The positive impact of negative advertising

The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that Sen. Barack Obama is preparing a "a full assault on Sen. Hillary Clinton over ethics and transparency."

Within hours the Clinton campaign responded by alleging that Obama should be held accountable by the media for going "shockingly negative" after "he had promised to play nice."

"This is a tried-and-true technique of the Obama campaign that has repeatedly shifted negative when they find the momentum shifting against them," said Clinton aide Mark Penn. 

Penn’s comment prompted Politico reporter Ben Smith to ask, "whether that hadn’t also been what Clinton did when she found the momentum shifting against her."

Penn demured in response to Smith’s question, answering: "They have decided to go consistently negative. They have gone personally negative against Sen. Clinton repeatedly in this campaign, and that is a big difference."

Of couse, the real difference over whether an advertisment is "negative" or "drawing a contrast" is through the eyes of beholder. And the truth is that no matter what you call it, negative/contrast messages, like all political speech, play an important role in our democracy.

More after the jump.

Filed Under: Blog

Media calls for exemption to ethics law

Roll Call published an editorial ($) yesterday ridiculing the new ethics law that bars some journalists from taking members of Congress or their staffers to lunch.

Put simply, if a journalist is employed by a news organization that employs lobbyists they can not take a Hill source to lunch. But these new rules do not apply to media outlets that do not employ lobbysists.

The editorial maintains, therefore, that the new law "does provide a marginal advantage for reporters not covered by the ban."

The editorial goes on to note that "Greg Keeley, president of the Senate Press Secretaries Association and spokesman for Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), had it right when he told Roll Call that the rules are ‘too complicated,’ adding, ‘what influence a journalist is going to have on my boss’s legislative agenda, it’s a bit of a long bow to draw.’

Roll Call agrees by concluding that "We have a solution to offer: House and Senate amendments exempting accredited journalists from the ethics rule." 

So, essentially Roll Call argues that the media should be exempt from the ethics rules because the idea that a journalist might influence the legislative agenda is "a long bow to draw."

Needless to say, such reasoning merits further exploration.

More after the jump.

Filed Under: Blog

Group Asks Supreme Court to Review Case with Major Campaign Finance Implications

The Voter Education Committee (VEC) asked the Supreme Court on Monday to review a case that has major implications for "McCain-Feingold" and state campaign finance laws throughout the nation.
The VEC challenges a Washington state law which requires any organization that supports or opposes a candidate or ballot issue to register as a "political committee" absent of express advocacy.
"The implications are huge for all of the states that, after McCain-Feingold, thought they could use broad standards to muzzle political speech," said Bradley A. Smith, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics.
More after the jump.

Filed Under: Blog

What will be the justification?

A CQ Weekly article this week examines what the likelihood of two presidential nominees who support government-financed elections means for efforts to "revive" the largely defunct presidential taxpayer financing system.

According to its advocates, the "problem" with the current system – laid out in the CQ piece, as well as, a recent editorial and op-ed in the Washington Post – is that the spending limits are too low.  In essence, even proponents of campaign finance regulation admit that spending limits are de facto speech limits.

So, as alluded to by Bob Bauer, public-financing advocates are forced to argue that campaigns need the government payouts to guard against corruption and the appearance of corruption.  But Bauer also notes that asking citizens to subsidize knavish politicians is an all but impossible task.  Instead, Bauer suggests putting forward "a message of participation, to a picture drawn of a politics in which theirs is the leading part."

Abandoning the "corruption" argument – if only for debate on reforming presidential public financing system – would be a major departure for campaign finance regulation advocates and is unlikely to happen. 

More after the jump.

Filed Under: Blog

CCP Accepting Applications for Legal Intern


Across the country, at the state and federal level, free speech is being attacked under the guise of campaign finance "reform." Want to do something about it? The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) is seeking a Legal Intern to join our team during and help us fight political speech regulation. 

Click the headline for details.

Filed Under: Blog

Money well spent?

A study released by a subsidiary of the Pew Charitable Foundation reveals that – make sure you’re sitting – Pew Charitable Trusts wasted a lot of money underwriting efforts to enact restrictive campaign finance laws.

Supporters of campaign finance and speech regulations, supported primarily by large foundations including Pew, like to argue that money plays an unholy role in politics, skewing legislative and policy outcomes away from those that "serve the people" and towards  so-called "special interests."

What a surprise then, when a Pew study grading state governments reveals that states with the least restrictive campaign finance laws are among the best governed states in the nation, while those with more restrictive laws fall toward the bottom.

More after the jump.

Filed Under: Blog

Slogans, Mantras, And Drivel – Modern Political Discourse

Christopher Hitchens has a marvelous essay over at Slate on how cliché-ridden and devoid of substance political campaigns are today. A sampler of his best lines in the piece:

…It is cliché, not plagiarism, that is the problem with our stilted, room-temperature political discourse. It used to be that thinking people would say, with at least a shred of pride, that their own convictions would not shrink to fit on a label or on a bumper sticker. But now it seems that the more vapid and vacuous the logo, the more charm (or should that be "charisma"?) it exerts. Take "Yes We Can," for example. It’s the sort of thing parents might chant encouragingly to a child slow on the potty-training uptake…

Pretty soon, we should be able to get electoral politics down to a basic newspeak that contains perhaps 10 keywords: Dream, Fear, Hope, New, People, We, Change, America, Future, Together…

And it’s not as if anybody is looking for coded language in which to say: "Health care-who needs it?" or "Special interests and lobbyists-give them a break," let alone "Dr. King’s dream-what a snooze." It’s more that the prevailing drivel assumes that every adult in the country is a completely illiterate jerk who would rather feel than think…

Hitchens does an admirable job of diagnosing much of what afflicts modern political debate, but he overlooks what might be considered the flip side of his argument. For while it is true that too many politicians lapse into empty sloganeering and vapid statements to describe their own agenda, they also have a tendency to resort to equally mindless drivel when attacking their opponents, drivel that has been successfully pushed by campaign finance "reformers" of all stripes for decades.

More after the jump…

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog

Cato Institute Policy Forum on Freeing SpeechNow

EVENT: Cato Institute Policy Forum on Freeing SpeechNow: Free Speech and Association vs. Campaign Finance Regulation

Details after the jump. 


Filed Under: Blog

Pernicious Political Committee Processes: A Reply to the Comments of Bob Bauer

Mr. Bauer has responded to my critique of the FEC’s political-committee enforcement processes.  He sees the post as an attack on his consistency.  It is not.  The matters at stake are not that simple.

More after the jump.

Filed Under: Blog

Of What Use is “Major Purpose” Absent Corruption?

Of What Use is "Major Purpose" Absent Corruption?: The Perniciousness Nature of the "Political Committee" Process–and What the Courts Can Do About It.

Part one of two, after the jump. 

Filed Under: Blog