Should I Change My Mind about Super PACs?

Lately I have argued that Super PACs, a result of the SpeechNow judicial decision, have enhanced democratic debate in the 2012 presidential election.

Super PACs have had one undeniable specific result this year: they enabled a donor to give a Super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich several million dollars. Mr. Gingrich, it turns out, has put that money to good use to win the South Carolina primary and now to take the lead in Florida, according to recent polls. Absent that Super PAC spending (and the contribution that made it possible), Mr. Gingrich’s candidacy would have come to an end no later than the end of the New Hampshire primary.

Some people say that Mr. Gingrich’s nomination or election would be a disaster for the Republican party or for the nation, respectively. Let’s assume the accuracy of those beliefs for purposes of argument. Given that, shouldn’t I at least reconsider my position on Super PACs?

Freedom of speech, like all public things, has risks. The real question should be: is such freedom better on the whole than the alternative, i.e. giving government officials the discretion to suppress speech? In this case, a ban on Super PACs would give the government the effective power to decide who loses and when in a party presidential primary. I do not believe that such power, even if it were constitutional, would be exercised on behalf of the general welfare of the country.

In any case, if Mr. Gingrich’s efforts turn out to be a disaster for the GOP or the USA, it will not be because he spent money on television ads. He can only succeed through gaining the assent of voters who were moved by his ads and other considerations (his general demeanor, debate style, and so on). Money fosters speech; it does not guarantee electoral success.

Finally, in this case, as always, more (money spent on) speech is the answer to (money spent on) speech. Gov. Romney and President Obama, I suspect, understand that truth and are ready to act on it. The rest will be up to voters, as it should be.