Tag: campaign finance

The Success of SpeechNow

This morning the United States Supreme Court refused to consider the appeal in the case of SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission. That’s a shame.

I have written before about the SpeechNow case. Here’s a brief summary of the issues. The judiciary has long held that individuals could spend as much as they wished on elections. The traditional rationale for restricting spending – preventing corruption of the political process – did not apply to spending by individuals. If that is true, the SpeechNow plaintiffs wondered why individuals joined in a group (and independent of the candidates and parties) should not have the same freedom from restrictions.

It turned out, thanks to Citizens United, that individuals did have that right to be free of limits on campaign spending as recognized by a federal court. That same court maintained, however, that the associated individuals still had to register with the Federal Election Commission as a “political committee.” The paperwork and related rules complicate and discourage participating in politics. By refusing to hear SpeechNow’s appeal, the Supreme Court has decided that these associations must register with the government before engaging in politics.

Nonetheless, the SpeechNow plaintiff deserve our thanks. They have gotten a lot more than “half a loaf” out of their effort. True, the government is still too involved in electoral speech, but the limits on political speech and association have been invalidated. That is a real achievement and more evidence that the long era of restrictions on campaign finance is drawing to a close.

Campaign Finance: Don’t Confuse Me with the Evidence

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Is it worrisome that Americans spend on political advocacy – determining who should make and administer the laws – much less than they spend on potato chips, $7.1 billion a year?

My response:

For decades among modern liberals it has been an article of faith – devoid of evidence – that money corrupts politics and that there is too much money in politics – “unconscionable” amounts, we’ve been told, repeatedly. Thus the crusade to restrict and regulate in exquisite detail every aspect of campaign finance, beginning in earnest with the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and culminating with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold). Yet after every new restriction along that tortuous course, ever more money has flowed into our political campaigns. But for all that, they’re no more corrupt than they’ve ever been. In fact, the best evidence of the fool’s errand that campaign finance “reform” has been all along is found in comparisons between states with little and states with extensive campaign finance regulations: When it comes to corruption, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the regulated and the unregulated states.

But all those regulations have accomplished two things that should give liberals pause. First, by virtue of their sheer complexity and cost, they pose a serious impediment to those who would challenge incumbents, who already have a major leg up on reelection. And second, because we cannot limit private campaign contributions and expenditures altogether, thanks to the First Amendment, the regulations have led to money being diverted away from candidates and parties and into other, often unknown, hands, over which the candidates and parties have no control – by design. As a result, we see candidates today having to disavow messages underwritten by people who would otherwise, but for the regulations, have given directly to the candidate or the party. But that outcome was absolutely predictable – and was predicted. Two good reasons to end this campaign finance regulation folly and let individuals and organizations contribute and spend as they wish. What are we afraid of, freedom?

This Just In: People Engaged in Politics!

The New York Times devotes major space today to a story disclosing campaign spending by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They have uncovered some pretty shocking stuff. Apparently the Chamber of Commerce is raising money from businesses to fund campaign ads. The Times has the goods:

[A] review of the nearly 70 chamber-produced ads found that 93 percent of those that have run nationwide that focus on the midterm elections either support Republican candidates or criticize their opponents.

What is the world coming to? An organization can raise money and use it to support or criticize candidates for office? It’s almost like we have freedom of political speech in the United States. Shocking stuff.

The New York Times may not like freedom of speech much for those who disagree with its editorial line, but I am happy we have freedom of the press as well as of speech. The freedom of the press means I can get additional information about the funding of the current election.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a leading union of government employees, has raised and will spend the most money on the mid-term election. More shocking stuff!

AFSCME is spending money to support Democrats who in turn will be expected to tax and spend to add or to save … jobs for public employees! I thought businesses were the only organizations that engaged in self-interested politics. Apparently not.

But AFSCME has the right to raise and spend the $90 million, and so did George Soros, and so does every misguided and hapless person and organization that for some reason disagrees with me about everything. Freedom of speech does not mean the “freedom” to agree with me or the New York Times.

In sum, the silly season is upon us as election day looms. Be prepared for more “news reporting” about the demons that are “undermining our democracy.” And give thanks that we don’t have to depend on just one source of news or speech in coming to judgment on those who hold political power.

Free Speech Means More Equal Speech

You might have gotten the impression that spending by outside groups in the current election cycle will fund a “giant bullhorn” for Republican candidates in the current election cycle while Democrats and liberals will have to whisper.

Yet the Rothenberg Political Report finds:

Throughout the election cycle, the National Republican Congressional Committee trailed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in available money by at least a 2-to-1 ratio.

A detailed story in the Wall Street Journal summarizes “the Democratic Party and candidates had raised a total of $1.25 billion so far for the election. The comparable GOP figure is $1.1 billion.”

The Democrats enjoy, in other words, a $150 million dollar advantage, if we look only at party fundraising.

Now consider the outside groups:

In total, outside conservative groups—such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Action Network and American Crossroads—could spend more than $300 million on TV advertisements, campaign mailings and other efforts to elect Republicans to Congress this year. Outside Democratic groups, by contrast, plan to spend about $100 million on those activities.

But don’t forget the labor unions:

The largest labor unions say they will spend $200 million combined, but most of their focus will be on rallying union voters.

I conclude that the outside GOP groups will raise almost exactly as much as outside Democratic groups and the labor unions combined. The Democratic Party, however, will still enjoy a significant fundraising advantage over the Republican Party.

The Republican outside groups thus tend to level what would have been, absent their activities, a very unequal playing field in 2010.

I am not certain whether this closing of what would have been a huge Democratic fundraising advantage has anything to do with all of the complaints about “secret groups undermining democracy.” What do you think?

The Primary Purpose of McCain-Feingold Revealed

Kenneth Vogel offers an unexpected insight into the nature of campaign finance regulation:

“[Wisconsin Senator Russell] Feingold faces an uphill battle against a novice opponent, who, perhaps ironically, has been the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads attacking Feingold that would have been prohibited had McCain-Feingold remained intact.”

In other words, if Feingold’s campaign finance law had not proven to be contrary to the U.S. Constitution, he might well not be facing “an uphill battle” to serve a fourth term in Washington. The political speech that is causing Feingold problems would have been prohibited in that situation. But the First Amendment favors speech and not the re-election needs of senators.

Oddly, Vogel writes as if the freed political speech (“ads attacking Feingold”) is a bug rather than a feature of current law.

Time to End the Campaign Finance ‘Reform’ Ruse

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Looking at the repeated failures of campaign finance reforms, is it time to end the restrictions?

My response:

Funny, we didn’t hear the primal scream about campaign finance from liberal Democrats during the 2008 campaigns, when money was pouring into their coffers from everywhere. Do we need any better evidence of the hypocrisy surrounding their screams this year? If so, turn to the lead editorial in this morning’s Wall Street Journal. It’ll tell you all you need to know about the campaign finance “reform” ruse that has been going on for years.

As I’ve written often at the Arena, the true aim of this game is incumbent protection, and it has been from the beginning. But thanks to the First Amendment, incumbents can’t shut down all private campaign financing, or regulate it in many of the ways that have been tried over the years. So after each new “reform,” private money – which is speech – finds new ways to try to influence election outcomes. The reformers real beef, then, is with the First Amendment. They won’t say it. But there it is. It’s time to end this nonsense.

The New York Times Undermines its Narrative

The New York Times has an odd story today on campaign finance on its front page. The story argues that organizations which do not have to identify their donors are sponsoring ads that criticize candidates for office. Complaints about secrecy notwithstanding, the third paragraph of the story discloses one of the major contributors to a group and reveals his putative interests in becoming involved. It also goes into great detail about the donor, his political associates, and even meetings his associates attended and what decisions were made therein. Later parts of the story recount the already disclosed names of supporters of Karl Rove’s efforts in this cycle. True, the story does not reveal everything the reporters believe should be disclosed about donors. But the groups and their donors are hardly secret given what is revealed in the story itself.

The story also cannot get its story straight. The Times’ reporters evidently wanted to fit what they have found into a standard, “special interest” template: the organization in question - the American Future Fund - as a front for energy interests. The story also says the group has sponsored ads on general themes like too much spending,  Obamacare, and another stimulus. But the reporters are determined to see “suggestions of an energy-related agenda,” their own reporting notwithstanding. This forcing of facts into a template comes along with a recognition that the politics of energy and ethanol have become more complicated making it difficult to say what interests are actually being advanced in the American Future Fund effort.

So the story discloses, while decrying secrecy, and both asserts and denies the domination of special interests. In the end, the story holds fast to a simple, conventional theme which is then undermined by its reporting. We should admire, I guess, that the Times’ reporters were willing to undermine their own narrative. But why not just embrace complexity? They are writing the first, not the final, draft of history.

The story also reports that donors desire anonymity because they wish to avoid taking sides in political disputes in public. The story does not say why they desire to avoid taking sides. Perhaps a quick call to the Koch family or George Soros might have provided an answer to that question.