Schlosser for Congress op-ed: Expensive speech
- Op-ed column: Expensive speech
By David Schlosser, candidate for U.S. Congress
Week of 28th June 2006
Earlier this week, the US Supreme Court decided in Randall v. Sorrell that
Vermont's strict limits on political contributions and expenditures
unconstitutionally interfered with the First Amendment. The disappointing
aspect of the ruling is that the court did not go far enough to restore
Americans' strangely limited free speech rights.
That right was so important to our country's founders that they included it
in the first article in the Bill of Rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech,
or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to
petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
As a society, we accept the First Amendment does not grant Americans
unlimited rights to free speech. We commonly note that the First Amendment
does not protect yelling "fire" in the absence of an actual threat. We're
currently engaged in a debate over the rights and responsibilities of the
news media when reporting on intelligence programs that may compromise the
prevention of terrorist attacks.
With rare exceptions like those, Americans do not typically accept limits on
our speech. Unlike many European countries, we do not ban speech that
society considers offensive or wrong-headed. Racists and historical
revisionists freely promote their peculiar beliefs, and occasionally make
news with Ku Klux Klan rallies and demonstrations at the funerals of
soldiers killed in Iraq. Organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law
Center and the Anti-Defamation League carefully track and report those
activities. Counter-protests are emerging as an effective response to
offensive speech. And well intentioned laws to prevent offensive speech
make strange bedfellows of the American Civil Liberties Union and groups its
members consider abhorrent, reminding us of Evelyn Beatrice Hall's summary
of Voltaire's essay on tolerance: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will
defend to the death your right to say it."
Except, strangely enough, when it comes to political speech. Americans
accept broad, deep limits on political speech in various forms: limits on
campaign contributions; limits on political expenditures; limits on the
times, dates, and locations of political speech and advertising; limits on
the kinds of organizations that can and cannot support candidates in various
ways and at various times; and on and on. The McCain-Feingold "reforms"
make it virtually impossible for third parties to speak during the final
days of a campaign - which is to say, when most citizens actually start
paying attention to the issues and candidates.
This is both odd and dangerous because, despite what the political
correctness police would have you believe, the answer to challenging speech
is not limiting that speech. The answer is more speech. John Stuart Mill
observed that free speech is the guarantor of progress. We will never know
if an unspoken opinion contains an element of truth. And, without having to
defend one's beliefs from competing or contradictory opinions, those beliefs
wither. We forget why we ever believed them in the first place, allowing
weak or wrong arguments to topple them. Mill brilliantly noted that the
most accepted beliefs are the beliefs that most need challenging, because
conventional wisdom is the kind most likely to fail when no one understands
why it became so conventional.
Philosophy is nice, but in real life, the efforts to limit the role of money
in politics - which, by the nature of our society, limit free speech - has
the perverse, unintended consequence of making money the focus of a
candidate's political life. Running a political campaign is expensive.
Printing brochures, yard signs, and bumper stickers; paying parade and
county fair entry fees; recording commercials; buying radio, television,
newspaper, and Internet advertising; building and maintaining a Web site;
travel; renting office space and computers. any candidate for major office
can easily spends tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars a month.
And yet campaign contribution limits prohibit individuals from donating more
than a few thousand dollars. Those limits require candidates to recruit
thousands of people who can donate that sum - a disruptive and potentially
corrupting practice. So "reformers" take the bizarre next step, which the
Supreme Court stuck down in Vermont, of limiting the amount of money
candidates can spend.
It costs more than a million dollars to run an effective Congressional
campaign. No matter how many laws we pass requiring it to cost less, it
still costs more than a million dollars. If it costs more than a million
dollars, and we make it hard to raise a million dollars, candidates are
going to spend more time raising money and less time attending to their
representative responsibilities. And candidates will come up with creative
ways to motivate people to donate to their campaigns - some as blunt as Rep.
Duke Cunningham's bribery, some as clever as Rep. Alan Mollohan's funneling
of public money to agencies that pay him rich fees, some as boring as
inserting earmarks in spending bills, some as appalling as taxes or laws
that favor individuals or industries to the detriment of their competitors.
The simple solution to this problem, ignored by policy makers and judges
across the country, is to eliminate campaign finance limits and require full
and immediate disclosure of campaign contributions. Americans are wise
enough to decide if a candidate funded by a million-dollar donation from the
gambling industry might have a vested interest in pro-gambling legislation.
They are also smart enough to judge if a candidate funded by thousands of
small contributions from individuals in her district might better represent
her constituents than a candidate funded by one big contribution from a
distant union. Pressure from opponents and media coverage of political
contributions - which is non-existent because today's limits make it
irrelevant - would encourage candidates to avoid the appearance of
impropriety. And the elimination of contribution limits would put an end to
the vast money laundering machine that exists solely to spread vast
quantities of special interest money among dozens of ideologically
identical, obscurely named front groups that make small donations to hide
the ultimate source of the money.
If you want to get money out of politics, there is one and only one way to
accomplish that goal: eliminate the power of politicians to create laws that
reward their friends and punish their enemies. But that is a topic for
# # #
Libertarian candidate for U.S. Congress David Schlosser, 38, lives in
Flagstaff, Ariz., where he is a public relations manager for a global
microprocessor company and has been a part-time instructor in the School of
Communications at Northern Arizona University. He brings nearly a decade of
political experience to his campaign for Congress, and is a graduate of
Trinity University and the University of Texas. His wife, Anne, is a
corporate training and development professional. For more information about
Schlosser and his campaign for Arizona's First Congressional District, visit
www.SchlosserForCongress.com <http://www.schlosserforcongress.com/> .
Authorized and paid for by Schlosser for Congress, Scott Gude, Treasurer
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