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November 4th, 2006

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11:55 pm - Money and Free Speech
Two of the (far too many and generally dreadful) ballot measures we have in Oregon this year are two regarding campaign finance reform, Measures 46 & 47. I voted for both of them for two reasons. First, while they are not the best-written campaign finance reform initiatives I've ever seen, Oregon has no laws limiting campaign spending (being one of only a handful of states that doesn't), also, the most common ad against the two measures featured a comment which described these laws as limiting free speech. Technically, that statement is correct, in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976) the US Supreme Court ruled that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. I find this entire concept appalling to the extreme. It neatly encapsulates much that I loathe about capitalism - under this definition, the wealthy innately possess greater rights to free expression than the poor. My favorite comment about this is my good friend alephnul's comment that if spending money = free speech, then a bribe is merely an exceptionally compelling argument.

All humor aside, my ideal campaign finance reform would be that all candidates from parties that met certain fairly minimal criteria of membership would receive the exact same amount of money and the exact same amount of air time on TV and radio networks and that all other spending for political ads in mass media would be strictly forbidden. Under current law, this would be a gross violation of free speech rights, because money = free speech, which effectively means that the wealthy and the well-funded can gain access to the mass media and others cannot. Yet another example of how money is truly the measure of all worth (both moral and otherwise) in mainstream US culture.
Current Mood: annoyedannoyed

(5 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 5th, 2006 05:18 pm (UTC)
Wow.. that is horrifically disgusting. And that's exactly it. It negates the sentiment of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Well, apparently not, since people can be born into wealthy families, and having more money means having more freedom of speech..
[User Picture]
Date:November 6th, 2006 03:23 am (UTC)
I'm not sure the answer to "money = free speech" is "money = no free speech." I wouldn't want to tell someone that they couldn't take the income from their life's work and dedicate it to a cause they felt was important.

Consider for a moment banning contributions to curing a particular disease. Obviously, it wouldn't be fair to sufferers of all diseases if some conditions received greater funding than others, so only the government may fund medical research into chronic illnesses.

How does that fly for you?

[User Picture]
Date:November 6th, 2006 04:33 am (UTC)
Look at campaign financing in Britain - by law, they can't even start any campaigning more than 30 days before an election. I think that's an absolutely brilliant law.

On a more general level, I have no trouble with people making all the blog posts they want about various issues, but spending money, particularly spending money for mass media time, is essentially buying an election. A campaign ad is a sales pitch exactly like an ad for breakfast cereal or shoes. As ad campaigns continue to improve and (especially) as more image editing software is used, they are increasingly becomes highly effective sales pitches. I am firmly convince that differential mass media (especially TV) access for candidates and democracy are not remotely compatible. The only fair way to distribute such ads that I can see is equally to all candidates, otherwise candidates who are wealthier or (more typically) who have better funding have better and more ads and they can literally buy their election.

I care vastly more about maintaining some shred of actual democracy (at least until we find something better, since I'm already quite dubious about the entire concept) than I do about allowing someone to spend their money to use their money to influence politics. I'm all for things like door-to-door volunteers, if you want to influence a campaign, go an volunteer for it, walk the pavement and talk to people. I'm perfectly fine with that.

However, allowing the wealthy to spend their money directly on politics means (as we so clearly see in the US) rule by and for the wealthy. That's true with both parties, the Republicans have sold themselves to the entire vile alliance of racists and fundys, but both Republicans and Democrats are ultimately parties by and for large corporations and the wealthy, and the lack of strict campaign finance laws is one of the major reasons. The rich have enough advantages w/o having the ability to control politics too.
[User Picture]
Date:November 7th, 2006 10:03 pm (UTC)
I've sometimes thought that a single, narrow intervention would solve a large fraction of the problem with limited harm to the First Amendment: we prohibit the purchase of blocks of radio and television time for political messages shorter than about 25 minutes. That is, you can put on a Ross Perot style infomercial, but you can't buy 30 second spots.

My intuition is that 30 second spots -- which typically run the gaumet from simplistic propaganda to mass hypnosis -- are the primary nexus between dollars and votes. Sure, there are other ways to spend campaign money: direct mail, newspaper ads, polling, the Nuremburg Rallies, what have you. But I don't believe that any of these have the direct impact on voting behavior (especially the voting behavior of the least informed) as television (and, to a much lesser extent, radio) advertising.
[User Picture]
Date:November 7th, 2006 10:16 pm (UTC)
That's actually a fairly brilliant idea. This would also have the wonderful side effect of greatly reducing the number of political ads, since even wealthy and well-funded candidates could only afford a very few such ads.

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