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Archive for the ‘Free Speech’ Category

When I write about the importance of understanding the difference between a disease and its symptoms, I’m almost always seeking to help people understand why it’s important to focus on the problem of government spending rather than the side-effect of government borrowing.

But the same analogy is useful when looking at issues such as lobbying and campaign contributions.

It’s very understandable for people to get nauseated when we see things such as lobbying for corporate welfare or campaign contributions being given in exchange for things such as ethanol subsidies.

So would it make sense to outlaw lobbying or to restrict campaign contributions? Setting aside constitutional issues (the First Amendment protects our rights to petition the government and to engage in political speech), the answer is no.

Why? Because lobbying and campaign contributions are a function of government being too big and being involved in too many areas.

If we shrink the size and scope of the state, we reduce incentives to manipulate the system. But if we leave big government in place, laws to restrict lobbying and campaign contributions will simply lead to different forms of “rent seeking.”

Not surprisingly, leftists want the wrong approach. Here are some excerpts from Dana Milbank’s Washington Post column, which argues that campaign spending is the problem.

…the Supreme Court…has created a campaign-finance system that is directly responsible for the rise of uncompromising leaders on both sides of the Capitol. …Political money was again before the Supreme Court on Tuesday morning, and, judging from their questions, the conservative justices are poised to make things even worse. Milbank CorruptionNow they are prepared to expand on their 2010 decision that caused an explosion of independent spending by allowing the wealthy to give about $3.5 million apiece to candidates and parties in each election cycle. …The 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo made government for sale and created the arms race in campaign financing by equating unlimited spending with free speech. The John Roberts court in 2010 made the system dramatically worse in its Citizens United decision, loosening restrictions and spurring wealthy donors to make hundreds of millions of dollars in independent expenditures. …Justice Elena Kagan said those who give $3.5 million should expect “special treatment” from Congress — and Burchfield didn’t disagree. Under the Citizens United decision, he said, “gratitude and influence are not considered to be quid-pro-quo corruption.”

Milbank puts the cart before the horse. Big donors aren’t the problem. We should worry about big government.

If we had the type of limited central government envisioned by the Founding Fathers, there would be very little reason for billionaires (or the rest of us) to spend time or energy worrying about what happens in Washington.

I elaborate in this video on the real causes of political corruption in Washington.

P.S. In the title, I wrote that campaign contributions are a “possible” symptom. That’s because campaign contributions (like lobbying) don’t necessarily imply corruption. If John Doe gives money to someone like Rand Paul, he’s probably not looking for a government handout. But if the realtors cut a big check to someone like Chuck Schumer, it’s quite likely that they’re looking to obtain or preserve some undeserved goodie from Washington.

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I spend much of my time focusing on the dangers of a bloated federal government. And if you’ve ever paid attention to the name of this blog, you know I have a special interest in monitoring the ill-advised actions of foreign governments.

But that doesn’t mean I have a Pollyanna view about state governments or local governments. Malfeasance, waste, abuse, fraud, and corruption exist at all levels of government and should be condemned at all levels of government.

And few governments are more deserving of our contempt at this moment in time than the state of North Carolina.

You’ll understand when you watch this video.

The folks at the Institute for Justice do a remarkable job, as you already know if you’ve seen these videos about their fights against the IRS, their battles in defense of property rights, and their campaign against abusive asset forfeiture policies.

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Some ideas are so horrible that I’m almost at a loss for words. The United Nations is a grotesquely wasteful and corrupt international bureaucracy with a long track record of failure and incompetence.

Yet some people think this collection of looters, moochers, and kleptocrats should have authority over the Internet. I’m not kidding. Here are some of the details from an Australian newspaper.

The United Nations is considering whether to set up an inter-governmental working group to harmonise global efforts by policy makers to regulate the internet. Establishment of such a group has the backing of several countries, spearheaded by Brazil. At a meeting in New York on Wednesday, representatives from Brazil called for an international body made up of Government representatives that would to attempt to create global standards for policing the internet… India, South Africa, China and Saudi Arabia appeared to favour a new possible over-arching inter-government body. However, Australia, US, UK, Belgium and Canada and attending business and community representatives argued there were risks in forming yet another working group that might isolate itself from the industry, community users and the general public.

For what it’s worth, this proposal is so crazy that it appears that even the Obama Administration is opposed. I certainly hope so, because this proposal inevitably would lead to many bad results, including restrictions on freedom of speech.

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A Washington Post columnist is understandably disgusted that Congressman Jim Moran is a corrupt thief who swaps earmarks for campaign cash, but she draws the wrong conclusion. The problem is not campaign contributions. That’s just the symptom. The real problem is that government is far too big, and politicians are auctioning off undeserved money to people who don’t deserve it. Restricting the 1st Amendment by making it harder for people to participate in the political process, as the columnist urges, won’t solve the problem because people who think it is okay to receive undeserved money will figure out another route to bribe politicians. The only real solution is to stop the corrupt redistribution that drives the process, which is the point made in the video under the excerpt:

“You don’t have to drink. You just have to pay.” Has there ever been a better summary of how Washington works — and the need for campaign finance reform — than this line from a 2007 e-mail? The context: An executive at Innovative Concepts, a small defense contractor, was balking at going to a wine-tasting fundraiser for Rep. Jim Moran. The Virginia Democrat sits on the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls defense spending — and the executive’s boss made clear that attendance had nothing to do with the quality of the cabernet. Moran raked in almost $92,000 at the event, sponsored by the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group. And Innovative Concepts received an $800,000 earmark in the next defense spending bill. …There is nothing necessarily illegal in the Innovative Concepts transaction, which is, of course, the scandal. Washington operates on the tacit understanding that campaign contributions grease the way for access and influence. Both sides in this transaction, lawmaker and donor, perceive, or at least present, themselves as the victim: elected officials as captives of a system that demands incessant fundraising; donors as the target of a none-too-subtle shakedown scheme. …There is a simple way out of this swamp — public financing of congressional campaigns. …The estimated cost is $2 billion to $3 billion per election.

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I’ve been asked by a reader to comment about Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to strike down campaign finance laws that restricted the ability of people to participate in the political process. I am very happy with this decision because the main goal of campaign finance laws is to protect incumbents by limiting the amount of money (which enables speech) that can be spent. This, of course, makes it harder for challengers and critics to publicize negative information about incumbents or positive information about alternatives. I know that many companies and unions (both of which are collections of individuals) will now spend money in ways that will irritate me, but so what? The 1st Amendment protects other forms of speech I don’t like, but that doesn’t me I want to ban speech – or should be allowed to ban speech if I was a low-life politician. Obviously, it’s good news that the Supreme Court is protecting us from politicians who want to restrict speech they don’t like. Matt Welch of Reason has a great article on CNN:

Free speech really does mean free speech, and the laws that the “Citizens” ruling overturned directly and heinously restricted the stuff. …Citizens United, a conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit that has funded a dozen political documentaries over the years, produced a critical documentary about Hillary Clinton in 2008 entitled “Hillary: The Movie.” By a decision of the federal government, which was enforcing the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (known more broadly as McCain-Feingold), this piece of political speech was banned from television. Let’s boil it down to the essential words: Political documentary, banned, government. You don’t have to be a First Amendment purist to intuit that political speech was, if anything, the most urgent subcategory covered by the First Amendment’s “Congress shall pass no law” restrictions. …As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion, “The law before us is an outright ban, backed by criminal sanctions. Section 441b makes it a felony for all corporations — including nonprofit advocacy corporations — either to expressly advocate the election or defeat of candidates or to broadcast electioneering communications within 30 days of a primary election and 60 days of a general election. … If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.” …As the Supreme Court rightly noted today, “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”

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