Friday, May 02, 2003

Liberty For Citizens, Or Only For Politicians?
To hear John McCain tell it, campaign finance reform is necessary to save democracy from the weaknesses of the 1st Amendment. The Founders would have disagreed.

In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison spoke about the problem of political factions, or what we today call "special interests." During the founding of our Republic, many were concerned that the tyranny of the majority faction would trample the rights of all others. Madison wrote that factions are natural and have always existed. What did Madison believe was the solution to these factions? Was it regulation?

Madison wrote, "Liberty is to faction what air is to fire." He didn't want to regulate, he wanted a vigorous debate of ideas.

Who wouldn't. This is indeed our goal with campaign finance legislation, to ensure the free debate and passionate exchange of ideas. Only now the argument is curiously turned around. And sound or not, these arguments are valid.

John McCain, appearing on "This Week" with Sam & Cokie, said, "The Supreme Court has said, 'Money isn't speech -- speech is speech.'" And on another Sunday morning talking-head show he paraphrased Justice John Paul Stevens, saying, "Money isn't speech -- it's property."

The problem with those quotes is simple: McCain is wrong. In the landmark campaign finance case, Buckley v. Valeo, the Court acknowledged that it's necessary for money to be spent if speech is to be heard. Printing flyers, running ads, hiring consultants, and taking trips are all ways by which a candidate or concerned citizen attempts to make his message heard. All these things cost money. The Court understood that dollar limits gave the government the ability to ration and control the political speech that supposedly is protected by the First Amendment.

Reluctantly, the Justices allowed Congress to impose hard money limits on the amount of dollars raised, in order to guard against the appearance of impropriety with elected officials. And with even greater reluctance, they broke from all previous precedent and permitted government-compelled disclosure, because they saw no other way to enforce the limits.

But John McCain has demonstrated that he is his own parody. On his Straight Talk Express website, McCain urged supporters to sign a petition for campaign finance reform. From there he wrote, "Along with your petition, I hope you will send a contribution of $75, $50, $25, or whatever you can afford at this time. Your contribution will send a clear message that we have the strength and resources to get our reform agenda passed."

Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity said, "It looks peculiar for a senator to be raising money so he can reform. The problem for McCain is that it costs money to get your message out."

Ouch. That was a tough blow. Certainly not a death strike to the movement for the Clean Money, Clean Elections approach above, but a rhetorical punch in the face nonetheless. Here's some more from a synopsis of a lawsuit before the Supreme Court.

The media can influence politics in ways that political causes cannot. We'll argue that political causes have the same First Amendment right to an unrestricted freedom of the press that the institutional media does. The purpose of this lawsuit is to restore the freedom of the press for individuals -- especially political causes.

We'll demonstrate that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right of citizens to communicate through "the press", which means print, radio, television, and now the Internet.

Keep in mind that there are no legal prohibitions or restrictions on the political speech of "the press". The media can make any political statement they want in any manner they choose about any party or candidate, and can publicize or not publicize, attack or not attack, any political cause, without limitation.

This is an even more dazzling "turning around" of common sense. And it makes sense. Especially with the growth of Big Media, and its poor performance in supporting dissenting opinions in favor of a more mainstream corporate vanillaism, this point raises a cogent warning. No campaign finance reform should be passed in a vacuum. Accompanying safeguards on media diversity of ownership should be riding shotgun. We may be looking at a new Bill of Rights people. For the 21st century. One that includes the freedom of information, to ensure transparency and accountability; the role and ownership of media and corporations in America, and necessary and just conditions of their charter; campaign finance reform, to clean up the rest and constructed to be constitutionally sound; and electoral reform, including lifetime registration, same-day registration, instant runoff voting or some better alternative, and a national election holiday.

My purpose in posting these two countering arguments is to call attention to them, so that vigorous review of the various opinions may be carried out. I will be analyzing these arguments, and the decision by the federal panel today striking down portions of the McCain-sponsored campaign finance legislation, and will be posting that in the next several days, or week at the longest. I pretend to be no expert, I will be analyzing the arguments as a capable and educated free thinker, and ultimately through the lens of the platform I mentioned above, which, to put it simply, is maximum support of freedom, self-government, responsive democracy, transparency, accountability, and integrity.


Keep in mind that with these arguments, it begs the question of how we determine what "the press" is. Is there a charter for the press, certain rules and guidelines they must follow, rules and procedures? Like a corporate charter? If so, then anyone claiming this freedom of the press should have to abide by them, whether these are individuals or political "factions". If there is not such a charter, then perhaps there should be, and we should debate what its terms should be. This isn't much different than the current debate over corporate purpose legislation, and what should properly be the terms of a corporate charter. In the best interest of society. I profess to be ignorant of the rules behind "the press", and will seek out this information and post anew as time permits. Or please comment or link to your own post or that of a treatment of the subject. This would be greatly appreciated. We should not leave it to the so-called experts, or technocrats, as free thinkers we need to mobilize for true democracy.