Commentary Magazine


Topic: Citizens United decision

Tom Steyer and the Right to Free Speech

Democrats have spent much of the last year trying to fuel outrage about the efforts of what they claim is nothing less than a plot by rich conservatives to purchase American democracy. At the center of that campaign is an effort to demonize the Koch brothers with a secondary role being played by Sheldon Adelson. But, as the New York Times reports today, liberal environmentalist Tom Steyer has now exceeded Adelson as the country’s largest donor to Super PACs with at least $55 million dollars donated in the last year to help defeat Republicans in the 2014 midterms. While Steyer is within his rights to spend his money as he likes, his move into first place in the Super PAC rankings effectively demonstrates not only the hypocrisy of attacks on the Kochs but the disingenuous nature of the Democrats’ claim that the GOP is buying the election.

Read More

Democrats have spent much of the last year trying to fuel outrage about the efforts of what they claim is nothing less than a plot by rich conservatives to purchase American democracy. At the center of that campaign is an effort to demonize the Koch brothers with a secondary role being played by Sheldon Adelson. But, as the New York Times reports today, liberal environmentalist Tom Steyer has now exceeded Adelson as the country’s largest donor to Super PACs with at least $55 million dollars donated in the last year to help defeat Republicans in the 2014 midterms. While Steyer is within his rights to spend his money as he likes, his move into first place in the Super PAC rankings effectively demonstrates not only the hypocrisy of attacks on the Kochs but the disingenuous nature of the Democrats’ claim that the GOP is buying the election.

Though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made the libertarian Koch brothers the centerpiece of his and other Democratic efforts to portray the conservative and Tea Party pushback against the Obama administration’s big-government agenda as nothing less than an “anti-American” conspiracy to defraud the republic, Steyer’s efforts and those of many other wealthy liberals give the lie to these claims. Steyer has been pouring money into Democratic campaigns like it was water in the last few months. Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action Committee reported yesterday that it had received $15 million from the billionaire that it, in turn, is distributing to Democrats in battleground races. He also gave $15 million in August.

Democrats say Steyer’s efforts shouldn’t be lumped in with those of the Kochs because the latter are venal while he is principled (though Reid exempts Adelson from his critique so as to avoid his Nevada resident aiming his considerable fortune at his own career). But this is nothing short of slander. As they have consistently demonstrated over the years, the Kochs’ belief in libertarian principles is no less rooted in ideology than Steyer’s belief that the world is melting and must be saved from global warming. Moreover, Koch Industries are so diversified that it is almost impossible to make a coherent argument that any measures they support are likely to make more money for them than they could lose. Moreover, the list of prominent Democratic donors that made money off of crony capitalist “green” deals with the government—of which the Solyndra scam was just the most prominent—undermines any notion that one party has cleaner hands than the other with respect to fundraising.

Liberals also contend that talk about Democratic hypocrisy on campaign finance is silly because it is wrong to ask one party to unilaterally disarm in a tough fight when the other side is deploying major donors who are willing to give millions to advance their cause. They have a point. But what they miss about all this is that their constant complaints about the supposedly disastrous impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is that the bipartisan billionaire competition shows the system is working as it should.

Liberals think even more restrictive campaign-finance laws that would limit the ability of Americans to express their opinions would better serve the country. But that would mean less political speech and less debate about issues and candidates. That would make the mainstream media—to which such restrictions would not apply—even more powerful. It would also help incumbents who are better placed to attract publicity in an environment where challengers would be hard placed to raise enough money to get noticed. Outsiders on both the left and the right would have trouble making their voices heard. But that wouldn’t make the system more democratic.

While many people profess to be disgusted by the importance of money in politics, these scruples ignore the fact that money has, and always will, play a role in elections. The only question is whether we will have laws that protect the right of all Americans to exercise their right to political speech or if we will create one in which a liberal establishment that dominates the media can game the system. Both liberals and conservatives have benefited from Citizens United; the only difference is that liberal big donors pretend to be disgusted by the freedom they are afforded. Steyer’s ideas have as much right to be heard as those of the Kochs or those of the New York Times editorial page. The push to shut down political speech is a thinly veiled effort to manipulate the system. And that is a lot worse than hypocrisy.

Read Less

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

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

FBI Feeds Cynicism About IRS Scandal

After several months of virtual radio silence in the mainstream press about the IRS scandal, the over-the-top coverage afforded Chris Christie’s Bridgegate fiasco reminded conservatives of the way many in the media downplayed the outrageous accounts of the government’s bias against conservative political groups. But the IRS affair got back into the news in its own right today as the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI is unlikely to prosecute anyone for the practice in which organizations affiliated with the Tea Party and other conservatives causes were specifically targeted for discriminatory treatment.

This is bound to fuel further complaints from Republicans who have been frustrated with the administration’s low-key response to a scandal based in a policy they think may have been inspired by the president’s personal biases against conservative groups as well as the liberal belief that Tea Party-affiliated organizations don’t deserve non-profit status. After initially adopting a defensive tone and agreeing that any discrimination was wrong, the party line from the White House has been that the problems were the result of the mistakes made by rogue low-level officials working in Cincinnati and that any talk about a scandal is mere GOP propaganda. That position will be bolstered by the FBI decision. But, as the Journal’s report notes, there is a big problem with the investigation that was conducted: apparently nobody in the FBI has contacted any of the groups that were the object of the agency’s special attentions. This is likely to only deepen the cynicism felt by many on the right toward an administration that doesn’t seem particularly fired up about holding the tax collectors accountable for their misdeeds.

Read More

After several months of virtual radio silence in the mainstream press about the IRS scandal, the over-the-top coverage afforded Chris Christie’s Bridgegate fiasco reminded conservatives of the way many in the media downplayed the outrageous accounts of the government’s bias against conservative political groups. But the IRS affair got back into the news in its own right today as the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI is unlikely to prosecute anyone for the practice in which organizations affiliated with the Tea Party and other conservatives causes were specifically targeted for discriminatory treatment.

This is bound to fuel further complaints from Republicans who have been frustrated with the administration’s low-key response to a scandal based in a policy they think may have been inspired by the president’s personal biases against conservative groups as well as the liberal belief that Tea Party-affiliated organizations don’t deserve non-profit status. After initially adopting a defensive tone and agreeing that any discrimination was wrong, the party line from the White House has been that the problems were the result of the mistakes made by rogue low-level officials working in Cincinnati and that any talk about a scandal is mere GOP propaganda. That position will be bolstered by the FBI decision. But, as the Journal’s report notes, there is a big problem with the investigation that was conducted: apparently nobody in the FBI has contacted any of the groups that were the object of the agency’s special attentions. This is likely to only deepen the cynicism felt by many on the right toward an administration that doesn’t seem particularly fired up about holding the tax collectors accountable for their misdeeds.

The sensitivity of this case is the product of both the blatantly political nature of the BOLO (be on the lookout for) orders that were sent out about groups seeking non-profit status for their public education efforts and the immense power of the IRS. That the IRS seemed to be following the administration’s marching orders in treating conservative efforts to take advantage of the change in the law after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision raised serious suspicions. But the revelations last spring about the agency’s inquisitions directed at Tea Partiers and delays in making decisions prompted congressional investigations that were, at least in part, short-circuited by the lack of candid answers from IRS officials like Lois Lerner who went so far as to invoke the Fifth Amendment when questioned by Congress last May.

It should be acknowledged that prosecutions in a case involving interpretations of policy would not be simple. But there appeared to be grounds to think laws involving the misuse and improper disclosure of taxpayer information were violated by those involved. However, the FBI seems to have taken a “no harm, no foul” approach to the case in which the lack of a smoking gun about the agency “hunting” conservatives rather than merely applying discriminatory policies appears to be working to stifle any impulse to prosecute.

However, this merciful approach to IRS personnel and their political superiors seems at variance with that agency’s usual approach to taxpayers. It is well known that citizens who claim to have been confused by complicated tax regulations or that they acted on the advice of their lawyers are generally shown no mercy by implacable IRS agents who haul taxpayers into court for minor violations of confusing statutes.

Even worse, the fact that the FBI chose not even to interview groups that have claimed discrimination casts doubt on the seriousness of the investigation and whether the normally indictment-happy Justice Department lacked the will to pursue the case.

As I wrote in December, the administration is hoping to put a close to this controversy by altering the rules to make it difficult, if not impossible for groups that aim at promoting political change—be it from a right-wing or a left-wing point of view—to become non-profits. While technically neutral, this change will have a disproportionate impact on conservative groups since they are far more dependent on 501(c) status than their rivals on the left. This should concern all Americans no matter their politics since giving the IRS that much power to suppress the free speech of political activists poses a grave threat to democracy. The way the agency has been used to regulate political activity is perhaps the most serious scandal here, but combined with the failure of the government to ensure that those who ordered and carried out discriminatory policies are held accountable makes it even worse.

Read Less

What Liberals Learn From Citizens United

For the past three years, liberals and Democrats have bemoaned the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that invalidated parts of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that prevented groups and individuals from using money to advocate on issues and elections. Their lament has portrayed the ruling as the end of American democracy since it will lead in their view to the moneyed classes and big businesses buying all elections and dooming worthy progressives and their causes to perpetual defeat. But if the successes of Democrats in raising money to finance pro-Obama advocacy groups that successfully trashed the reputations of Republicans like Mitt Romney didn’t convince the left that Citizens United was actually the best thing that could have happened to them, then today’s story in Politico that details how liberal groups are beating conservatives like a drum in the competition to raise money for non-party groups ought to.

As Politico reports, super PACs backing Democrats in prospective 2014 and 2016 races have decisively outraised Republican groups in the first half of the year. There are a number of reasons for this, the chief of which is the way the 2012 results discouraged conservatives. But leaving aside the significance of the tactical advantage the incumbent party and its cheering section have gained this year, the real story is the way this illustrates the wisdom of the Citizens United ruling. Rather than creating a system that would undermine democratic discourse, the court’s reassertion of the right to free speech has opened up a free market of ideas that has made American democracy even more robust. Though the GOP may not be happy about the current fundraising numbers, the ability of liberals to use the law to raise money to advocate for their point of view shows just how wrongheaded their opposition to the ruling has been.

Read More

For the past three years, liberals and Democrats have bemoaned the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that invalidated parts of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that prevented groups and individuals from using money to advocate on issues and elections. Their lament has portrayed the ruling as the end of American democracy since it will lead in their view to the moneyed classes and big businesses buying all elections and dooming worthy progressives and their causes to perpetual defeat. But if the successes of Democrats in raising money to finance pro-Obama advocacy groups that successfully trashed the reputations of Republicans like Mitt Romney didn’t convince the left that Citizens United was actually the best thing that could have happened to them, then today’s story in Politico that details how liberal groups are beating conservatives like a drum in the competition to raise money for non-party groups ought to.

As Politico reports, super PACs backing Democrats in prospective 2014 and 2016 races have decisively outraised Republican groups in the first half of the year. There are a number of reasons for this, the chief of which is the way the 2012 results discouraged conservatives. But leaving aside the significance of the tactical advantage the incumbent party and its cheering section have gained this year, the real story is the way this illustrates the wisdom of the Citizens United ruling. Rather than creating a system that would undermine democratic discourse, the court’s reassertion of the right to free speech has opened up a free market of ideas that has made American democracy even more robust. Though the GOP may not be happy about the current fundraising numbers, the ability of liberals to use the law to raise money to advocate for their point of view shows just how wrongheaded their opposition to the ruling has been.

McCain-Feingold and every other campaign finance restriction that has been passed since Watergate was based on the assumption that money corrupts politics and the less spent on campaigns and issues the better off the republic was. However, none of the rules actually drove money out of politics. All it did was to make it harder for parties to spend as they always had done and to cause political operatives to create new vehicles for spending and advocacy. The laws primarily served as an incumbent protection program since challengers always find it harder to raise money and gain awareness for their issues. But they also served the purpose of restricting the one kind of activity that the founders most wanted to protect: political speech. Since the only way most people or groups have of making their voices heard is to purchase air time or via other forms of mass communication, the ability to raise and spend money is vital to create an atmosphere of free discourse.

That is exactly what Citizens United accomplished. The result is a public square that is often more chaotic than some would like. But if liberals had their way and campaign finance was solely the province of the government as it doled out small amounts to candidates, what we would have is an America where only a few could effectively speak out. It would also allow the mainstream media—whose political advocacy is constitutionally protected—a near monopoly on the debate. Some liberals may lament that aspect of the court’s reforms, but surely even they understand that such a system isn’t healthy for any democracy.

The post-Citizens United world is one in which conservatives are free to speak up for their issues and liberals can do the same. That means liberals must stomach conservative advocacy trashing President Obama’s programs and Democrats in hyperbolic terms while conservatives must endure paeans to ObamaCare and character assassination of Republican candidates. That can make this messy and doesn’t always encourage civility. But it is also a place where free speech of all kinds flourishes.

More free speech doesn’t give either party or ideological grouping any natural edge. What it does do is to open the floodgates for all comers. The last two years should have shown liberals that a free marketplace of ideas is just as likely to help them as to hurt them. Money isn’t evil, it’s just a tool that enables more communication. Unless their goal is to suppress speech—something that conservatives and media critics suspect—they should stop inveighing against Citizens United and simply enjoy the benefits and the drawbacks of life in a country where free speech is protected by the courts.

Read Less

Don’t Blame IRS Scandal on Citizens United

In the days since the IRS scandal started to unfold, most liberals have tried desperately to stay out of the line of fire by appropriately condemning any illegal or politically biased behavior on the part of the agency. But for many on the left, the politicization of the IRS isn’t the topic they want to discuss–and not just because doing so embarrasses the administration and lends credence to conservative complaints about President Obama’s disdain for the principles of limited government. As far as a lot of liberals are concerned, the problem here isn’t the Nixonian abuse of power by the IRS but the fact that these conservatives are being allowed to raise money to resist the policies of a liberal administration.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke for many Democrats yesterday when she told Chris Hayes on MSNBC that the proper response to the scandal is to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that protected the ability of groups to exercise their right to political speech. Others, like MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, are treating the whole issue as a misdirection play by conservatives who have exploited federal laws that allow groups that engage in advocacy to get nonprofit status.

But liberals, including the editorial writers of the New York Times, who weighed in yesterday to say the IRS should have cracked down across the board rather than on just conservatives, have this wrong. The IRS scandal shows that what the country needs is more unregulated free speech and fewer attempts by the government to limit the ability of citizens to speak out on issues.

Read More

In the days since the IRS scandal started to unfold, most liberals have tried desperately to stay out of the line of fire by appropriately condemning any illegal or politically biased behavior on the part of the agency. But for many on the left, the politicization of the IRS isn’t the topic they want to discuss–and not just because doing so embarrasses the administration and lends credence to conservative complaints about President Obama’s disdain for the principles of limited government. As far as a lot of liberals are concerned, the problem here isn’t the Nixonian abuse of power by the IRS but the fact that these conservatives are being allowed to raise money to resist the policies of a liberal administration.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke for many Democrats yesterday when she told Chris Hayes on MSNBC that the proper response to the scandal is to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that protected the ability of groups to exercise their right to political speech. Others, like MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, are treating the whole issue as a misdirection play by conservatives who have exploited federal laws that allow groups that engage in advocacy to get nonprofit status.

But liberals, including the editorial writers of the New York Times, who weighed in yesterday to say the IRS should have cracked down across the board rather than on just conservatives, have this wrong. The IRS scandal shows that what the country needs is more unregulated free speech and fewer attempts by the government to limit the ability of citizens to speak out on issues.

It is true that no one is entitled to tax-exempt status the way they are to free speech. But the liberal interpretation of the law that allows groups that advocate on the issues without specifically endorsing candidates is more than a half-century old and is deeply embedded in our political and economic system. It might make sense to argue that all such exemptions should be lifted, but doing so would penalize a host of legitimate charities and non-political advocacy groups along with the ones that deal with issues with political implications.

Yet the priority for the left isn’t so much increasing the government’s revenues—though they are always in favor of that—as it is in shutting down the debate. That’s why they were horrified by the high court’s Citizens United ruling, since it opened up the floodgates for Americans to use their money to counter the inordinate political influence exercised by the mainly liberal mainstream media.

Liberals have been urging the IRS to crack down on Tea Partiers and others who dissented from Obama’s policies specifically because they feared Citizens United had made it easier for such groups to make their voices heard. And they might have gotten away with it had they applied the same standards to left-wing groups.

But the correct answer to this scandal isn’t unleashing the IRS to harass all political groups. Rather, it is to remind the IRS that issue advocacy, especially on the part of those who wish to defend the principles of limited government and the Constitution, needs to be protected. The corruption does not come from the use of money to create more political speech; it stems from a desire on the part of many on the left to suppress speech they disagree with. That’s why it is no surprise that the IRS chose to listen to the Times and put the screws to conservatives and anyone else who had the temerity to disagree with President Obama’s big-government vision. As with other elements of the liberal reaction to Citizens United, the point is to chill speech. The same is true of the IRS’s campaign against the Tea Party.

As the Cato Institute’s blog notes, campaign finance laws were part of the reaction to Richard Nixon’s abuses, including the use of the IRS to harass his political opponents. Yet today it is the so-called reformers who have created a mindset that leads to the use of the IRS to do the same thing to President Obama’s political foes.

It should also be noted that those who claim that extending tax exemptions to advocacy groups is taking money away from the government or other citizens have it wrong. Money that is not confiscated via taxes is not a gift from the government to the citizen. It is merely allowing the citizen to keep more of what is his or hers. Charitable deductions aren’t a dodge that steals the government’s money because it isn’t the government’s to begin with. Like Obama’s proposals to eliminate or drastically reduce such deductions (which have been thwarted to date), the illegal actions of the IRS are part of a war on philanthropy that has its roots in the president’s philosophy of government.

Liberals are publicly worrying today that the IRS scandal will hinder their ability to strike down Citizens United or to further limit the ability of Americans to exercise free speech. They are right about that, but that is not something we should lament. What we need is not so much a government that can behave in a manner that will allow it to legally harass advocacy groups as one that considers such actions to be beyond the pale. Whether someone in the White House or the Treasury Department encouraged the IRS to play politics in this manner or not, what’s clear is that such actions were very much in tune with the prevailing philosophy of this administration.

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

2012 Debunked Campaign Finance Fallacies

Since the landmark Citizens United decision issued by the Supreme Court in 2010, liberals have been claiming that the ruling would more or less end democracy as we know it. Their fear-mongering on the issue was based on the assumption that freeing up the ability of individuals, groups and businesses to fund political speech would guarantee that money would decide all future elections. That conclusion was patent nonsense. Neither political party has an inherent advantage in raising money, since both have large affluent bases from which to draw funds. But even more important is the fact that while money is essential to giving a candidate a chance, it is by no means a decisive factor in determining the outcome.

These two facts were proved true again this past Tuesday. It is true that Mitt Romney’s defeat was a blow to the big Republican donors who contributed vast sums to help his cause. But as much as the New York Times was able to crow in an editorial published yesterday that the outcome was “A Landslide Loss for Big Money” by which they meant big Republican money, it can just as easily be represented as a win for the big liberal money raised by the Democrats. While the cacophony of competing claims made possible by the approximately $1 billion spent by both parties wasn’t the most edifying spectacle, it did give each ample opportunity to make their cases to the voters. There is nothing corrupt about the free flow of political speech, even in an election as nasty as the one that has just concluded. All that Citizens United did was to make it possible for the competitors’ voices to be heard. That is the essence of democracy and why calls for more efforts to restrict free speech via new, and undoubtedly unconstitutional, campaign finance laws (such as those advocated by the Times) should be ignored.

Read More

Since the landmark Citizens United decision issued by the Supreme Court in 2010, liberals have been claiming that the ruling would more or less end democracy as we know it. Their fear-mongering on the issue was based on the assumption that freeing up the ability of individuals, groups and businesses to fund political speech would guarantee that money would decide all future elections. That conclusion was patent nonsense. Neither political party has an inherent advantage in raising money, since both have large affluent bases from which to draw funds. But even more important is the fact that while money is essential to giving a candidate a chance, it is by no means a decisive factor in determining the outcome.

These two facts were proved true again this past Tuesday. It is true that Mitt Romney’s defeat was a blow to the big Republican donors who contributed vast sums to help his cause. But as much as the New York Times was able to crow in an editorial published yesterday that the outcome was “A Landslide Loss for Big Money” by which they meant big Republican money, it can just as easily be represented as a win for the big liberal money raised by the Democrats. While the cacophony of competing claims made possible by the approximately $1 billion spent by both parties wasn’t the most edifying spectacle, it did give each ample opportunity to make their cases to the voters. There is nothing corrupt about the free flow of political speech, even in an election as nasty as the one that has just concluded. All that Citizens United did was to make it possible for the competitors’ voices to be heard. That is the essence of democracy and why calls for more efforts to restrict free speech via new, and undoubtedly unconstitutional, campaign finance laws (such as those advocated by the Times) should be ignored.

Liberals intent on demonizing conservative donors seem to forget that the president was able to raise hundreds of millions from their own cadre of rich backers. The Democrats raised money from Hollywood or those who seek to enrich themselves via “green” alternative energy companies, just as others did for Romney. Yet there is nothing wrong with these liberals or their labor union allies using the vast sums at their disposal to promote their ideas and favorite candidates any more than when conservatives do the same things.

Rather than draw the only logical conclusion from Obama’s win and to pipe down about the evils of money in politics, the ideologues at the Times are undeterred. Laws such as the disastrous McCain-Feingold legislation that was largely overturned by Citizens United, or any of its equally unsuccessful predecessors, only serve to strengthen the position of incumbents and to reassert the power of mainstream media outlets like the Times, whose right to political speech is protected by the First Amendment.

What all this money bought may not be pretty or even decorous but it is not corrupt. Nor should the government seek to restrain it in the hope of elevating our political life.

As the Times rightly asserted, a deluge of expensive campaign ads on television didn’t affect the race as much as effective get-out-the-vote efforts by Democrats. That was a point reinforced by the disastrously inefficient, yet no less expensive scheme of the Republicans to do the same thing. Perhaps in the future both sides ought to ponder whether television ads that enrich broadcast outlets and the political consultants who urge candidates to buy them, but sometimes provide little political payoff, are worth it. But to say that is not agree that they ought to be restricted or banned. This year proved what virtually every other election has always shown those who were willing to look honestly at the question. Though money is needed to create a viable campaign, it can’t buy the presidency.

What we had in 2012 was a bellyful of democracy. Some of us may not like what it bought us, but schemes to limit political speech won’t make the system any more fair or honest.

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

“Re-Evaluation” of Roberts Begins

For months, as liberals anticipated the Supreme Court would rule ObamaCare unconstitutional, there has been a constant drumbeat of criticism against what they assumed was a conservative majority that would thwart the president’s signature legislation. In particular, Chief Justice John Roberts was the focus of a great deal of uncomplimentary commentary, with many arguing that by leading the Court to the right he would establish a tainted legacy as a partisan judge who had damaged the institution he led. But within moments of the announcement that Roberts had sided with the four liberals on the Court, the “re-evaluation” of the chief justice had begun.

As the New York Times‘s Ethan Bronner wrote in the paper’s Caucus blog, previously, “He was seen by many, at least on the left, as a right-winger more devoted to conservative politics than the purity of the law. That could change.” Count on it.

Read More

For months, as liberals anticipated the Supreme Court would rule ObamaCare unconstitutional, there has been a constant drumbeat of criticism against what they assumed was a conservative majority that would thwart the president’s signature legislation. In particular, Chief Justice John Roberts was the focus of a great deal of uncomplimentary commentary, with many arguing that by leading the Court to the right he would establish a tainted legacy as a partisan judge who had damaged the institution he led. But within moments of the announcement that Roberts had sided with the four liberals on the Court, the “re-evaluation” of the chief justice had begun.

As the New York Times‘s Ethan Bronner wrote in the paper’s Caucus blog, previously, “He was seen by many, at least on the left, as a right-winger more devoted to conservative politics than the purity of the law. That could change.” Count on it.

The way this process works is that whenever an avowed conservative crosses over to the left,, that person is lionized as attaining a new maturity and transcending partisanship. That was certainly the case with David Souter, whose appointment to the Supreme Court was among the greatest mistakes of George H.W. Bush’s presidency. And now that Roberts has saved President Obama’s bacon, we can expect those negative mainstream media profiles of his Court to be turned into glowing accolades for his respect for precedent and desire to preserve the integrity of the Court.

By contrast, Anthony Kennedy, who had received more than his share of liberal praise in recent years as the left courted the supposed swing vote, will start getting the same abuse that is customary for Justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas, because he joined them in a vigorous and principled dissenting opinion that would have ruled all of ObamaCare constitutional.

Nevertheless, the left’s enthusiasm for Roberts will be somewhat tempered. By ruling that the Affordable Care Act was a tax and therefore constitutional, the chief justice provided the legal rationale the law needed. But Roberts’ compromise was not what liberals wanted. By affirming that the law was a tax, Roberts made President Obama look like a liar because he had pledged it was no such thing. His opinion also meant there was a majority in favor of limiting the reach of the Commerce Clause, a principle conservative legal scholars have vainly advocated for for decades.

But that will provide no comfort for conservatives who understand all too well that Roberts could have joined the four dissenters in a decision that would have brought an abrupt halt to the expansion of the federal government’s power. Liberals do well to rejoice today, as this means a historic opportunity has been lost to restrain the growth of the federal leviathan.

Conservatives will bitterly remember this day and Roberts’ role in it. So, it is little surprise the right-wing blogosphere is bubbling over with bitter reproaches and even some over-the-top calls for the impeachment of the chief justice. Such chatter is a waste of time. But it’s clear that Roberts’ apparent desire to keep the Court out of the political fray has led him to make a decision that will forever ruin his reputation with the right while endearing him to the left.

But if Roberts thinks the left will embrace him the way they did other Republicans who joined the liberals, this will have to be only the first of a series of betrayals of conservative positions on his part. In particular, so long as the landmark Citizens United ruling that protected political speech and invalidated campaign finance restrictions stands, he will continue to be abused (though perhaps not as much as the other conservatives).

Roberts is wrong to think this decision will protect the Court from the kind of criticism it got after Citizens United, because political issues will always be part of the Court’s brief. Nevertheless, what happened today is a reminder to conservatives that liberals have a clear advantage in the judiciary that can only be counter-balanced by victories at the ballot box. Today’s decision can be rendered a footnote to history if a Republican Congress and president are able to repeal ObamaCare next January. But given the desire for some jurists to retain the good opinion of the mainstream media, the right must understand that winning judicial battles is not as simple as winning an election.

Read Less

Schneiderman’s Partisan Fishing Expedition

Liberals are still seething over the way the Supreme Court reaffirmed the Citizens United decision in the Montana campaign finance law case where state restrictions on political spending were rightly overruled. But this defense of free speech rights will not go unanswered by a Democratic Party that thinks allowing citizens and groups to support ideas and candidates is a scandal. That’s why New York’s left-wing attorney general is launching a brazenly partisan attack on the right of political speech in the guise of an investigation of alleged violations of the tax code.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is a hard-line liberal who has been itching to use his post to both fight for restrictive campaign finance laws and to garner the publicity that will enable him to advance his career. On the surface, Schneiderman is merely conducting a probe into contributions to tax-exempt groups. But by focusing his attention on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business conservative group, the political intent of the investigation is obvious.

Read More

Liberals are still seething over the way the Supreme Court reaffirmed the Citizens United decision in the Montana campaign finance law case where state restrictions on political spending were rightly overruled. But this defense of free speech rights will not go unanswered by a Democratic Party that thinks allowing citizens and groups to support ideas and candidates is a scandal. That’s why New York’s left-wing attorney general is launching a brazenly partisan attack on the right of political speech in the guise of an investigation of alleged violations of the tax code.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is a hard-line liberal who has been itching to use his post to both fight for restrictive campaign finance laws and to garner the publicity that will enable him to advance his career. On the surface, Schneiderman is merely conducting a probe into contributions to tax-exempt groups. But by focusing his attention on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business conservative group, the political intent of the investigation is obvious.

Schneiderman isn’t the first Democrat to try to use the post of New York attorney general to conduct politicized prosecutions to burnish his reputation. The now disgraced Eliot Spitzer’s attacks on Wall Street paved the way for his path to the governorship of the state. Current Governor Andrew Cuomo also used the post in this manner. But Schneiderman is not just another New York Democrat on the make. He’s an ideologue who campaigned on support for campaign finance laws and now appears to be willing to use his power to conduct an inquisition of conservative non-profits that will make him the darling of the left around the nation.

There is no obvious evidence of wrongdoing of any kind or legal violations on the part of the National Chamber Foundation, the Starr Foundation or the Chamber itself, though all have received subpoenas from Schneiderman. There is nothing unusual in the financing of some of the group’s activities by non-profit foundations. But what they are guilty of is being conservative groups in the crosshairs of leftist opponents seeking to brand their donations as somehow running afoul of the laws governing non-profits because of their advocacy for tort-reform, a cause that doesn’t sit well with Democratic constituencies such as trial lawyers and unions.

The same amorphous questions could be put to any non-profit involved in public advocacy. But political observers on both sides of the aisle understand that when probes like this are conducted, the only possible motivation is not respect for the law but a desire to criminalize political opponents.

Local political payback is also involved here because the Starr Group is headed by former AIG chair Maurice R. Greenberg, who was driven out of the country by a vindictive and ultimately failed prosecution launched by Spitzer during his climb up the greasy pole of New York politics.

Above all, the Schneiderman fishing expedition is an attempt to supply some proof that the Citizens United decision has unleashed a wave of political corruption, a key talking point for liberal critics of the landmark free speech case. In spite of their allegations that allowing organizations, including labor unions and other left-wing groups, to spend to promote their ideas, has despoiled politics, all Citizens United has done is to increase the amount of political speech. That is antithetical to leftists who wish to regulate the marketplace of ideas and repress the efforts of grassroots groups to fight back against big government initiatives.

Given the almost unlimited power of Schneiderman to conduct his probe, conservative groups should expect to be harassed in the coming months and years. But while Schneiderman and his cheerleaders in the mainstream press will represent this investigation as a public spirited attempt to rein in corruption, there can be no doubt that it is merely an unprincipled political witch hunt whose purpose is to cripple the efforts of conservative groups.

Read Less

Mandel Rising on His Merits, Not Just Cash

For those who assume the post-Citizens United world of campaign spending means elections can be bought, the Ohio Senate race is a classic example of a bad candidate being kept afloat by cash. That’s the conceit of a Politico feature today about Josh Mandel, the Ohio Republican who is confounding his critics by staying within striking range of Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown. According to the piece, Mandel ought to have been run out of the race due to a string of bad headlines. However, he has not only saved his candidacy but actually has a shot at winning  due, as Politico tells it, to the infusion of out-of-state contributions and ad buys by super PACs that have duped the state’s voters into considering voting for him. But while there is no question that the efforts of the pro-GOP Crossroads America PAC and others like it have helped Mandel, Politico is exaggerating both the impact of money and Mandel’s supposed weakness.

As Politico notes, even Mandel has acknowledged that the support from national conservatives groups is a shot in the arm to his candidacy. Money can buy visibility and get a candidate’s message out to the public, especially when a politician has been pigeonholed as not ready for prime time–a problem the youthful Mandel has encountered. But campaign contributions and television ads can’t buy credibility. All the money in the world couldn’t have won a Christine O’Donnell a Senate seat or put Newt Gingrich in the White House. Though Mandel has had his share of negative stories during his short tenure as Ohio State Treasurer (he was first elected in 2010), the baby-faced Iraq War veteran has demonstrated the sort of intelligence and character that would give any politician a chance, especially against a liberal like Brown in a moderate/conservative state.

Read More

For those who assume the post-Citizens United world of campaign spending means elections can be bought, the Ohio Senate race is a classic example of a bad candidate being kept afloat by cash. That’s the conceit of a Politico feature today about Josh Mandel, the Ohio Republican who is confounding his critics by staying within striking range of Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown. According to the piece, Mandel ought to have been run out of the race due to a string of bad headlines. However, he has not only saved his candidacy but actually has a shot at winning  due, as Politico tells it, to the infusion of out-of-state contributions and ad buys by super PACs that have duped the state’s voters into considering voting for him. But while there is no question that the efforts of the pro-GOP Crossroads America PAC and others like it have helped Mandel, Politico is exaggerating both the impact of money and Mandel’s supposed weakness.

As Politico notes, even Mandel has acknowledged that the support from national conservatives groups is a shot in the arm to his candidacy. Money can buy visibility and get a candidate’s message out to the public, especially when a politician has been pigeonholed as not ready for prime time–a problem the youthful Mandel has encountered. But campaign contributions and television ads can’t buy credibility. All the money in the world couldn’t have won a Christine O’Donnell a Senate seat or put Newt Gingrich in the White House. Though Mandel has had his share of negative stories during his short tenure as Ohio State Treasurer (he was first elected in 2010), the baby-faced Iraq War veteran has demonstrated the sort of intelligence and character that would give any politician a chance, especially against a liberal like Brown in a moderate/conservative state.

It could have been argued that Mandel was too young and inexperienced to jump so quickly into the Senate race, especially as he had only come from out of nowhere to win state office for the first time less than two years ago. Politico assumes the missteps he has made in office would have sunk a candidate prior to Citizens United. But it should be understood that none of the string of damaging stories rise to the level of a scandal or the sort of egregious error that would normally end a career or a candidacy. However, the fact that he has risen above them, albeit with the help of a well-funded campaign, also shows he has enough on the ball and has made enough of a connection with the voters to allow them to either forgive or overlook them.

Just as important is that the “carpet bombing” of Brown by the super PACs wouldn’t be having an effect on the race if Mandel was really regarded by the public as a fool or if Brown was not the one many in the state consider out of touch with their opinions. Moreover, because Democratic PACs have been spending heavily on ads trashing Mandel, it’s not as if there isn’t a competing narrative available to the public. If Mandel is holding his own in the race — the last poll taken at the end of May by Rasmussen shows Brown leading by only five points — it is because he has convinced a critical mass of voters that he is credible.

Brown must still be considered the clear favorite in Ohio and can count on favorable coverage from mainstream media around the state. Though Mandel has shown enough promise to merit the investment from Republicans around the country, he must overcome being labeled as an upstart who has gotten ahead of himself. But Mandel is a bright young political talent who has already exceeded the expectations of his party and the media more than once. If this race stays close heading into the fall it will be because the voters like what they see in him, not because of the super PAC support.

Read Less

McCain’s Cheap Shot at Adelson

It is perhaps to be expected that Sen. John McCain would still be whining about the way the Supreme Court’s Citizens United 2010 decision effectively neutered the campaign finance law he co-authored with Wisconsin liberal Democrat Russ Feingold. McCain is still claiming the decision made politics more corrupt, but he is deaf, dumb and blind about the way his legislation restricted free speech, added further complications to an already byzantine system and drove campaign cash further underground. But while there is nothing remarkable about McCain beating his favorite dead horse, his latest comments cross the line between fair comment and slander.

In an interview with the PBS Newshour program, McCain didn’t just assert that Citizens United is aiding corruption but that the contributions made by Mitt Romney’s leading donor may be the product of “foreign” — and therefore by definition illegal — money. The reference to billionaire Sheldon Adelson — whose billions come in part from casinos in Macao — was a cheap shot, especially as it came directly after McCain predicted  there would be “scandals” that would come out of Citizens United. McCain knows very well there is nothing illegal or underhanded about Adelson’s money or his willingness to spend it to promote the causes and candidates he supports. The scandal here isn’t the fact that a billionaire is making money overseas and spending it at home on political speech; it is the willingness of the political class to restrict the right of Americans to have a voice in the political system.

Read More

It is perhaps to be expected that Sen. John McCain would still be whining about the way the Supreme Court’s Citizens United 2010 decision effectively neutered the campaign finance law he co-authored with Wisconsin liberal Democrat Russ Feingold. McCain is still claiming the decision made politics more corrupt, but he is deaf, dumb and blind about the way his legislation restricted free speech, added further complications to an already byzantine system and drove campaign cash further underground. But while there is nothing remarkable about McCain beating his favorite dead horse, his latest comments cross the line between fair comment and slander.

In an interview with the PBS Newshour program, McCain didn’t just assert that Citizens United is aiding corruption but that the contributions made by Mitt Romney’s leading donor may be the product of “foreign” — and therefore by definition illegal — money. The reference to billionaire Sheldon Adelson — whose billions come in part from casinos in Macao — was a cheap shot, especially as it came directly after McCain predicted  there would be “scandals” that would come out of Citizens United. McCain knows very well there is nothing illegal or underhanded about Adelson’s money or his willingness to spend it to promote the causes and candidates he supports. The scandal here isn’t the fact that a billionaire is making money overseas and spending it at home on political speech; it is the willingness of the political class to restrict the right of Americans to have a voice in the political system.

McCain clearly believes all political donations are inherently a form of corruption, a view he has hewed to since his involvement in the Keating Five Savings and Loan Scandal almost ended his political career. Since then, he has adopted a self-righteous posture on the issue and sought to impose severe restrictions on the ability of citizens to make contributions. But far from helping to clean up politics, McCain-Feingold only made things worse. It made it harder for candidates and political parties to raise money and opened the way for other entities to be created to fill the void.

Because money cannot be taken out of politics any more than it can be removed from the banking system, the growing volume of campaign finance laws has only added layers that made the system less accountable. Moreover, the danger of scandal does not come so much from the wealthy willing to spend to advance the ideas they cherish but from politicians who sell their votes to gain popularity.

Even more to the point, bills like McCain-Feingold give undue influence to the mainstream media as it made them the only venues for political discussion that could not be limited by the government. And by making it harder to raise money, McCain-Feingold was in effect an incumbent protection program that helped create an informal system of congressional tenure.

As for Adelson, the notion that any of his money comes from laundered accounts belonging to foreign players is absurd. Adelson’s conservative and pro-Israel views are no secret, and it is not likely that anyone in China is using him to advance those causes. That makes McCain’s smear a cheap shot that ought to be incompatible with the high-minded reformist stances the Arizona senator believes he embodies.

McCain is entitled to spout off about Citizens United and he is also within his rights in expressing contempt for the gaming industry that has made Adelson a billionaire. But he is way out of line when he wrongly smears the wealthy donor as a foreign agent or an emissary of corruption. He owes Adelson an apology.

Read Less

Adelson Ponies Up for Romney

Casino owner Sheldon Adelson became the symbol of what liberals think is the abuse of the campaign finance system this past winter when he and his wife donated $21 million to the failing presidential campaign of their friend Newt Gingrich. Some on the left even floated the preposterous idea that the pro-Israel billionaire had influenced Gingrich to support the Jewish state even though the former Speaker of the House had a record on the issue that long preceded his connection with Adelson. The intense focus on the Adelsons faded after they pulled the plug on Gingrich, but liberal bashers of the couple will get a new reason to scream after reading this report in the Wall Street Journal. According to the Journal, the Adelsons have given $10 million to a pro-Romney PAC that appears to be the largest single donation to the Republican’s campaign.

Left-wingers and those opposed to Israel will highlight these donations as proof of either the undue influence of the wealthy on our political system or another instance of the fabled pro-Israel lobby manipulating American foreign policy. But while the Adelsons’ contributions are certainly impressive, they are no more sinister than those of left-wing magnates like George Soros or the way the pro-Arab oil lobby throws its cash around. More to the point, despite the effort to paint the couple as somehow being the Republican puppet masters, their participation in the campaign proves just the opposite. Their money may give the ideas and the candidates they like a hearing, but they can’t buy an election.

Read More

Casino owner Sheldon Adelson became the symbol of what liberals think is the abuse of the campaign finance system this past winter when he and his wife donated $21 million to the failing presidential campaign of their friend Newt Gingrich. Some on the left even floated the preposterous idea that the pro-Israel billionaire had influenced Gingrich to support the Jewish state even though the former Speaker of the House had a record on the issue that long preceded his connection with Adelson. The intense focus on the Adelsons faded after they pulled the plug on Gingrich, but liberal bashers of the couple will get a new reason to scream after reading this report in the Wall Street Journal. According to the Journal, the Adelsons have given $10 million to a pro-Romney PAC that appears to be the largest single donation to the Republican’s campaign.

Left-wingers and those opposed to Israel will highlight these donations as proof of either the undue influence of the wealthy on our political system or another instance of the fabled pro-Israel lobby manipulating American foreign policy. But while the Adelsons’ contributions are certainly impressive, they are no more sinister than those of left-wing magnates like George Soros or the way the pro-Arab oil lobby throws its cash around. More to the point, despite the effort to paint the couple as somehow being the Republican puppet masters, their participation in the campaign proves just the opposite. Their money may give the ideas and the candidates they like a hearing, but they can’t buy an election.

Contrary to the notion that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is destroying democracy, letting people put their money where their mouths are only creates more political speech. It doesn’t guarantee any outcome. All of the Adelsons’ money couldn’t convince the public Newt Gingrich was ready for the White House. And even though the Journal says the couple plan on donating more than $100 million to conservative causes and candidates, it isn’t likely that they can buy office for anyone else either. What they can do, however, is to help ensure that the beliefs they cherish — principally support for Israel — are not drowned out in the chaos of the electoral hurly burly. The willingness of the Adelsons to pony up for Romney also makes it a given that unlike in 2008, the Obama campaign’s financial juggernaut will not dominate the airwaves.

The Adelsons are also sending an important signal to other conservatives about the need to rally around the winner of the GOP nomination. There were many predictions that a Romney victory would alienate the Republican base and cause contributors to his rivals to sit out the general election. But the decision of the Adelsons to go all in on the Romney campaign is just one more indication that Republicans are uniting behind their nominee.

Read Less

Soros Won’t Play Ball with Democrats

In yet another sign the bloom is off the Democratic rose this year, the New York Times reports a split between party officials and leading donors may cause liberals to squander their opportunity to answer pro-Republican advertising campaigns this year. This may mean that while supporters of the GOP will pour their money into super PACs that will buy ads aimed at supporting their candidates and opposing President Obama and other Democrats, their counterparts on the left, including billionaire financier George Soros, will instead spend their money on voter turnout efforts that would duplicate those being undertaken by the party.

This decision stems in no small part from liberal objections to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that protected the right of groups as well as individuals to express their views on the issues and elections via campaign spending. Because liberals like Soros think freedom of speech when it comes to campaign expenditures should be limited, they prefer not to compete in the marketplace of ideas with conservative funders and instead concentrate their efforts on other aspects of the campaign. This is a critical mistake on their part and reflects a curious though perhaps prescient pessimism.

Read More

In yet another sign the bloom is off the Democratic rose this year, the New York Times reports a split between party officials and leading donors may cause liberals to squander their opportunity to answer pro-Republican advertising campaigns this year. This may mean that while supporters of the GOP will pour their money into super PACs that will buy ads aimed at supporting their candidates and opposing President Obama and other Democrats, their counterparts on the left, including billionaire financier George Soros, will instead spend their money on voter turnout efforts that would duplicate those being undertaken by the party.

This decision stems in no small part from liberal objections to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that protected the right of groups as well as individuals to express their views on the issues and elections via campaign spending. Because liberals like Soros think freedom of speech when it comes to campaign expenditures should be limited, they prefer not to compete in the marketplace of ideas with conservative funders and instead concentrate their efforts on other aspects of the campaign. This is a critical mistake on their part and reflects a curious though perhaps prescient pessimism.

The Times quotes Soros as believing he and others on the left can’t compete with conservatives when it comes to campaign ads so they’d rather not try. While this is good news for Republicans, it also makes absolutely no sense. Despite liberal myths about corporations lining up for the GOP, the experience of the last two decades shows us there is no shortage of liberal wealth to be spent on political causes. Soros and his friends have the ability to match conservatives dollar for dollar if they want to. But whether it is out of a misguided belief in an indefensible principle or just plain stubbornness, they won’t do it. The result is that for all of the talk of President Obama’s enormous fundraising advantage this year, the refusal of liberals like Soros to step up in a constructive manner may severely handicap the Democrats this fall.

As the Times explained a day earlier in a separate story, Soros and his cohorts are ideologically predisposed to fund what they call “infrastructure” groups that are more concerned with turnout than influencing public opinion. They think it is cheaper and more effective to work on mobilizing minority or youth voters rather than fighting for independents. As Karl Rove proved in 2004 when he helped turnout evangelicals and other conservatives for George W. Bush, ensuring that your base votes is critical to victory. But if the Democratic Party is already spending heavily on this sector, having their big givers create redundant organizations won’t help Obama. Nor can it manufacture the same kind of surge on the part of those demographic sectors that took place in 2008. The push to re-elect a president who has not fulfilled their hopes and for whom the historic imperative to put an African American in the White House no longer exists means they cannot duplicate the enthusiasm of four years ago.

Democratic Party leaders are right to be dismayed at this lack of teamwork on the part of their leftist financial partners. But they shouldn’t be surprised. People like Soros have always been more interested in ideology than electoral politics. They want to build a powerful left, not fight for the center of the American public square. They may be driven in part by hatred of conservatives, but expecting them to play ball in order to re-elect the president may be asking too much of them.

Read Less

Wisconsin Recall Shows Citizens United Bolstered Democracy

Ironies abounded in the Sunday New York Times’ front-page feature about union efforts to force the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The newspaper is right about the fact that the recall may turn out to be a warm up for the presidential election this fall, but it speaks volumes about both the bias of the piece that nowhere in it does the Times mention the fact that all the recent polls of the contest show him ahead and gaining ground. Flawed though the piece was, it also served to skewer one of the main political narratives that the Times has worked so hard to promote in the last year: that the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision was undermining democracy.

As the article illustrates, far from the court’s defense of freedom of speech harming the political process, what it has done is to allow the free flow of ideas — and the cash that helps bring those ideas into the public square — to flourish as the public is presented with a clear choice between Walker’s attempt to reform public expenditures and the union movement’s effort to defend the status quo.

Read More

Ironies abounded in the Sunday New York Times’ front-page feature about union efforts to force the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The newspaper is right about the fact that the recall may turn out to be a warm up for the presidential election this fall, but it speaks volumes about both the bias of the piece that nowhere in it does the Times mention the fact that all the recent polls of the contest show him ahead and gaining ground. Flawed though the piece was, it also served to skewer one of the main political narratives that the Times has worked so hard to promote in the last year: that the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision was undermining democracy.

As the article illustrates, far from the court’s defense of freedom of speech harming the political process, what it has done is to allow the free flow of ideas — and the cash that helps bring those ideas into the public square — to flourish as the public is presented with a clear choice between Walker’s attempt to reform public expenditures and the union movement’s effort to defend the status quo.

The Times makes clear that the unions, just like their conservative opponents, have been allowed by the law to put forward their positions unfettered by the attempt of liberal campaign finance laws to restrict expenditures. And while the paper does its best to bolster the contrived story line that this is a battle between working people and the billionaire Koch brothers, the political showdown in Wisconsin is one in which the voters will be allowed to decide whether state employees will be entitled to force the state into bankruptcy. The result is a political free-for-all in which both sides are having their say. Had the Times and other supporters of campaign finance laws had their way, the unions and the conservatives opposing them would have been largely silenced.

The Times does deserve credit for puncturing part of the left’s propaganda campaign against Charles and David Koch, the industrialists who have been falsely smeared as the plutocrats funding a vast right-wing plot to destroy democracy. It turns out liberals attempting to promote boycotts against companies owned by the brothers, including Georgia Pacific, have been criticized by the unions that represent the firm’s workers because the brothers’ companies treat their employees well and have negotiated fair contracts with them.

The attempt to demonize the brothers because of their support for conservative think tanks has flopped. So, too, may the recall, in large measure because Wisconsin voters, who elected Walker and a Republican legislature in 2010 when they campaigned on the measures that they have since passed, understand what is at stake in the election. The recall is nothing less than an all-out power play by unions who realize that their grip on power and the public purse is slipping. Reformers like Walker are determined to put in place a process that will prevent Wisconsin from being pushed to insolvency by public worker contracts that are negotiated with a figurative gun to the state’s head in the form of strikes.

That the Times can write more than 1,200 words about this without mentioning the fact that Walker is leading in the polls says something interesting about the paper’s bias. But it is even more interesting that the thrust of the piece proves that the editorial position of the paper about Citizens United trashing democracy is utterly without basis.

Read Less

Obama’s Super PAC Problems

President Obama has a huge lead on Mitt Romney when it comes to campaign fundraising, but that margin shrinks significantly when Super PACs are added into the pictures. Pro-Romney Super PACs have been raising cash steadily, but the pro-Obama Priorities USA group has had trouble bringing in donors, Bloomberg reports:

Through March, only 12 of Obama’s 532 top fundraisers had donated to Priorities USA Action, a super political action committee created to support his re-election. Priorities has only raised about $9 million compared to a combined $80 million brought in by the two main super-PACs dedicated to defeating Obama: American Crossroads, formed by Karl Rove, and Restore Our Future, a group backing presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The leaders of Priorities have asked former President Bill Clinton to tap the pool of donors who helped fund his campaign and Hillary Clinton’s White House run. Yet Priorities lacks on its donor list most of the core group of Chicagoans who backed Obama’s presidential ambitions four years ago.

One government professor quoted in the story speculated that Democrats are wary about giving money to Priorities USA because they feel that negative advertising is unseemly. That’s absurd. Democrats are just as ruthless when it comes to negative ads as Republicans are. But there are other political reasons these Democrats might be hesitant about donating to Super PACs. Liberals almost universally condemn the Citizens United ruling. People give to politicians in part because it makes them feel good, like they’re behind a worthy cause. But many liberals would probably feel like hypocrites – like they’re betraying their ideals – if they give through a fundraising channel they’ve claimed is corrupting politics.

Read More

President Obama has a huge lead on Mitt Romney when it comes to campaign fundraising, but that margin shrinks significantly when Super PACs are added into the pictures. Pro-Romney Super PACs have been raising cash steadily, but the pro-Obama Priorities USA group has had trouble bringing in donors, Bloomberg reports:

Through March, only 12 of Obama’s 532 top fundraisers had donated to Priorities USA Action, a super political action committee created to support his re-election. Priorities has only raised about $9 million compared to a combined $80 million brought in by the two main super-PACs dedicated to defeating Obama: American Crossroads, formed by Karl Rove, and Restore Our Future, a group backing presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The leaders of Priorities have asked former President Bill Clinton to tap the pool of donors who helped fund his campaign and Hillary Clinton’s White House run. Yet Priorities lacks on its donor list most of the core group of Chicagoans who backed Obama’s presidential ambitions four years ago.

One government professor quoted in the story speculated that Democrats are wary about giving money to Priorities USA because they feel that negative advertising is unseemly. That’s absurd. Democrats are just as ruthless when it comes to negative ads as Republicans are. But there are other political reasons these Democrats might be hesitant about donating to Super PACs. Liberals almost universally condemn the Citizens United ruling. People give to politicians in part because it makes them feel good, like they’re behind a worthy cause. But many liberals would probably feel like hypocrites – like they’re betraying their ideals – if they give through a fundraising channel they’ve claimed is corrupting politics.

Some may also be nervously eyeing the attacks the Obama campaign has launched against top pro-Romney donors. Kimberly Strassel reports that the campaign is targeting these donors on its website, criticizing their businesses and work histories:

Save Mr. Obama, who acknowledges no rules. This past week, one of his campaign websites posted an item entitled “Behind the curtain: A brief history of Romney’s donors.” In the post, the Obama campaign named and shamed eight private citizens who had donated to his opponent. Describing the givers as all having “less-than-reputable records,” the post went on to make the extraordinary accusations that “quite a few” have also been “on the wrong side of the law” and profiting at “the expense of so many Americans.”

These are people like Paul Schorr and Sam and Jeffrey Fox, investors who the site outed for the crime of having “outsourced” jobs. T. Martin Fiorentino is scored for his work for a firm that forecloses on homes. Louis Bacon (a hedge-fund manager), Kent Burton (a “lobbyist”) and Thomas O’Malley (an energy CEO) stand accused of profiting from oil. Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of a home-products firm, is slimed as a “bitter foe of the gay rights movement.”

These are wealthy individuals, to be sure, but private citizens nonetheless. Not one holds elected office. Not one is a criminal. Not one has the barest fraction of the position or the power of the U.S. leader who is publicly assaulting them.

Donors to political campaigns and Super PACs are required to disclose for a reason. Journalists, watchdog groups, and opposing campaigns are certainly within their rights to report on conflicts of interest, ethics issues, or the backgrounds of these donors. But the Obama campaign goes too far with this. Claiming someone is “less-than-reputable” or “on the wrong side of the law” when he has committed no crime – outside of the offense of giving large sums of money to a political opponent – is not appropriate behavior by a political campaign. If Obama is setting this precedent, it’s no wonder Democrats are reluctant to cut large checks to his supporting Super PAC.

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




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.