USA Today: Anonymous Political Speech is Bad Because...It Forced Incumbent Senators to Campaign?

USA Today doesn't like anonymous political speech. In a house editorial today, the paper decries the effects of ruling in cases such as Citizen's United and SpeechNOW that have allowed more money to enter the political arena, especially when reporting requirements don't force disclosure of donors:

Citizens United left the public only one way to protect itself from the rising threat [of more money entering elections]: disclosure. At the federal level, this would be achieved by the Disclose Act, which we opposed two years ago because it exempted a number of powerful interest groups. Today's version, scheduled for Senate debate this month, requires that all groups — social welfare, union and business — to report all expenditures and all donations more than $10,000. Republicans, whose groups are drawing more money so far, are geared up to kill it.

Why is Citizens United so bad? Because

the decision has fostered a whole new era of secrecy. Political strategists on both sides of the aisle have formed non-profit "social welfare" groups to escape disclosure requirements. They have names that convey selfless intentions, such as Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, or the Patriot Majority USA, a liberal one.

These groups spent $137 million on the 2010 elections. Not surprisingly, one target was veteran Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold— a champion of campaign-finance reform — who lost his seat. Contributions from the Patriot Majority USA, meanwhile, helped save Harry Reid, the Senate's top Democrat, from defeat.

More.

Russ Feingold lost because of money from anonymous donors? And Harry Reid was saved by the same? Please. Shouldn't we be celebrating that two of the best-known senators in the country were forced to, you know, actually compete in races? Why do people get constitutional palpitations when super-incumbents such as Dick Lugar or Orrin Hatch have to break a sweat during primary season, much less a general election? That's a sign the system may just be working finally (that Feingold was the co-author with John McCain of restrictive political speech laws was an ironic cherry on top). USA Today trots out a supposed sob story of a tight congressional race where an incumbent and challenger each spent $2.1 million in a race. But that's bad because the challenger, who got a late-campaign injection of anonymous "outside" money, ended up winning. If South Dakotans are that easily gulled, maybe they shouldn't be allowed to vote in the first place.

In the 2010 Senate race between Feingold and eventual victor Ron Johnson, both candidates spent about $15 million. Independent expenditures broke well in favor of Johnson, who got about $2.3 million in help. Which might considered an equalizer given that Feingold was running for his fourth term.

However pure the intentions of campaign-finance rules, they never fail to tamp down on free speech. For god's sake, the law overturned in Citzens United expressly denied independent groups from mentioning the names of specific candidates within 60 days of a general election! How stupid was that? And a law that could ban the documentary Hillary: The Movie from being offered as a pay-per-view option on cable on the eve of the 2008 Democratic primaries could ban all sorts of speech. That "news organizations" - a.k.a. newspapers that explicitly endorse candidates - always get exempted from laws suppressing political speech hardly helps their credibility on the topic.

Anonymous political speech is at the very heart of the U.S. experience (thanks Publius!). Disclosure rules are inevitably used against politically weak groups (historically, they been used against groups such as the NAACP and the Socialist Workers Party), not against the shadowy-yet-oddly-highly-public billionaire financiers who are constantly invoked as real threats to electoral integrity.

Need more convincing? Watch 3 Reasons Not to Sweat the Citizens United Decision, originally released in February 2010:

Reason on campaign finance.

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  • John Thacker||

    You would think that the Left would at least listen to the ACLU on this subject, if not to libertarians. You might think that that would cause them to at least acknowledge the arguments in favor of the Citizens United ruling. Broadly speaking, however, it makes no effect.

  • Iamtheeviltwin||

    The "Corporations are People" cry resonates too deeply with the Left. The hatred of Corporations by many in this country kills any logical thought. For some reason a "faceless" company is scarier than a "faceless" government.

    I have a number of Far-Left people in my family (one of whom is a strong voting rights activist) and none of them see the irony of banning political speech from any source and advocating strongly for a more open voting process.

    All voters should be trusted to vote, but they can't be trusted to ignore "anonymous" political speech...

  • fish||

    Russ Feingold lost because of money from anonymous donors? And Harry Reid was saved by the same?

    FUCK! Somebody inverted that equation!

  • John||

    When someone the media likes wins, the people have spoken. When someone the media doesn't like wins, special interests have bought the election.

    The media butt hurt over crap weasels like Lugar and Bennett and Feingold going down is just delicious.

  • fish||

    Yeah but I want the media butthurt over Harry Reid too!

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    Was Feingold really a crap weasel? Graded on a curve he was probably in top 50% percentile, no?

    Not that I'm advocating encroachment on anonymous speech.

  • Scarcity||

    Crap weasel status extends to at least 98% of Congressmen. And I think I'm being generous.

  • #||

    Feingold was at least principled and one of the few that cared about at least some of the Bill of Rights. He was the only no vote in the Senate for the PATRIOT act for instance. It would have been interesting seeing him and Rand in the senate together re: those kinds of issues.

  • mybarber||

    I guess they think the Federalist Papers should have been banned.That said,I doubt many of their ilk have read them,or the constitution.They make grand statements about freedom,their kind of freedom.They love positve righs,yet fight the negitive ones.What is the harm in someone using their wealth to publish their ideas?

  • Alan Vanneman||

    If Charlie and Dave Koch want to write pamphlets signed "Publius", let 'em. If they want to spend $100 million trashing Obama, they can have the balls to put their name on it. It's not impossible to craft legislation that would require big spenders to identify themselves and protect the rest.

  • ||

    ALAN VANNEMANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN

  • Brutus||

    I'm not seeing the distinction here, Alan. What if the Koch boys spend $100 million on pamphlets? Is that okay?

  • John Thacker||

    Actually, it is impossible, Vanneman.

    The big spenders and insiders always figure out the rules more easily, because they're used to playing the game.

    But you just keep on going, defending segregationist Alabama's position against the NAACP.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    But you just keep on going, defending segregationist Alabama's position against the NAACP.

    ya we should beat the crap out of that point. "Do you wish to overturn this precedent and let the Evil People of Alabama go return to their practice of boycotting NAACP supporters? Do you really?"

  • R C Dean||

    It's not impossible to craft legislation that would require big spenders to identify themselves and protect the rest.

    You seem to be conceding that anonymity is protection.

    Why does the amount you spend affect whether you need protection or not? If anything, shouldn't big spenders need more protection?

    You wouldn't say that only poor people should be allowed to lock their doors, would you?

  • Killazontherun||

    It's Vanneman. Dumbass is his thing.

  • Brutus||

    Good point. And why would it take "balls," in AV's parlance, to put their names on such a campaign? Could it have anything to do with the campaigns of intimidation launched against people who have given to non-progressive candidates and causes?

  • Killazontherun||

    Ego. You see, Vanneman himself is not anonymous, and it's the only point of pride he's got left in this world.

  • Iamtheeviltwin||

    If all it takes is spending your political capital in plain view of everyone to have "big balls", then the Koch brothers have some of the largest "balls" in the country. The number of political organizations their money is publicly attached to is long. It isn't like they are hiding their spending.

  • James Ard||

    Vanneman is kind enough to use the textbook example of why disclosure is a terrible idea. How many Americans have been brainwashed into hating the Kochs with every fiber of their being?

  • Anonymous Coward||

    It's not impossible to craft legislation that would require big spenders to identify themselves and protect the rest.

    Fucking equality under the law! How do they work?

  • Killazontherun||

    Free speech, democracy's greatest enemy, according to progressives. What a fucking, crying shame is this twaddle that passes for serious thought. Their most basic assumption here is that democracy outranks civil liberties in societal importance, but if the vote doesn't uphold civil liberties, it is less than worthless, it is reduced to nothing but plunder.

  • JW||

    USA Today doesn't like anonymous political speech. In a house editorial today, the paper decries the effects of ruling in cases such as Citizen's United and SpeechNOW

    An unsigned op-ed condemned anonymous speech?

    Nice.

  • SugarFree||

    They are impervious to shame and irony, like all idiots.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    But they're part of the Obama approved (e.g. not Fox) press, so it's different!

  • robc||

    I was going to point that out too.

  • The Hammer||

    At least the comments are about 40-40. The other 20 percent are just some idiot repeating "Drug money" with some random other words thrown in.

  • Brett L||

    I would think that PACs and the like would be seen as a democratizing force against the wealthy. As in, 100k citizens who put up $100 now have the same money as a multimillionaire who wants to put up $10M by himself.

  • robc||

    Publius agrees that anonymous political speech is bad. Always sign your name! Just like he did!

  • Tulpa the White||

    I guess "liking" your own article on Facebook is the opposite of anonymous speech, huh Nick?

  • The Hammer||

    Clean the sand out of your vagina or go bitch someplace else. Christ you've been tiresome this week.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Any speech that is not defamatory ought to be legal, anonymous or not.

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