Free speech: media corporations vs. corporations

Journalists are First Amendment fetishists.

Few topics arouse the self-righteous wrath of journalists more than government encroaching on their First Amendment rights. The Fourth Estate largely views the First Amendment as specifically protecting their noble profession, but until recently mainstream media organizations have been loath to defend politicians’ rights under the same banner.

Editorial pages have long railed against the supposedly corrosive influence of money in politics, but a recent Supreme Court case has media elites reconsidering the benefits of government regulating political speech.

In the case Citizens United v. FEC, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, an advocacy organization for journalists, filed a brief supporting Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit group.

(click the headline to read more)

Filed Under: Blog

Diverse groups coalesce to protest Obama lobbyist speech restrictions

A coalition of groups across the political and issue spectrum has banded together to oppose speech controls on lobbyists that President Barack Obama outlined in a recent executive memo.

The groups sent letters to the White House expressing their concerns and just held a conference call with reporters discussing why the policy is a step back for the Fist Amendment right for citizens to petition their government.

The Center for Competitive Politics is joining this nascent coalition, which includes the American League of Lobbyists, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Society for Association Executives and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Here are links to the letters from the ACLU, CREW and ALL; the letter from ASAE and CCP’s letter.

(click here to read more)

Filed Under: Blog

Sen. McCain declares public financing ‘dead’

Sen. John McCain, in an interview in The Washington Times, declares the presidential public financing system ‘dead.’

"No Republican in his or her right mind is going to agree to public financing. I mean, that’s dead. That is over. The last candidate for president of the United States from a major party that will take public financing was me," McCain said.

McCain’s comments reveal an opposition grounded more in sour grapes over Obama’s abandonment of public financing than principle, but McCain’s reversal is welcome whatever the reason.

In a speech last week on the Senate floor, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell attacked a public financing proposal for congressional campaigns as a ‘bailout for politicians.’ McConnell noted that support for the presidential system has steadily plummeted, and in 2007 only 8 percent of taxpayers decided to help fund the program.

McCain’s latest comments don’t reference the congressional system, although one would hope that he would also oppose that welfare for politicians scheme. If Republicans like McCain, who have supported past campaign finance regulations, decline to support this bill, its chances will dwindle significantly. Sen. Arlen Specter is the only Republican mentioned as sponsoring the bill so far. The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Dick Durbin was supposed to introduce it last week, but the rollout has been delayed.

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Campaign finance “reform” and money in Colorado politics

National Review offers an excellent article on the ability of money, wisely spent, to influence the political atmosphere and lead to real, tangible gains at the ballot box. It also touches on the impact that so-called “campaign finance reform” has had at the state level.

Rocky Ride, by former Colorado State Representative Rob Witwer, describes how several wealthy liberal/progressive donors came together with the aim of turning that state from “red” Republican to “blue” Democrat. Although published in the reliably-conservative National Review, there is little in the way of hyperbole or criticism of the efforts of these donors to invest in the political infrastructure necessary to convert Colorado.

A few excerpts:

The day before Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination at Invesco Field in Denver, a group of progressive activists gathered nearby to discuss what Democrats call the “Colorado miracle.” …Through a network of wealthy donors called the Colorado Democracy Alliance, Democrats turned Colorado – until recently, a reliably Republican state – a deep shade of blue.

… Democratic success in Colorado is in large part the result of what [Democracy Alliance Founder Rob] Stein calls a “more strategic, more focused, more disciplined, better financed” progressive movement.

In hindsight, what Colorado Democrats did was as simple as it was effective. First, they built a robust network of nonprofit entities to replace the Colorado Democratic party, which had been rendered obsolete by campaign-finance reform. Second, they raised historic amounts of money from large donors to fund these entities…

Click here to read more

Filed Under: Blog, Colorado

McConnell fires back at taxpayer-funded elections proposal

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor today to criticize a recent proposal to enact taxpayer-funded congressional campaigns.

McConnell, a longtime proponent of the First Amendment in politics, derided the plan as a "bailout for politicians."

"At a time when most Americans are outraged that tax dollars have been used to pay million-dollar bonuses to executives at failed financial firms, it’s hard to convince anyone that taxpayer dollars should cover the cost of balloons, bunting, and campaign barbecues," McConnell said.

(click here to read more)

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How the FEC lost Citizens United … or so we think

There’s an old adage among the Supreme Court Bar that an attorney can’t win his case at oral argument, but he can lose it.  And, if that’s true, yesterday’s oral argument in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205, may have provided the latest example of the phenomenon.

As background, the Citizens United case is about whether a small ideological organization named Citizens United could pay to air a feature-length documentary entitled "Hillary: The Movie" on cable systems via Video On Demand just before last year’s presidential primary elections.

The Federal Election Commission claims that Citizens United cannot because the group is incorporated and the movie is critical of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.  Thus, the FEC asserts that, as a corporation, Citizens United cannot use general funds to make the critical documentary available to cable subscribers because doing so just before an election violates McCain-Feingold’s "electioneering communications" ban.

On the other hand, Citizens United claims it can pay to air "Hillary: The Movie" on cable both because the critical documentary is protected by the First Amendment, and also because the "electioneering communications" ban does not reach feature-length movies made available via Video On Demand.  Specifically, with respect to the constitutional argument, Citizens United contends that, even though the movie is critical of then-presidential candidate Clinton, it does not cross the line to being the "functional equivalent" of asking viewers to vote against Clinton — thus, the movie is protected as issue advocacy.  And, concerning the statutory argument, Citizens United maintains that Congress only intended to regulate short 30- and 60-second political ads and not movies, and only on generally available cable channels rather than Video On Demand.

So that’s where the argument begun yesterday morning, with two well-known and well-regarded advocates ready to take up their cases before the highest court in the land.

(click here to read more)

Filed Under: Blog

Public financing bill dies a merciful death in Maryland

A plan to implement taxpayer-funded elections in Maryland fell apart today, as the Maryland Senate sent the proposal back to committee with less than three weeks left in the legislative session. Click here for our release.

The story, first reported by the Baltimore Sun, is great news for those of us who oppose government regulation of speech and campaigns. So-called reform groups have said they hold the momentum in the taxpayer-funded campaigns debate, but this vote is a huge victory for supporters of campaign freedom

An opponent of the bill, Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, has a brilliant quote in the Baltimore Sun explaining the opposition:

Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, led the charge against the bill in the Senate. He argued that the proposal would have diverted money from the state’s operating budget already straining from massive shortfalls. “People can’t find money for their [electricity] bills, and yet we’re finding money for campaign bumper stickers and yard signs,” he said.

(click here to read more)

Filed Under: Blog, Maryland

The New York Times clinging to dead ideas

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments earlier today in Citizens United v. FEC. This morning, The New York Times published a ridiculous editorial arguing that the Supreme Court should reject all of Citizens United’s arguments to preserve the flawed regulatory regime of McCain-Feingold.

The Times is most concerned about the Court overruling Austin v. Michigan State Chamber of Commerce, a ruling that prevented corporations from using money from their general treasuries to fund express advocacy. The Times doesn’t just attack that provision, though. It splits from several other respected organizations and media outlets that perceive restrictions on content like Hillary: The Movie to be dangerous First Amendment violations.

Campaign finance super lawyer Bob Bauer comes to the rescue and points out the absurdity of the Times’ editorial in a must-read blog post after the jump…

(Click here to read the full post)

Filed Under: Blog

Is Attempting to Gain Political Influence a Misuse of Office?

Recently, we noted one remarkable feature of Michael Malbin’s recent testimony before the Illinois legislature, that being the absence of any standard for measuring the success of contribution limits or other campaign finance regulations, and indeed the dismissal of the use of public corruption trials as "absurd" and of the quality of government management as a "non-sequitur" as measures for determining if campaign finance regulation is worthwhile.

But Mr. Malbin also offered up a view of politics, and "misuse of office," that is so far from anything known in any political system of which we are aware that it merits a little outright ridicule.  Click the headline to see Malbin’s definition of "misuse of office."

Filed Under: Blog

Is Campaign Finance Reform About Good Government?

Is the movement for "campaign finance reform" about good government?  We’ve long argued that it is not.  Reformers seem to care very little about governmental outputs, thinking it best to focus on an ideology of inputs.  the success of tax funding of campaigns is not measured by whether they lead to better government, but by the number of candidates who participate in the system.  If contributions can’t be shown to be a source of corruption, it is enough if they create "an appearance" of corruption.  Make no mistake – this is an ideology, and a relatively blind one at that, for no study dissuades, no amount of experience shatters the belief that more reform is required.  But historically, reformers have at least argued that they cared about good government.

That’s why Michael Malbin’s testimony before the Illinois General Assembly this week is so interesting.  Malbin directly attacks testimony provided the day before by the Center for Competitive Politics, in a most interesting way – good government, it seems, is not at all important as a goal of campaign finance reform.  Click the headline for more.

Filed Under: Blog