy. It will be because the liberal drive to restrict political speech contravenes basic constitutional principles.

For too long, the courts have let Congress and the growing federal electoral bureaucracy run roughshod over the First Amendment. But contrary to Breyer, “democratic legitimacy” does not rest in allowing the government (which is to say incumbents who always stand to benefit from restrictions that hurt their challengers more than themselves) to distort the electoral process. Democracy means letting everyone speak up, whether we like them or not. It is that prospect that drives liberals crazy. If the Roberts court is bent on preventing them from having their way on campaign finance, the fault lies with not with conservatism or deference to wealth but with the Constitution.

Read Less

Court Strikes a Blow for Free Speech and Political Sanity

Liberals didn’t like the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that struck down federal limits on political speech from independent groups because they saw it as a the first step toward dismantling the campaign finance regulatory system that aimed to suppress political speech. They will be just as, if not more, unhappy with the court’s 5-4 ruling today in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that rightly held that federal caps on the amount of money individuals could give to candidates, parties, and PACs are unconstitutional.

But while we can expect to hear a chorus of condemnation of the court from the White House, liberal Democrats, and mainstream media pundits who will see this as opening the floodgates to corruption, the warnings that these rulings herald the end of democracy are false. What the court has done today is to reaffirm core constitutional principles that protect the rights of every American to participate in the political system. But just as importantly, by taking the next step toward dismantling a dysfunctional and deeply unfair regulatory system, the court has opened the way toward a saner manner of conducting elections. While all past efforts at “reform” of contributions had driven donors away from the candidates and political parties, the majority opinion in McCutcheon will begin the process of returning them to a central role in campaign finance. That will create a system that is more accountable and freer of overweening governmental regulation of speech. Instead of condemning this sweeping ruling, liberals should be joining conservatives in cheering a step back toward a saner manner of conducting elections.

Read More

Liberals didn’t like the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that struck down federal limits on political speech from independent groups because they saw it as a the first step toward dismantling the campaign finance regulatory system that aimed to suppress political speech. They will be just as, if not more, unhappy with the court’s 5-4 ruling today in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that rightly held that federal caps on the amount of money individuals could give to candidates, parties, and PACs are unconstitutional.

But while we can expect to hear a chorus of condemnation of the court from the White House, liberal Democrats, and mainstream media pundits who will see this as opening the floodgates to corruption, the warnings that these rulings herald the end of democracy are false. What the court has done today is to reaffirm core constitutional principles that protect the rights of every American to participate in the political system. But just as importantly, by taking the next step toward dismantling a dysfunctional and deeply unfair regulatory system, the court has opened the way toward a saner manner of conducting elections. While all past efforts at “reform” of contributions had driven donors away from the candidates and political parties, the majority opinion in McCutcheon will begin the process of returning them to a central role in campaign finance. That will create a system that is more accountable and freer of overweening governmental regulation of speech. Instead of condemning this sweeping ruling, liberals should be joining conservatives in cheering a step back toward a saner manner of conducting elections.

For forty years liberals built a mountain of federal laws and regulations that sought to restrict the ability of individuals and groups to make their voices heard on political issues. The campaign finance reform movement was portrayed in the mainstream media as a high-minded force for good government. But the effort to rid politics of the scourge of money was as futile as it was counterproductive. Money is the mother’s milk of politics and the legal labyrinth created by the initial post-Watergate effort and its successors did nothing to curb corruption but it did make the system more and more unaccountable as the laws made it harder to give to individual candidates or political parties. The cumbersome apparatus of campaign finance law made it hard to comply with the law without legal specialists. But most damaging of all was the fact that the thrust of this body of legislation was aimed at suppressing political speech—the one type of activity that the Constitution most sought to protect from the government.

The court held today in McCutcheon that the right to contribute to campaigns is not absolute (Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the other members of 5-justice majority on this point). But, as Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out today in his ruling, the government  “may not, however, regulate contributions simply to reduce the amount of money in politics, or to restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others.”

The sordid truth at the heart of the campaign finance reform movement is that it has always been more about suppressing the free speech rights of individuals then about cleaning up government. There is no evidence the cap rules prevented corruption. But what they do accomplish is to make it harder to take down incumbents or to challenge the dominant voice of a mainstream media whose First Amendment rights to say what they like about candidates have rightly never been questioned.

Campaign finance laws never succeeded in driving money out of politics. But they have forced donors to resort to more indirect methods of financing candidates and causes they like, making the system less accountable. By removing such limits on donations to candidates and parties, the court will increase the influence of these institutions and allow more money to be put in the hands of those who are actually running the campaigns rather than outside groups. This will make elections more transparent and be good for democracy.

As they did with Citizens United, liberals will lament this ruling because it chips away further at the notion that government has a right to limit political speech. But, as Roberts said, “there is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our leaders.” Political donations are no different from any other kind of protected political speech. Allowing more speech, whether from conservatives or liberals, corporations or unions, won’t harm democracy; it enhances it. By ending the federal caps, the court has struck a blow for more freedom, not corruption.

Read Less

Adelson, Democracy, and Anti-Semitism

This week the Republican Jewish Coalition is holding a conference in Las Vegas, the home of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, its most prominent supporter. Like other prominent conservative political donors, Adelson’s largesse to causes and candidates he supports brought him a great deal of scrutiny in 2012 when he and his wife Miriam singlehandedly kept Newt Gingrich’s presidential hopes alive during the GOP primaries. Undeterred by the fact that most of the people they backed in the last election lost, the Adelsons are thinking about 2016. As the Washington Post reported in a feature about the RJC event, some, though not all, Republican presidential hopefuls are eager to win what some wags are calling the “Sheldon primary.” Anyone who supports Israel and the Obama administration’s liberal economic policies is apparently welcome to try. Perhaps extra credit will be given to those who back the magnate’s crusade against Internet gambling. But lest anyone think they are contemplating backing Newt or another outlier, in this cycle the Adelsons are apparently echoing “establishment” GOP thought by emphasizing an ability to win a general election rather than conservative ideological purity in deciding who will benefit from their generosity.

Their willingness to put their money where their mouths are makes them easy targets for abuse from those who don’t care for their politics. But a particularly low blow against them was struck yesterday by the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg, whose reading of the Post feature prompted him to comment that the RJC event seemed more like a plot by Adelson and a “bunch of Jewish zillionaires” to “buy the White House” in order to protect the Jewish state against the rising tide of anti-Semitism around the globe. As such, Goldberg thinks the “Sheldon primary” seems like the sort of thing Jews should either worry about or be ashamed of since he thinks their conduct seems like a classic example of the same kind of anti-Semitic stereotype of Jewish wealth being used to subvert American foreign policy that is cited by some of the worst enemies of Israel and the Jewish people. At the very least, the Forward columnist seems to be saying that Adelson’s political activity is providing fodder for anti-Semites, but this is exactly the sort of reasoning that Jews of every political stripe should reject.

Read More

This week the Republican Jewish Coalition is holding a conference in Las Vegas, the home of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, its most prominent supporter. Like other prominent conservative political donors, Adelson’s largesse to causes and candidates he supports brought him a great deal of scrutiny in 2012 when he and his wife Miriam singlehandedly kept Newt Gingrich’s presidential hopes alive during the GOP primaries. Undeterred by the fact that most of the people they backed in the last election lost, the Adelsons are thinking about 2016. As the Washington Post reported in a feature about the RJC event, some, though not all, Republican presidential hopefuls are eager to win what some wags are calling the “Sheldon primary.” Anyone who supports Israel and the Obama administration’s liberal economic policies is apparently welcome to try. Perhaps extra credit will be given to those who back the magnate’s crusade against Internet gambling. But lest anyone think they are contemplating backing Newt or another outlier, in this cycle the Adelsons are apparently echoing “establishment” GOP thought by emphasizing an ability to win a general election rather than conservative ideological purity in deciding who will benefit from their generosity.

Their willingness to put their money where their mouths are makes them easy targets for abuse from those who don’t care for their politics. But a particularly low blow against them was struck yesterday by the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg, whose reading of the Post feature prompted him to comment that the RJC event seemed more like a plot by Adelson and a “bunch of Jewish zillionaires” to “buy the White House” in order to protect the Jewish state against the rising tide of anti-Semitism around the globe. As such, Goldberg thinks the “Sheldon primary” seems like the sort of thing Jews should either worry about or be ashamed of since he thinks their conduct seems like a classic example of the same kind of anti-Semitic stereotype of Jewish wealth being used to subvert American foreign policy that is cited by some of the worst enemies of Israel and the Jewish people. At the very least, the Forward columnist seems to be saying that Adelson’s political activity is providing fodder for anti-Semites, but this is exactly the sort of reasoning that Jews of every political stripe should reject.

Altogether the Adelsons gave a whopping $93 million to 17 different conservative super-PACs in 2012 and that’s not counting direct contributions to candidates that are limited by law (or the tens of millions that they gave to charitable and Jewish philanthropic causes). For those who think money ought to be driven out of politics, this is unseemly or a threat to democracy. But money is, and always has been, the lifeblood of American politics and the last 40 years of attempts at legislating campaign finance reform have proved that such efforts are counterproductive. Spending money on causes and candidates is an expression of political speech protected by the Constitution. The Adelsons are just as entitled to spend some of their billions to support pro-Israel and pro-economic freedom candidates as the Koch brothers are to support conservatives, George Soros is to back liberals, and hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer is to fund politicians who toe his particular line on environmental issues.

There should also be no misunderstanding about the fact that both sides of the political divide are doing the same thing. As the OpenSecrets.org site run by the left-wing Center for Responsive Politics recently noted, a list of the largest political donors in the period stretching from 1988 to 2014 reveals that most of the biggest givers were in fact inclined to support Democrats and left-wing causes. Twelve of the top 16 names on the list were unions while the other four were business groups that gave to both parties. Koch Industries, run by the aforementioned brothers of that name who are more hated by liberals than are the Adelsons, ranks a paltry 59th on that list.

As they proved in 2012, the Adelsons can’t buy anybody the White House. Nor can the Kochs, Soros, Steyer, or any combination of unions. But all of them have every right to use their wealth to promote the causes and candidates they support or to oppose the ones they dislike.

To imply that there is something untoward or unsavory about Jewish donors acting in the same way that other Americans do, be they union bosses or liberal financiers, is appalling. The essence of democracy is participation and pro-Israel Jews are just as free to use their wealth as those who are interested in preventing global warming. Goldberg is right to worry about anti-Semitism, but Jews being afraid to step out into the public square to advocate for their causes and to spend money to support those who agree with them will not stop it. Fear of antagonizing anti-Semites is what caused the leaders of American Jewry to fail to speak out during the Holocaust. Subsequent generations who mobilized on behalf of the Soviet Jewry movement and for Israel learned that lesson. That Sheldon Adelson and his friends have also done so is to their credit. Rather than being embarrassed by the “Sheldon primary,” pro-Israel Jews and supporters of free speech, be they Democrats or Republicans, should be cheering it.

Read Less

Obama’s Hypocritical Access Sale

To say that Barack Obama has never practiced what he preached about campaign finance reform is the understatement of the century. The president rode to office and then was re-elected with the help of a massive influx of private cash, all the while saying that money was the root of all political evil. He routinely denounces the wealthy and the influence of big business while taking their money and selling access to the White House to the same Wall Street moguls to whom he accuses Republicans of being in thrall.

Even when practiced at such Olympian levels, hypocrisy is not against the law. Thus the news that a new pro-Obama 501(c)(4), organized by the rump of the Obama re-election campaign, is gearing up to not only advocate for the president’s policies but to reward donors with access to the White House and the president himself is not so much a question of legality but a matter of setting a new low in ethical standards. As even the New York Times noted in an article published this weekend, the access sale being conducted by the president’s Organizing for Action group crosses a line that most groups that similarly label themselves as educational rather than political don’t:

Giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama’s group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House. Moreover, the new cash demands on Mr. Obama’s top donors and bundlers come as many of them are angling for appointments to administration jobs or ambassadorships. …

Many traditional advocacy organizations, including the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association, are set up as social welfare groups, or 501(c)(4)’s in tax parlance. But unlike those groups, Organizing for Action appears to be an extension of the administration, stocked with alumni of Mr. Obama’s White House and campaign teams and devoted solely to the president’s second-term agenda.

Read More

To say that Barack Obama has never practiced what he preached about campaign finance reform is the understatement of the century. The president rode to office and then was re-elected with the help of a massive influx of private cash, all the while saying that money was the root of all political evil. He routinely denounces the wealthy and the influence of big business while taking their money and selling access to the White House to the same Wall Street moguls to whom he accuses Republicans of being in thrall.

Even when practiced at such Olympian levels, hypocrisy is not against the law. Thus the news that a new pro-Obama 501(c)(4), organized by the rump of the Obama re-election campaign, is gearing up to not only advocate for the president’s policies but to reward donors with access to the White House and the president himself is not so much a question of legality but a matter of setting a new low in ethical standards. As even the New York Times noted in an article published this weekend, the access sale being conducted by the president’s Organizing for Action group crosses a line that most groups that similarly label themselves as educational rather than political don’t:

Giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama’s group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House. Moreover, the new cash demands on Mr. Obama’s top donors and bundlers come as many of them are angling for appointments to administration jobs or ambassadorships. …

Many traditional advocacy organizations, including the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association, are set up as social welfare groups, or 501(c)(4)’s in tax parlance. But unlike those groups, Organizing for Action appears to be an extension of the administration, stocked with alumni of Mr. Obama’s White House and campaign teams and devoted solely to the president’s second-term agenda.

The intermingling of money and power is nothing new. Indeed, the myth that campaign finance reform laws can eliminate this nexus is itself a problem because it has led to more and more such legislation that has only made the problem worse, as donations have become less accountable and transparent.

They hypocrisy of a president and an administration that continues to portray itself as being as pure as the driven snow is bad enough. The stench of this sort of brazen behavior ought to shock both the press and the public, but the double standard by which the president always seems to be given a pass for everything he does seems to apply to this as well.

But the problem with selling access to this particular White House is that for all of its high-flown rhetoric about ethics, it seems as malleable to the whims of big contributors as any of its less highly regarded predecessors. A quick look at the list of companies that benefited from the president’s first-term stimulus boondoggle reveals a roster of Obama campaign contributors. We should expect that this latest example of administration venality would increase the number of Solyndra-style “investments” by the Treasury.

This is not the first White House for sale, as both Republicans and Democrats have often played the same game. But the industrial level of this kind of access sale makes the use of the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House as a motel for Democratic cash cows and celebrity donors by the Clintons look tame.

The solution to this sort of thing is not more laws that will only create ever more subterfuges and even less accountability, just as past efforts have done. What is needed is a vigorous press keeping close watch on the administration and prepared to treat future Solyndra-type scandals as major stories–as they would were George W. Bush playing such a cynical game–rather than footnotes. But given the president’s ability to play puppet master to the press, that is about as likely to happen as Laura Bush being asked to announce the Best Picture Oscar.

Read Less

Court Must Scrap Finance “Reform” Limits

Yesterday the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging federal campaign contribution limits. The current law has long been defended as a way to limit the allegedly corrupting effects of donations to candidates but like every other aspect of the drive to “reform” the campaign finance system these limits have not made the system cleaner or more accountable. To the contrary, the unintended consequences of the laws have made things far worse.

The Supreme Court made a good start in 2010 with its decision in the Citizens United case that rightly struck down elements of the McCain Feingold Campaign finance law that impinged on the free speech rights of contributors and groups. It is time for them to take another step toward dismantling these unwieldy and undemocratic laws by scrapping the contribution limits.

Read More

Yesterday the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging federal campaign contribution limits. The current law has long been defended as a way to limit the allegedly corrupting effects of donations to candidates but like every other aspect of the drive to “reform” the campaign finance system these limits have not made the system cleaner or more accountable. To the contrary, the unintended consequences of the laws have made things far worse.

The Supreme Court made a good start in 2010 with its decision in the Citizens United case that rightly struck down elements of the McCain Feingold Campaign finance law that impinged on the free speech rights of contributors and groups. It is time for them to take another step toward dismantling these unwieldy and undemocratic laws by scrapping the contribution limits.

Campaign finance laws had their origins in the country’s reaction to Watergate and the apparent corruption of the free spending campaign to re-election Richard Nixon in 1972. But the movement Nixon’s regrettable excesses spawned was rooted in myths about money and politics that are still distorting our understanding of election finance.

The notion that money can be driven out of politics by either draconian limits or systems of public financing of candidates was always mistaken. Money is the mother’s milk of politics and no matter what laws are passed to supposedly purify various aspects of the system, it will find its way back in. If you severely limit or even ban contributions to candidates or the parties, that just sets up a situation in which other entities not directly associated with either will be set up to serve as a conduit for political speech. Ban one sort of independent expenditure and it will pop up somewhere else.

Liberals deplore this futile cycle of legislation and innovation but their belief that campaign contributions are inherently evil has driven them to expand rather than contract the reach of the laws they drafted. The Citizens United decision was necessary because by extending the reach of the restrictions to independent groups voicing opinions about candidates and issues, they had effectively prioritized their zeal to stamp out political speech over the First Amendment rights of citizens to express their views.

President Obama and the rest of the left screamed bloody murder about the Citizens United decision and claimed it would mean that corporations and other right-wing plotters would undermine democracy. But all it accomplished was to allow more political speech into the public square from both conservatives and liberals in the last election cycles. Not all of that speech was edifying but the change in the law allowed the voters to make up their own minds about which voices to trust. Even though Obama won in 2012 helped by a tsunami of liberal donations and independent expenditures, many on the left still fear the opening up of the floodgates of speech. But the issue here is not liberalism versus conservatism but the impulse to censor speech and the constitutional rights of Americans to speak.

But the need to expand upon the free speech victory in Citizens United is imperative. The contribution limits are supposed to make it harder for the wealthy to buy candidates but all they have really done is to push money out of the hands of those running for office and the political parties and into less accountable structures that were created for the purpose of evading them. That reduced the influence of the parties and has helped make our debates more extreme since candidates no longer can control most of the things said during campaigns.

The limits have also helped make Congress more of a millionaire’s club than it ever was since the laws could not stop the wealthy from spending on their own campaigns while complicating the efforts of those with modest incomes to raise enough cash to finance a competitive campaign. They have also set up a legal maze that is difficult for any candidate to navigate without breaking the law. But even the employment of an army of lawyers and accountants cannot always guarantee that capricious prosecutors will not try to criminalize technical violations of the limits.

The particular case that will be heard by the court only challenges aggregate limits to contributions rather than the individual ones for each candidate but the court ought to use this as an opening to start dismantling the entire system of limits.

Some of those who continue to defend campaign finance laws may be well intentioned but the effect of this body of legislation has harmed our democracy rather than helping it. Campaign contribution limits have mostly served as incumbency protection plans since they make challenges to sitting members of the House and Senate harder to finance. The intent of the law is not so much to level the playing field as it is to silence or to mute dissenting voices.

What our elections need is transparency not limits. Eliminating them will help make the system more accountable. What should be limited is the effort to protect incumbents and silence free speech.

The laws have also exposed the hypocrisy of the liberal mainstream media that decries the right of conservatives to use money to spread their ideas without the filter of the press without acknowledging that the Constitution exempts them from any such limits. Those who claim political ads are not political speech and thus exempt from government censorship are arguing in the face of logic and history.

After 40 years of reform, it’s time to acknowledge that the post-Watergate experiment with campaign finance legislation has been a disaster. It’s high time for the courts to continue the work of dismantling a broken system.

Read Less

Incumbent Protection Plan in the Works

Out on the campaign trail, members of the House and Senate are currently getting a belly full of free speech as they fight to keep their seats. But many of those who survive would like to do something to make their next elections a bit easier and cheaper. That’s the conceit of a New York Times story about the discomfort many incumbents are experiencing as their records are being examined and often publicized. Their reaction to all this democracy is characteristic of the political class and appears to cut across party lines: suppress as much of the criticism as possible.

The problem for these politicians is that the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision unleashed the power of the public to promote political speech about elections. The fact that much of that speech is unhelpful to incumbents is a prime motivation for them to act in the next Congress to ensure that new obstacles are placed in the way of political action groups and contributors buying ads highlighting their alleged shortcomings. In this way, the Times, whose editorial agenda has been a relentless attack on free political speech, hopes that the largely defunct cause of supposed campaign finance reform will be revived. But the focus of the story on the new willingness of even some Republicans to go along with another round of “reform” reveals exactly why the court was right to invalidate large portions of the McCain-Feingold bill: the main beneficiary of the legislation isn’t free speech or the rights of the public but the protection of incumbents.

Read More

Out on the campaign trail, members of the House and Senate are currently getting a belly full of free speech as they fight to keep their seats. But many of those who survive would like to do something to make their next elections a bit easier and cheaper. That’s the conceit of a New York Times story about the discomfort many incumbents are experiencing as their records are being examined and often publicized. Their reaction to all this democracy is characteristic of the political class and appears to cut across party lines: suppress as much of the criticism as possible.

The problem for these politicians is that the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision unleashed the power of the public to promote political speech about elections. The fact that much of that speech is unhelpful to incumbents is a prime motivation for them to act in the next Congress to ensure that new obstacles are placed in the way of political action groups and contributors buying ads highlighting their alleged shortcomings. In this way, the Times, whose editorial agenda has been a relentless attack on free political speech, hopes that the largely defunct cause of supposed campaign finance reform will be revived. But the focus of the story on the new willingness of even some Republicans to go along with another round of “reform” reveals exactly why the court was right to invalidate large portions of the McCain-Feingold bill: the main beneficiary of the legislation isn’t free speech or the rights of the public but the protection of incumbents.

From its inception in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the cause of campaign finance reform has been a futile effort to get money out of politics. But all the successive attempts to legislate limits on spending have done is to create new laws that only serve to make both politicians and parties less, rather than more accountable.

While Citizens United and the super PACs they have unleashed have been relentlessly portrayed in liberal organs like the Times as promoting corruption or undermining democracy, their real impact has been just the opposite. They have opened up the free market of ideas for both sides of the aisle, liberals as well as conservatives, helping to promote accountability. By making it easier for groups to spend money promoting their ideas and/or opposing candidates, the court has destroyed the dynamic of most congressional races in which it was virtually impossible for challengers to raise enough money to take on entrenched incumbents.

The victim of Citizens United isn’t democracy; it’s the laws and traditions of congressional politics that amounted to a near-foolproof incumbent protection plan. Incumbents are magnets for campaign contributions because everyone with a cause or an interest to be served by congressional legislation or influence wants to be in their good graces. There is no such incentive to help their challengers.

The mainstream media, which prizes its constitutionally protected right to exercise influence on elections, similarly looks askance at efforts to break up their monopoly on campaign information via campaign advertising. Citizens United has not injected more money into our political system, since money has always been — and always will be — an integral part of campaigns. Though incumbents will always have great advantages, what the High Court has done is to tilt the playing field a little bit more toward the challengers. And that’s what’s really got many of those quoted in the Times story upset. It wasn’t as the incumbents claim that the voice of the average voter is being diluted, but their monopoly on power. They want less democracy, not more.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has rightly pointed out, “the courts have said that Congress doesn’t have the authority to muzzle political speech.” But don’t expect that to inhibit politicians who would like to make it easier on themselves in 2014. Nevertheless, those Republicans quoted in the piece as favoring such limits ought to expect conservatives to remember their self-interested apostasy during the next election cycle.

Read Less

Brown-Warren “Civility” and the Law of Unintended Consequences

In February, Lindsay Mark Lewis, a former Democratic National Committee finance director, wrote a heavy-hearted piece for the New York Times. Lewis wrote that he has always supported campaign finance reform, but something funny had recently happened. The Law of Unintended Consequences, that bane of liberal social engineers and red tape wielding bureaucrats, had hit Lewis–and hard. One of the effects of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation was that it didn’t take money out of politics after all; it merely redirected money to less accountable groups like 527s and super PACs. Wrote a defeated Lewis:

Nevertheless, I’ve decided that the best way forward may be to go in the opposite direction: repeal what’s left of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly known as McCain-Feingold, which severely limits the amount of money the parties can collect for their candidates.

Well what do you know–the cure was worse than the disease. So much worse, in fact, that the country’s biggest boosters of that cure were turning against it, ruing the day they went after the First Amendment with malice aforethought. Something similar, but slightly less ironic, is now taking place in Massachusetts between Senator Scott Brown and his liberal challenger, Elizabeth Warren. To great fanfare—OK, modest fanfare—Brown and Warren signed a pledge that would effectively ban third-party groups from the race. When Brown announced the deal to Fox News in January, the station’s website reported it this way:

Read More

In February, Lindsay Mark Lewis, a former Democratic National Committee finance director, wrote a heavy-hearted piece for the New York Times. Lewis wrote that he has always supported campaign finance reform, but something funny had recently happened. The Law of Unintended Consequences, that bane of liberal social engineers and red tape wielding bureaucrats, had hit Lewis–and hard. One of the effects of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation was that it didn’t take money out of politics after all; it merely redirected money to less accountable groups like 527s and super PACs. Wrote a defeated Lewis:

Nevertheless, I’ve decided that the best way forward may be to go in the opposite direction: repeal what’s left of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly known as McCain-Feingold, which severely limits the amount of money the parties can collect for their candidates.

Well what do you know–the cure was worse than the disease. So much worse, in fact, that the country’s biggest boosters of that cure were turning against it, ruing the day they went after the First Amendment with malice aforethought. Something similar, but slightly less ironic, is now taking place in Massachusetts between Senator Scott Brown and his liberal challenger, Elizabeth Warren. To great fanfare—OK, modest fanfare—Brown and Warren signed a pledge that would effectively ban third-party groups from the race. When Brown announced the deal to Fox News in January, the station’s website reported it this way:

The Senate race in Massachusetts is going for the civility vote as Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren have agreed — under threat of financial penalty to themselves — to ban third party ads from their race.

Ah, civility at last. There was just simply no way this could end up having the opposite effect, right? Yet today, Rosie Gray reports from Lowell, Massachusetts:

The poison that runs through this state’s Senate race seemed to spill over into the traffic Tuesday night: Everyone was paralyzed, furious, and headed to the same place, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell’s Tsongas Center.

Everyone sounds really angry and on-edge. What happened? Gray explains:

The Massachusetts Senate Campaign, between a moderate Republican and a liberal hero, began with a pledge that was meant to keep things clean. The campaigns promised not to let outside groups run radio and television advertisements on their behalves. That agreement appears to have accomplished roughly the opposite of its goal: Now, instead of letting outsiders do the dirty work for them, Warren and Brown have had to do it themselves. And a race that was always going to be tough has reached an unusual depth of personal nastiness[.]

So it didn’t take the negativity out of the election, it simply caused the candidates to stoop to the levels of incivility previously only occupied by third parties—“an unusual depth of personal nastiness,” in Gray’s telling. As Gray describes it, the fact that the candidates themselves are behaving this way has set the tone for everyone involved, so even the debate audience seemed on the edge of a brawl.

Of course, they didn’t mean for this to happen. They just signed legally binding agreements to curtail free political speech, and somehow it didn’t work out. They had good intentions—and paved the road to Lowell with them.

Read Less

Citizens United Decision’s Real Victim: Incumbent Protection Plans

The primary defeat of an incumbent Republican member of Congress on Tuesday in Ohio has provoked some cries of dismay from the media and other sectors of the chattering classes. No one really cares about Rep. Jean Schmidt, who lost her race in her Cincinnati-area district to a relatively unknown podiatrist. But the reason for concern we are told is the fact that Schmidt was, in part, taken down by a GOP insurgency in which a super PAC played a significant role. That’s the conceit of a New York Times feature this morning about the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that limited the federal government’s ability to restrict political speech in the form of election advertisements. A Houston-based political action committee called the Campaign for Primary Accountability spent about $200,000 to help defeat Schmidt and is taking an active role in other races where incumbents are being challenged.

The Times story attempts to paint such super PACs as tools of corporate interests, which fits in with the liberal critique of Citizens United as undermining democracy. But the real moral of this story is very different. By making it easier for groups to spend money promoting their ideas and/or opposing candidates, the court has destroyed the dynamic of most congressional races in which it was virtually impossible for challengers to raise enough money to take on entrenched incumbents. The victim of Citizens United isn’t democracy; it’s the laws and traditions of congressional politics that amounted to a near-foolproof incumbent protection plan.

Read More

The primary defeat of an incumbent Republican member of Congress on Tuesday in Ohio has provoked some cries of dismay from the media and other sectors of the chattering classes. No one really cares about Rep. Jean Schmidt, who lost her race in her Cincinnati-area district to a relatively unknown podiatrist. But the reason for concern we are told is the fact that Schmidt was, in part, taken down by a GOP insurgency in which a super PAC played a significant role. That’s the conceit of a New York Times feature this morning about the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that limited the federal government’s ability to restrict political speech in the form of election advertisements. A Houston-based political action committee called the Campaign for Primary Accountability spent about $200,000 to help defeat Schmidt and is taking an active role in other races where incumbents are being challenged.

The Times story attempts to paint such super PACs as tools of corporate interests, which fits in with the liberal critique of Citizens United as undermining democracy. But the real moral of this story is very different. By making it easier for groups to spend money promoting their ideas and/or opposing candidates, the court has destroyed the dynamic of most congressional races in which it was virtually impossible for challengers to raise enough money to take on entrenched incumbents. The victim of Citizens United isn’t democracy; it’s the laws and traditions of congressional politics that amounted to a near-foolproof incumbent protection plan.

As The Hill points out in their piece on Schmidt’s loss, ethics charges as well as her lack of sympathy for Tea Party principles made her vulnerable. Her opponent Brad Wenstrup was also a more formidable foe than was generally understood. But the infusion of cash into this race by the super PAC helped offset the otherwise enormous advantage that a sitting member of the House such as Schmidt has in such a primary. Incumbents are magnets for campaign contributions because everyone with a cause or an interest to be served by congressional legislation or influence wants to be in their good graces. There is no such incentive to help their challengers.

Incumbents always think there is something not quite kosher about anything that makes it easy for those out of power to hold them accountable. The mainstream media, which prizes its constitutionally protected right to exercise influence on elections, similarly looks askance at efforts to break up their monopoly on campaign information via campaign advertising. Citizens United has not injected more money into our political system since money has always been — and always will be — an integral part of campaigns. Though incumbents will always have great advantages, what the High Court has done is to tilt the playing field a little bit more towards the challengers. Though President Obama and the liberal chorus in which the Times plays a key role decries this change, what they are complaining about is more democracy, not less.

Read Less

Bill Maher’s Money and Democracy

Comedian Bill Maher made headlines yesterday by announcing he is giving $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC. The donation to Priorities USA Action was, Maher said, “the wisest investment I think I could make,” because he considers that living in a country governed by Obama rather than the Republicans is “worth a million dollars.” Anything a person like Maher does must be seen as a publicity stunt. but it will likely also be treated as proof of the absurdity of a system that allows wealthy people to use their money to promote their views. Maher’s million-dollar check will be seen as a sacrifice on the altar of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened up the floodgates for private groups and individuals to put their money where their mouths are.

But though his intent may be to satirize or to undermine existing law, Maher’s action is not only entirely appropriate; it is proof that the high court’s ruling was correct. If Maher believes Barack Obama should be re-elected, then neither the government nor those of us who disagree with him should have any right to stop him from spending his money in this fashion. Donations to candidates or causes, whether large or small, are a form of political speech. He is as entitled to his right to promote his side as a Republican like Sheldon Adelson or a fellow leftist such as George Soros.

Read More

Comedian Bill Maher made headlines yesterday by announcing he is giving $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC. The donation to Priorities USA Action was, Maher said, “the wisest investment I think I could make,” because he considers that living in a country governed by Obama rather than the Republicans is “worth a million dollars.” Anything a person like Maher does must be seen as a publicity stunt. but it will likely also be treated as proof of the absurdity of a system that allows wealthy people to use their money to promote their views. Maher’s million-dollar check will be seen as a sacrifice on the altar of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened up the floodgates for private groups and individuals to put their money where their mouths are.

But though his intent may be to satirize or to undermine existing law, Maher’s action is not only entirely appropriate; it is proof that the high court’s ruling was correct. If Maher believes Barack Obama should be re-elected, then neither the government nor those of us who disagree with him should have any right to stop him from spending his money in this fashion. Donations to candidates or causes, whether large or small, are a form of political speech. He is as entitled to his right to promote his side as a Republican like Sheldon Adelson or a fellow leftist such as George Soros.

Hindering the right to donate funds to candidates and causes does not prevent the use of money in politics. It just causes it to be funneled into the system in different ways. Moreover, any system that makes such donations onerous merely enhances the power of those who have no such legal restrictions. This includes the news media, whose right to report about the campaign or various issues from a left or right wing slant and to shape public opinion is rightly protected by the Constitution.

Every attempt at campaign finance reform dating back to the initial surge of legislation after the Watergate scandal has only served to worsen the system. Instead of money flowing to candidates and parties, it must now be channeled to independent groups that are even less accountable. Unfortunately, stifling the free speech rights of independent groups is exactly what opponents of the Citizens United decision want to do. But so long as there is a majority on the court willing to defend the rights of citizens to individually or collectively express their views in this manner, such efforts will fail. In a country where flag burning is a constitutionally protected act of free speech, the idea that so-called “good government” types would have the right to prevent Adelson, Soros or even Bill Maher from promoting their views via expenditures is absurd.

I may not consider Bill Maher to be funny and view his political views with even more distaste than his attempts at humor. But I — and anyone else who cares about democracy and free speech — ought to be prepared to defend to the death his right to spend his money on any causes or candidates he likes.

Read Less

You Can’t Take Money Out of Politics

Yesterday’s edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press” featured a battle of two surrogates: John McCain, who was there boosting Mitt Romney, and his former Senate colleague Fred Thompson, who was on hand to speak for Newt Gingrich. Given the polls that show Romney ready to win big in Florida, McCain had the better of the argument about the Republican presidential race. But when he got around to discussing the use of super PACs in the contest, Thompson made more sense.

As the co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that was largely gutted by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the Arizona senator is still furious about the impact this had on his pet cause of campaign finance reform. His dire predictions it would all lead to “scandal” because there is “too much money washing around in politics” made for a good sound bite, but the super PACs’ role in the 2012 campaign is not so much a testament to the mistakes of the High Court but to the fallacies promoted by the campaign finance reform lobby. If McCain doesn’t like the way campaigns are being financed, and there are good reasons not to like it, then he should blame the entire reform movement, not a court that protected free speech rights.

Read More

Yesterday’s edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press” featured a battle of two surrogates: John McCain, who was there boosting Mitt Romney, and his former Senate colleague Fred Thompson, who was on hand to speak for Newt Gingrich. Given the polls that show Romney ready to win big in Florida, McCain had the better of the argument about the Republican presidential race. But when he got around to discussing the use of super PACs in the contest, Thompson made more sense.

As the co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that was largely gutted by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the Arizona senator is still furious about the impact this had on his pet cause of campaign finance reform. His dire predictions it would all lead to “scandal” because there is “too much money washing around in politics” made for a good sound bite, but the super PACs’ role in the 2012 campaign is not so much a testament to the mistakes of the High Court but to the fallacies promoted by the campaign finance reform lobby. If McCain doesn’t like the way campaigns are being financed, and there are good reasons not to like it, then he should blame the entire reform movement, not a court that protected free speech rights.

It is true the spectacle of individual donors like Newt Gingrich’s friend Sheldon Adelson having the power to affect the race seems an indictment of the current state of the law. But super PACs exist, like their predecessors in recent elections such as the 527 groups made famous by the Swift Boat Veterans that attacked John Kerry, because of the reform impulse that seeks to take money out of politics. As this is impossible, all the reforms have done is to make it more difficult for candidates and political parties to raise money. Though some laws, like McCain’s unlamented legislation, have sought to extend those restrictions to individual citizens, groups and corporations, this violates the constitutionally protected right of political speech.

McCain thinks it is scandalous that a “casino owner and his wife” — meaning the Adelsons — have a right to spend their money promoting candidates and issues they believe in. But even if you agree some of the ads financed by Adelson (such as the Michael Moore-style documentary attacking Romney’s business career that was run by a Gingrich super PAC) were absurd, why should the government have any more right to stifle the Adelsons’ speech than it does that of the media or incumbent politicians?

As Thompson pointed out in rebuttal to McCain, the right of political speech cannot be restricted only to those candidates who can “self-fund.” That means all candidates and the parties should have the ability to raise the money they need, if they can muster such support, so long as there is some transparency. If McCain thinks it’s a bad thing that campaign finance law has marginalized parties, he should blame the whole “reform” impulse that has continually blighted our political life since Watergate, not the court.

If there are to be more campaign finance scandals, they are as much the fault of those who, like McCain, cling to the myth that money can be drained from politics if only you write enough restrictive laws. On the contrary, politics will be a lot cleaner once this “reform” impulse is permanently shelved.

Read Less

Was There Too Much Free Speech in Iowa?

One of the standard tropes of reporting on the Republican presidential contest is that the race has been tarnished by the plethora of negative advertisements paid for by independent committees. For liberals, harping on this theme kills two birds with one stone, because it allows them to trash the GOP field while at the same time opening up a discussion about the evils of campaign finance and the need to further “reform” the use of money in politics. That was the theme of a recent New York Times editorial deploring the impact of “Super PACs” in Iowa. These groups were, the paper said, “septic tanks” financed by the wealthy which do the dirty work of unscrupulous candidates. The paper lamented that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision had, in effect, opened the floodgates to a tsunami of political slime.

But as Bradley Smith points out in a brilliant takedown of the Times and other critics of the court ruling in National Review, all such liberal complaints are a desire to limit the amount of political speech, especially when it is used by conservatives. The idea that citizens could actually speak out on issues and candidates without restrictions, a privilege that the Times would like to see reserved for the media, frightens liberals.

Read More

One of the standard tropes of reporting on the Republican presidential contest is that the race has been tarnished by the plethora of negative advertisements paid for by independent committees. For liberals, harping on this theme kills two birds with one stone, because it allows them to trash the GOP field while at the same time opening up a discussion about the evils of campaign finance and the need to further “reform” the use of money in politics. That was the theme of a recent New York Times editorial deploring the impact of “Super PACs” in Iowa. These groups were, the paper said, “septic tanks” financed by the wealthy which do the dirty work of unscrupulous candidates. The paper lamented that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision had, in effect, opened the floodgates to a tsunami of political slime.

But as Bradley Smith points out in a brilliant takedown of the Times and other critics of the court ruling in National Review, all such liberal complaints are a desire to limit the amount of political speech, especially when it is used by conservatives. The idea that citizens could actually speak out on issues and candidates without restrictions, a privilege that the Times would like to see reserved for the media, frightens liberals.

Smith, the former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission, has been the single most important voice in the fight to roll back restrictions on political speech. He makes it clear that the latest bout of squeamishness about campaign rhetoric is absurd. Contrary to the liberal lament about the low level of contemporary political discourse, our politics today is less dirty than that of previous generations. Moreover, what exactly is their problem, with groups highlighting the candidates’ records on issues of interest to the public? Is democracy tarnished by too much information and too much speech? On the contrary, it is up to the voters in a democracy to sort out the charges and counter-charges made by the candidates and their friends.

Advocates of laws such as the McCain-Feingold campaign finance provisions that were struck down by the High Court claim their goal is to clean up politics, but their real objective is to restrict political speech. A situation where any group of citizens can band together and use their resources to broadcast political messages on issues and candidates is one that scares much of the political class as well as elements of the mainstream media. Like all of the post-Watergate election “reforms,” McCain-Feingold not only failed in their quixotic quest to get money out of politics but actually made things worse.

But the removal of those restrictions has had the opposite effect. More political speech is good for the system and our democracy. Such speech isn’t the sole preserve of the liberal media or corporate interests. And liberal groups can just as easily employ it as conservatives. We may not always like what is being said, but in a free country the last thing we ought to be concerned about is shutting up those with an opinion about politics. It is a sad commentary on contemporary liberalism that making it harder to speak out remains their priority.

Read Less

Another Low for Amanpour

Each Sunday, This Week hits a new low. For sheer inanity, nothing to date has topped Meghan McCain on the show’s roundtable. What exactly does she bring to this? Well, self-parody for starters. Asked about Christine O’Donnell, McCain pronounces:

Well, I speak as a 26-year-old woman. And my problem is that, no matter what, Christine O’Donnell is making a mockery of running for public office. She has no real history, no real success in any kind of business. And what that sends to my generation is, one day, you can just wake up and run for Senate, no matter how much lack of experience you have. And it scares me for a lot of reasons, and I just know (inaudible) it just turns people off, because she’s seen as a nutjob.

I suppose the comments would have more weight if not coming from a celebrity-by-nepotism with “no real history, no real success in any kind of business.” Other than her father and her propensity to bash conservatives, what exactly are her qualifications to discuss much of anything? Ah, but that’s more than enough for Amanpour. Read More

Each Sunday, This Week hits a new low. For sheer inanity, nothing to date has topped Meghan McCain on the show’s roundtable. What exactly does she bring to this? Well, self-parody for starters. Asked about Christine O’Donnell, McCain pronounces:

Well, I speak as a 26-year-old woman. And my problem is that, no matter what, Christine O’Donnell is making a mockery of running for public office. She has no real history, no real success in any kind of business. And what that sends to my generation is, one day, you can just wake up and run for Senate, no matter how much lack of experience you have. And it scares me for a lot of reasons, and I just know (inaudible) it just turns people off, because she’s seen as a nutjob.

I suppose the comments would have more weight if not coming from a celebrity-by-nepotism with “no real history, no real success in any kind of business.” Other than her father and her propensity to bash conservatives, what exactly are her qualifications to discuss much of anything? Ah, but that’s more than enough for Amanpour.

McCain was also a font of misinformation regarding the impact of the Tea Party on younger voters:

MCCAIN: I wrote this out of personal experience. I know how I’m vilified on an absolutely daily basis. No matter what the Republican Party wants to think about this Tea Party movement, it is losing young voters at a rapid rate. And this isn’t going to change unless we start changing our message. …

AMANPOUR: She has a point, right? Young voters are the future. …

WILL: Not a political point. No, 20 months ago the question was, does the Republican Party have a future? In the last 20 months, we’ve had two things happen. A, the Tea Party movement has energized the Republican Party, and the Democrats are trying to hold onto one house of Congress right now. I don’t think that’s the sign of a party that’s in trouble.

DOWD: And I think Meghan’s right, but you have to also make the counterpoint. As Barack Obama won younger voters by 30 points. He as of right now has a difficulty getting any of those voters to a rally who have lost — a great deal are disappointed in what’s happened. …

So Amanpour brings on a political ignoramus, agrees with McCain’s “analysis,” and then must be corrected by two other guests who are too polite to simply say, “She doesn’t know what she is talking about.”

That was topped by Amanpour’s gleeful rooting for the administration’s crusade against political speech. There was this:

AMANPOUR: . . .I mean, where is campaign finance reform? Do you think it’s dead?

WILL: Dead.

AMANPOUR: Dead in the water?

WILL: Stake through it.

AMANPOUR: And you don’t like it all?

WILL: Absolutely wonderful development this year is — is the rolling back …

AMANPOUR: How can that be wonderful for a democracy, I mean, not to know where all of this money comes from and who’s putting it in?

WILL: What — what you’re talking about with the amount of money is speech. And the question is, do you have to notify the government before you can speak on politics?

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: … Justice Stevens (inaudible) that, you know, money doesn’t speak.

WILL: Well, almost all money in politics is spent on disseminating political advocacy. That’s just a fact. Now, Mr. Biden and — and the narrative from the Democrats has been this is secret money that the Koch brothers are putting into it. Well, get your story straight. Do we not — do we know who these guys are? I mean, some of them are about as anonymous as George Soros.

There isn’t a White House position for which Amanpour won’t vouch. There is no conservative principle that she doesn’t regard with disdain. How can unregulated speech be good for a democracy!? She is stumped.

I’m stumped, too. Amanpour is a ratings and journalistic disaster. It is hard to understand why she was picked for a serious Sunday talk-show-host position and even harder to understand what she is still doing there. The White House is taking an opportunity to clean house. Shouldn’t ABC News do the same?

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

A new group, Keep Israel Safe, has an ad pummeling Obama for having no plan to thwart a nuclear-armed Iran.

Christians for a Nuclear-Free Iran sends a letter to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi urging them to move on the Iran-sanctions bill: “Almost five months have passed. The situation with Iran has only become more alarming. Congress has not moved. The whole world is waiting for leadership on Iran. Will it come only after it is too late?” You get the feeling that mainstream Jewish groups risk becoming irrelevant if they don’t turn up the heat on the Obami?

Meanwhile, the State Department says we are “concerned” about Syrian missiles. Soon we may be “deeply troubled.”

Fred and Kim Kagan warn: “Concerns over delays in the formation of a new Iraqi government and the prospects for meeting President Obama’s announced timeline for withdrawal are clouding views of a more urgent matter: The United States might be about to lose an opportunity for success in Iraq by tolerating a highly sectarian, politicized move to overturn Iraq’s election results. Washington must act swiftly to defend the integrity of the electoral process and support Iraqi leaders’ tentative efforts to rein in the “de-Baathification” commission that threatens to undermine the entire democratic process.”

Floyd Abrams, former ACLU head Ira Glasser, and former ACLU counsel Joel Gora lambast the ACLU for reversing its decades-old policy opposing First Amendment restrictions in the name of campaign-finance reform: “Experience has shown that the kinds of campaign finance limits the ACLU now endorses have entrenched the powers-that-be even further. Thus the ACLU is prescribing a lot of First Amendment pain for no real democratic gain. And in the process of changing its policy, the principal defender of free-speech rights will abandon that field to others. In essence, the rhetoric of egalitarianism has won a victory over freedom of speech: The new restrictions the ACLU supports will never bring about the equality it claims is its goal. This is a self-inflicted wound from which the ACLU will not soon recover.” We can only hope they are right.

A poll has Dan Coats with a double-digit lead in the Indiana GOP primary race.

Both son and father Reid are in big trouble in Nevada. Could the name be toxic?

Blanche Lincoln has stiff competition in her primary.

From the gang that wouldn’t put health-care negotiations on TV: “A handful of lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee hope to compel the Supreme Court to begin televising its proceedings.”

A new group, Keep Israel Safe, has an ad pummeling Obama for having no plan to thwart a nuclear-armed Iran.

Christians for a Nuclear-Free Iran sends a letter to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi urging them to move on the Iran-sanctions bill: “Almost five months have passed. The situation with Iran has only become more alarming. Congress has not moved. The whole world is waiting for leadership on Iran. Will it come only after it is too late?” You get the feeling that mainstream Jewish groups risk becoming irrelevant if they don’t turn up the heat on the Obami?

Meanwhile, the State Department says we are “concerned” about Syrian missiles. Soon we may be “deeply troubled.”

Fred and Kim Kagan warn: “Concerns over delays in the formation of a new Iraqi government and the prospects for meeting President Obama’s announced timeline for withdrawal are clouding views of a more urgent matter: The United States might be about to lose an opportunity for success in Iraq by tolerating a highly sectarian, politicized move to overturn Iraq’s election results. Washington must act swiftly to defend the integrity of the electoral process and support Iraqi leaders’ tentative efforts to rein in the “de-Baathification” commission that threatens to undermine the entire democratic process.”

Floyd Abrams, former ACLU head Ira Glasser, and former ACLU counsel Joel Gora lambast the ACLU for reversing its decades-old policy opposing First Amendment restrictions in the name of campaign-finance reform: “Experience has shown that the kinds of campaign finance limits the ACLU now endorses have entrenched the powers-that-be even further. Thus the ACLU is prescribing a lot of First Amendment pain for no real democratic gain. And in the process of changing its policy, the principal defender of free-speech rights will abandon that field to others. In essence, the rhetoric of egalitarianism has won a victory over freedom of speech: The new restrictions the ACLU supports will never bring about the equality it claims is its goal. This is a self-inflicted wound from which the ACLU will not soon recover.” We can only hope they are right.

A poll has Dan Coats with a double-digit lead in the Indiana GOP primary race.

Both son and father Reid are in big trouble in Nevada. Could the name be toxic?

Blanche Lincoln has stiff competition in her primary.

From the gang that wouldn’t put health-care negotiations on TV: “A handful of lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee hope to compel the Supreme Court to begin televising its proceedings.”

Read Less

Schumer’s End Run on the Court Hasn’t a Chance

Politics is never short of irony. It was predictable that the Democrats would introduce legislation that attempted to circumvent the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down campaign-finance laws that sought to restrict political speech. To justify this stand, they claim they are standing up to “corporate America.” But it’s more than a little ironic that the Senate sponsor of this bill is Charles Schumer of New York, the man who has spent most of the past decade helping the Democrats raise big bucks from, you guessed it, corporate America.

The bill, as described in today’s New York Times will be a patchwork of restrictions as well as disclosure requirements for expenditures. But in spite of the fact that Schumer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen claim their bill will comply with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law, it is pretty clear that it does not. The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission specifically prohibited bans aimed at silencing specific groups or classes of persons or corporations. But the Democrat bill, though it targets corporations that are politically unpopular — government contractors, recipients of federal bailout money, and foreign corporations — clearly contravenes the Court’s ruling. This attempt to prohibit political commercials paid for by such groups is exactly the sort of thing that the majority ruling singled out as a violation of the First Amendment.

The Times quotes Bradley Smith, the former chair of the Federal Election Commission and the driving force behind the movement to overturn such unconstitutional infringements of free speech, as saying that the Democrats’ bill obviously flouts the law. Since the sponsors of the bill have presented it as a way of curbing the exact sort of spending that the Court said was legal, all he would have to do to overturn this piece of legislation is to merely quote its authors.

Running against “corporate America” is always good politics, but citizens do not lose their right to speak out on political issues or elections when they band together to form interest groups or corporations. The goal of Schumer’s bill, like the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law that spawned the Citizens United case, is to silence entire classes of political speakers. The only winners in such a scheme are not the people or the principle of fair elections but the politicians and media corporations that have always been able to spend as much as they like in pursuit of whatever political cause or candidate they prefer. While more disclosure of expenditures is always welcome, it must also be done in such a way as to make compliance feasible. As the 2008 election proved, when Barack Obama raised vast sums on the Internet, full disclosure takes time and must be carefully done lest confidential financial information (like individual credit-card numbers) be published along with the names of contributors.

It is unlikely that the Schumer–Van Hollen bill will get anywhere this year despite the histrionics of the sponsors. But it is worth noting the blatant hypocrisy of Schumer, the poster child for crony capitalism whose fundraising efforts have been the nexus of a flood of corporate contributions to the Democratic party in recent years, claiming to be the defender of the ordinary guy against the influence of corporate money.

Also interesting is the silence of the former paladin of campaign-finance reform: Senator John McCain. If there was one issue above all others that alienated the Republican base from the 2008 GOP presidential candidate it was his championing of a “reform” that sought to restrict political speech. Facing a right-wing primary challenge for re-election this year, McCain’s office could only say that “the Supreme Court has spoken.” Yes, it has. And while President Obama and Schumer may play the demagogue on this issue, supporters of free speech can be thankful that the conservative majority on the Court has, at least for now, had the last word on this issue.

Politics is never short of irony. It was predictable that the Democrats would introduce legislation that attempted to circumvent the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down campaign-finance laws that sought to restrict political speech. To justify this stand, they claim they are standing up to “corporate America.” But it’s more than a little ironic that the Senate sponsor of this bill is Charles Schumer of New York, the man who has spent most of the past decade helping the Democrats raise big bucks from, you guessed it, corporate America.

The bill, as described in today’s New York Times will be a patchwork of restrictions as well as disclosure requirements for expenditures. But in spite of the fact that Schumer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen claim their bill will comply with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law, it is pretty clear that it does not. The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission specifically prohibited bans aimed at silencing specific groups or classes of persons or corporations. But the Democrat bill, though it targets corporations that are politically unpopular — government contractors, recipients of federal bailout money, and foreign corporations — clearly contravenes the Court’s ruling. This attempt to prohibit political commercials paid for by such groups is exactly the sort of thing that the majority ruling singled out as a violation of the First Amendment.

The Times quotes Bradley Smith, the former chair of the Federal Election Commission and the driving force behind the movement to overturn such unconstitutional infringements of free speech, as saying that the Democrats’ bill obviously flouts the law. Since the sponsors of the bill have presented it as a way of curbing the exact sort of spending that the Court said was legal, all he would have to do to overturn this piece of legislation is to merely quote its authors.

Running against “corporate America” is always good politics, but citizens do not lose their right to speak out on political issues or elections when they band together to form interest groups or corporations. The goal of Schumer’s bill, like the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law that spawned the Citizens United case, is to silence entire classes of political speakers. The only winners in such a scheme are not the people or the principle of fair elections but the politicians and media corporations that have always been able to spend as much as they like in pursuit of whatever political cause or candidate they prefer. While more disclosure of expenditures is always welcome, it must also be done in such a way as to make compliance feasible. As the 2008 election proved, when Barack Obama raised vast sums on the Internet, full disclosure takes time and must be carefully done lest confidential financial information (like individual credit-card numbers) be published along with the names of contributors.

It is unlikely that the Schumer–Van Hollen bill will get anywhere this year despite the histrionics of the sponsors. But it is worth noting the blatant hypocrisy of Schumer, the poster child for crony capitalism whose fundraising efforts have been the nexus of a flood of corporate contributions to the Democratic party in recent years, claiming to be the defender of the ordinary guy against the influence of corporate money.

Also interesting is the silence of the former paladin of campaign-finance reform: Senator John McCain. If there was one issue above all others that alienated the Republican base from the 2008 GOP presidential candidate it was his championing of a “reform” that sought to restrict political speech. Facing a right-wing primary challenge for re-election this year, McCain’s office could only say that “the Supreme Court has spoken.” Yes, it has. And while President Obama and Schumer may play the demagogue on this issue, supporters of free speech can be thankful that the conservative majority on the Court has, at least for now, had the last word on this issue.

Read Less

McCain Blogger Call

John McCain held another blogger call today, starting off with a jab at Barack Obama on Iraq. Citing Obama’s recent statement that U.S. troops might have to re-enter after he withdrew them because Al Qaeda “might establish a base,” McCain stressed that Al Qaeda already “has a base” and that General Petraeus has identified Iraq as the “central battleground” in the war against terrorism.

I asked how he regarded the Democrats’ abandonment of free trade and to expand on his thoughts on the passing of William F. Buckley, Jr. On trade, he stated that “the far Left is driving the debate” and gave a spirited defense of the benefits of free trade, which he termed “a fundamental requirement of American policy.” On Buckley, he declared that he was “a trailblazer” and “a true conservative leader” and “one of the nicest, one of the [most] decent people” he knew.

In response to other questions he enthusiastically stated he would continue town hall meetings and keep the media “on the bus” even after he wraps up the nomination. As for Obama, he demurred when asked if he would attack Obama’s experience, saying rather he would explain his own experience and point out the “very, very significant differences” on policy issues. Asked about George Will’s column today blasting him on campaign finance reform he diplomatically complimented Will as a great conservative writer, but said they would have to “agree to disagree” on campaign reform. However, he acknowledged (as Will pointed out) that he had refused to shake former FEC Commissioner Brad Smith’s hand because, he alleged, Smith had “savaged me and attacked my character.” (His tone was calm, but there could be no mistaking his animosity toward Smith.)

On other topics he wholeheartedly supported a proposal by Senator Jim DeMint to enact a one-year ban on earmarks, expressed “grave concern” about the progress of the Six Party talks (and said the New York Philharmonic trip was “fine,” but he wished people from the “world’s largest gulag” could have attended the concert instead of 1400 hand-picked guests), and said that President Bush could help the GOP’s chances and conservatives more generally by staying the course in Iraq and Afghanistan, maintaining pressure on Iran and vetoing any spending bill with an earmark. On Iraq, he explained that we could have a long-term presence there, but was “absolutely” confident that military victory could be achieved during his term as president. For good measure he also passed a “pop quiz’ on the difference between the YouTube and MySpace websites.

Over all, he seemed feisty and engaged, but careful in tone to stress the upcoming election would be conducted with respect. In short, he seems raring to start the general election battle.

John McCain held another blogger call today, starting off with a jab at Barack Obama on Iraq. Citing Obama’s recent statement that U.S. troops might have to re-enter after he withdrew them because Al Qaeda “might establish a base,” McCain stressed that Al Qaeda already “has a base” and that General Petraeus has identified Iraq as the “central battleground” in the war against terrorism.

I asked how he regarded the Democrats’ abandonment of free trade and to expand on his thoughts on the passing of William F. Buckley, Jr. On trade, he stated that “the far Left is driving the debate” and gave a spirited defense of the benefits of free trade, which he termed “a fundamental requirement of American policy.” On Buckley, he declared that he was “a trailblazer” and “a true conservative leader” and “one of the nicest, one of the [most] decent people” he knew.

In response to other questions he enthusiastically stated he would continue town hall meetings and keep the media “on the bus” even after he wraps up the nomination. As for Obama, he demurred when asked if he would attack Obama’s experience, saying rather he would explain his own experience and point out the “very, very significant differences” on policy issues. Asked about George Will’s column today blasting him on campaign finance reform he diplomatically complimented Will as a great conservative writer, but said they would have to “agree to disagree” on campaign reform. However, he acknowledged (as Will pointed out) that he had refused to shake former FEC Commissioner Brad Smith’s hand because, he alleged, Smith had “savaged me and attacked my character.” (His tone was calm, but there could be no mistaking his animosity toward Smith.)

On other topics he wholeheartedly supported a proposal by Senator Jim DeMint to enact a one-year ban on earmarks, expressed “grave concern” about the progress of the Six Party talks (and said the New York Philharmonic trip was “fine,” but he wished people from the “world’s largest gulag” could have attended the concert instead of 1400 hand-picked guests), and said that President Bush could help the GOP’s chances and conservatives more generally by staying the course in Iraq and Afghanistan, maintaining pressure on Iran and vetoing any spending bill with an earmark. On Iraq, he explained that we could have a long-term presence there, but was “absolutely” confident that military victory could be achieved during his term as president. For good measure he also passed a “pop quiz’ on the difference between the YouTube and MySpace websites.

Over all, he seemed feisty and engaged, but careful in tone to stress the upcoming election would be conducted with respect. In short, he seems raring to start the general election battle.

Read Less

McCain Going Forward

A very thoughtful piece by Mitt Romney supporter Dean Barnett argues that John McCain should not and cannot move to the right to gain the nomination. Barnett essentially says that it’s up to conservatives to decide whether to get on the bus or hand the White House over to the Democrats in the middle of two wars. The opposite view, set forth in near comical terms here, is for McCain to check every conservative box he can find and ingratiate himself with the Right. (Because that worked out so well for Romney?)

The solution seems to be somewhere in the middle. McCain is not about to deviate from his views on campaign finance reform or global warming, especially since the latter in particular is a winner in the general election. He is not likely to confess he was wrong on waterboarding or on the Bush tax cuts. However, he should explain in clearer terms his domestic policy agenda, which is fundamentally conservative. His healthcare plan and what we have seen of his fiscal plans would and have made Larry Kudlow smile. He has, contrary to recent talk show chatter, committed himself to appoint conservative judges. He can explain why this is critical and why conservatives benefit when social policy decisions return to the elected branches of government. In short, McCain needs to explain, but not revise his basic philosophy of government.

And immigration? He said he is committed to border security first and that is as much as he can offer the conservative anti-immigration crowd. If some leave the GOP over their insistence that McCain jettison his willingness to deal with the millions of illegal immigrants who will certainly still remain after all available border security measures, internal enforcement, and “attrition by enforcement” run their course, there is little McCain can do about it. And the risk here seems low. So far, immigration does not seem to be the barnburner issue it was made out to be.

A very thoughtful piece by Mitt Romney supporter Dean Barnett argues that John McCain should not and cannot move to the right to gain the nomination. Barnett essentially says that it’s up to conservatives to decide whether to get on the bus or hand the White House over to the Democrats in the middle of two wars. The opposite view, set forth in near comical terms here, is for McCain to check every conservative box he can find and ingratiate himself with the Right. (Because that worked out so well for Romney?)

The solution seems to be somewhere in the middle. McCain is not about to deviate from his views on campaign finance reform or global warming, especially since the latter in particular is a winner in the general election. He is not likely to confess he was wrong on waterboarding or on the Bush tax cuts. However, he should explain in clearer terms his domestic policy agenda, which is fundamentally conservative. His healthcare plan and what we have seen of his fiscal plans would and have made Larry Kudlow smile. He has, contrary to recent talk show chatter, committed himself to appoint conservative judges. He can explain why this is critical and why conservatives benefit when social policy decisions return to the elected branches of government. In short, McCain needs to explain, but not revise his basic philosophy of government.

And immigration? He said he is committed to border security first and that is as much as he can offer the conservative anti-immigration crowd. If some leave the GOP over their insistence that McCain jettison his willingness to deal with the millions of illegal immigrants who will certainly still remain after all available border security measures, internal enforcement, and “attrition by enforcement” run their course, there is little McCain can do about it. And the risk here seems low. So far, immigration does not seem to be the barnburner issue it was made out to be.

Read Less

The Man Who Blew It

Tonight was Mitt Romney’s last stand. He blew it. The conservative antipathy towards McCain involves real issues: his indefensible support of campaign finance reform, his opposition to Bush tax cuts, his throwaway lines attacking corporations, and so on. Romney should have been on attack mode from the first moment, stirring up every conservative trepidation about McCain, stressing his unreliability as a consistent voice for the cause. “We don’t need a maverick, Senator, we need a steadfast, principled and predictable conservative leader,” was the line I was waiting for. Instead, Romney dove head-first into McCain’s alleged smear about who supported the surge — a minor kerfuffle given all the other heat McCain has taken these last few months.

Why, for example, didn’t Romney simply quote George Will,Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or any other of the pantheon of conservative pundits who don’t trust McCain?

Romney’s most credible claim is that he understands the real economy and can speak about it eloquently. California is Proposition 13 territory, after all. His entire campaign was premised on his free-market bona fides. Tonight, when he needed them most, he barely displayed them. In New Hampshire, McCain made Iraq the touchstone of campaign. He did it again tonight and Romney let him get away with it. This contest seems very over.

Tonight was Mitt Romney’s last stand. He blew it. The conservative antipathy towards McCain involves real issues: his indefensible support of campaign finance reform, his opposition to Bush tax cuts, his throwaway lines attacking corporations, and so on. Romney should have been on attack mode from the first moment, stirring up every conservative trepidation about McCain, stressing his unreliability as a consistent voice for the cause. “We don’t need a maverick, Senator, we need a steadfast, principled and predictable conservative leader,” was the line I was waiting for. Instead, Romney dove head-first into McCain’s alleged smear about who supported the surge — a minor kerfuffle given all the other heat McCain has taken these last few months.

Why, for example, didn’t Romney simply quote George Will,Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or any other of the pantheon of conservative pundits who don’t trust McCain?

Romney’s most credible claim is that he understands the real economy and can speak about it eloquently. California is Proposition 13 territory, after all. His entire campaign was premised on his free-market bona fides. Tonight, when he needed them most, he barely displayed them. In New Hampshire, McCain made Iraq the touchstone of campaign. He did it again tonight and Romney let him get away with it. This contest seems very over.

Read Less

On McCain’s Sleeve

In a hastily arranged call with bloggers, John McCain began by touting his travels with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, whose endorsement he termed a “coup.” However, he clearly had something on his mind: the accusation circulating in conservative circles that he disapproved of Justice Samuel Alito because he wore his conservatism “on his sleeve.”

He spoke with the energy and verve he usually reserved for discussions of fiscal discipline, saying that he supported and worked for Alito’s confirmation and frequently had said on the campaign trail that he would appoint justices in the mold of Justices Alito and Roberts. In follow-up questions McCain said that he did not recall ever having such a conversation of the type John Fund of the Wall Street Journal ascribed to him, but that he has been clear that he will search for justices devoted to originalist  interpretation. He added that the “beauty” of the Alito and Roberts nominations was that they had a clear record and “we could rely on them to strictly interpret the Constitution.”

Later in the call he was asked about appointing justices who might strike down McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform. He gave an interesting answer  I had not heard previously. He said that he could not let his biases (i.e. his policy preferences) affect his decision to appoint strict constructionist judges who might not agree with him on part of his agenda. In short, he said that the decisions rendered by these judges might “far exceed my agenda.”

In response to my question as to whether Florida was a “must win” state, he would only say that it was “very important.” He acknowledged that the tone had gotten sharper in the last day or so and there was always a danger of turning off voters, but said that he was just responding to Mitt Romney’s attacks as he had in Iowa and New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, he said that his responses were accurate and Romney’s were “desperate.”

He also used the opportunity to toss some red meat to the base. First, he repeated a litany of issues on which he would be “eager” to debate the Democrats and said that the election would highlight “fundamental differences” between the parties. Second, in the context of a question about why he was no longer friends with Pat Buchanan, he was careful to say only nice things about Buchanan and then went out of his way to declare that it would be critical if he got the nomination to “really unite the party.” He stressed that the GOP “has a lot of work to do” and that ” we need everyone pulling in the same direction.”

Unfortunately, technical difficulties ended the call as he was explaining why he did not mind getting liberal newspaper endorsements (saying in effect that he was glad they support his agenda, even if he doesn’t support theirs) — including the Boston Globe, which along with the conservative Boston Herald favored him over near-favorite son Romney.

Bottom line: This was a “reassure the base” call. For those who don’t want to be reassured, it likely would not suffice. For those who needed a bit more assurance, his advocacy of strict judicial interpretation and his eagerness to take on the Democrats was likely welcome news.

In a hastily arranged call with bloggers, John McCain began by touting his travels with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, whose endorsement he termed a “coup.” However, he clearly had something on his mind: the accusation circulating in conservative circles that he disapproved of Justice Samuel Alito because he wore his conservatism “on his sleeve.”

He spoke with the energy and verve he usually reserved for discussions of fiscal discipline, saying that he supported and worked for Alito’s confirmation and frequently had said on the campaign trail that he would appoint justices in the mold of Justices Alito and Roberts. In follow-up questions McCain said that he did not recall ever having such a conversation of the type John Fund of the Wall Street Journal ascribed to him, but that he has been clear that he will search for justices devoted to originalist  interpretation. He added that the “beauty” of the Alito and Roberts nominations was that they had a clear record and “we could rely on them to strictly interpret the Constitution.”

Later in the call he was asked about appointing justices who might strike down McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform. He gave an interesting answer  I had not heard previously. He said that he could not let his biases (i.e. his policy preferences) affect his decision to appoint strict constructionist judges who might not agree with him on part of his agenda. In short, he said that the decisions rendered by these judges might “far exceed my agenda.”

In response to my question as to whether Florida was a “must win” state, he would only say that it was “very important.” He acknowledged that the tone had gotten sharper in the last day or so and there was always a danger of turning off voters, but said that he was just responding to Mitt Romney’s attacks as he had in Iowa and New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, he said that his responses were accurate and Romney’s were “desperate.”

He also used the opportunity to toss some red meat to the base. First, he repeated a litany of issues on which he would be “eager” to debate the Democrats and said that the election would highlight “fundamental differences” between the parties. Second, in the context of a question about why he was no longer friends with Pat Buchanan, he was careful to say only nice things about Buchanan and then went out of his way to declare that it would be critical if he got the nomination to “really unite the party.” He stressed that the GOP “has a lot of work to do” and that ” we need everyone pulling in the same direction.”

Unfortunately, technical difficulties ended the call as he was explaining why he did not mind getting liberal newspaper endorsements (saying in effect that he was glad they support his agenda, even if he doesn’t support theirs) — including the Boston Globe, which along with the conservative Boston Herald favored him over near-favorite son Romney.

Bottom line: This was a “reassure the base” call. For those who don’t want to be reassured, it likely would not suffice. For those who needed a bit more assurance, his advocacy of strict judicial interpretation and his eagerness to take on the Democrats was likely welcome news.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.