Censorship

Wendy Kaminer on the Foolishness of Campaign Finance Reformers

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Over at The Atlantic, Wendy Kaminer ably dissects the arguments of campaign finance reformers who want to amend the Constitution in response to Citizens United v. FEC. She focuses on the amendment introduced by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), which would let Congress "regulate the expenditure of funds for political speech by any corporation, limited liability company, or other corporate entity." Kaminer argues that the clause saying "nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press" is either an empty reassurance (in light of the principle that "money is not speech") or a safeguard that defeats the aims of the amendment's supporters:

You always have to ask what they mean by "press." Corporate speech can't be regulated effectively without regulating the media, especially in an age of corporate conglomeration, when behemoths like GE buy and sell major networks; and, from a liberal perspective, the single, most influential mega wealthy corporation disseminating misinformation and corrupting the political process is Fox News. If reformers somehow succeeded in imposing a ban on independent corporate expenditures that exempted media corporations, their success would be self-defeating: it would effectively enhance monopolies already enjoyed by Fox and other corporate mainstream media. Given these practical realities complicating the drive to restrict corporate political spendingthe ascendence of highly partisan corporate news operations, the changing nature of media, and the media functions performed or acquired by large corporations or advocacy groups that rely partly on corporate funding (like Citizen's United, recently granted a media exemption)—it's hard to take reformers seriously when they profess their commitment to a free press.

Kaminer also rebuts the idea that the movement to protect voters from pernicious speech is a populist crusade:

This supposedly populist movement has a paternalistic heart: The actual effect of political advertising (a primary target of reformers) is difficult to measure. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't; just ask Meg Whitman. But reformers—who don't seem to believe they base their own votes on political ads—assume that many voters are stupid or ignorant and easily manipulated by advertising. Whether or not this assumption is true, it belies the image of campaign finance reform as a populist crusade; it's a crusade that mistrusts the populace.

Kaminer's post is worth reading in its entirety as a reminder that some liberals are still liberal when it comes to freedom of speech. For more on Donna Edwards and the panic over "corporate" speech, see my December Reason cover story, "You Are Now Free to Speak About Politics."

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  1. Isn’t one of the bedrock principles of modern liberalism that most people are in fact stupid or ignorant ?

    1. I thought it was just a bedrock principle of life. Most people are stupid and/or ignorant. Doesn’t mean you get to tell them what to do, tho’.

  2. Nice to see that not every member of Team Blue has given up on free speech.

    However, I did find this piece a little irritating:

    “If reformers somehow succeeded in imposing a ban on independent corporate expenditures that exempted media corporations, their success would be self-defeating: it would effectively enhance monopolies already enjoyed by Fox and other corporate mainstream media. {Emphasis added]

    Does this person know the definition of “monopoly”? Or has the word become so corrupted that it now just means “big corporation”?

    1. I think it’s so corrupted that it really just means “spawn of Satan”.

    2. I wonder if The New York Times qualifies as corporate mainstream media? For that matter, what about CNN, MSNBC, or even NPR?

    3. Every dumbass knows the word monopoly, only smart folks know oligopoly.

      I was going to post on the same passage, but to point out that a more paranoid person would assume that this was the intended effect. Forseeable consequences and whatnot.

      1. Then there is ogopogopoly – a market controlled by mythical creatures from Canadian lakes.

        1. What about pogopoly? Market controlled by cartoon opossums?

          1. I submit that this is beating-worthy pun offense. Bend over, NutraSweet will be by in a moment with the pineapple and the nightsticks.

            1. Were outta pineapples. I only have a melon someone used for masturbation and moldy kiwi left.

              1. Those will do fine. Do you have the cat o’nine tails?

          2. The monopoly is us!

    4. Or has the word become so corrupted that it now just means “big corporation”?

      Yes, see Clinton Administration V Microsoft.

  3. It’s both funny and sad how the word “corporation” drives most of TEAM BLUE into a frenzy of hatred that causes them to drop any pretense of believing in free speech. I’ve heard TEAM BLUE idiots say, in person, that there should be free speech…except for Fox and Limbaugh. And they didn’t even realize the contradiction as I stared at them in amazement.

    1. See? This is why I don’t talk in person to people about politics any longer. The partisan stupid hurts.

      1. You might not talk politics, but they do. Even if you don’t want to.

    2. To be fair, the word UNION usually catapults me into a state of riastrad. On a detached level it seems like workers should be free to associate and bargain collectively if they so choose, but Thor damnit do I hate me some unions in actual real life.

      1. Maybe it’s because your idea of “bargaining” and “association” doesn’t include vandalism and violence against your customers and competitors (up to and including arson and murder), particularly when government is co-opted to turn a blind eye or help out.

    3. “It’s both funny and sad how the word “corporation” drives most of TEAM BLUE into a frenzy of hatred that causes them to drop any pretense of believing in free speech.”

      Except when the word “Corporation” is followed by “for Public Broadcasting”.

  4. Donna Edwards is a nobody and her amendment will go nowhere.

  5. We should see this as the glass being half full. For the first time in my memory, liberals…liberals are proposing amending the constitution, instead of reinterpreting its living essence.

    1. Except that this would be the first non-repealed amendment that would restrict the rights of the people and not the gummint.

      Par for the progressive course, but hardly praise-worthy,

      1. I’m trying to be an optimist here. Quit harshing my mellow.

  6. As always, the fecklessness of the statist can be illustrated in pointing out their ignorance of one or more Iron Laws. To wit:

    Money and power will always find each other.

    Me today, you tomorrow.

    1. Statist: “It’s a law. We can amend it.”

  7. The thing that drives me mouth frothing enraged in the case of United is the absolute determined effort not to have any factual reality about the actual circumstances of the case discussed.
    You would think that it was GE, or BoA, or FOX or some other fortune 500 company, instead of pretty much a bunch of backwoods people living off of muskrat. (not that there is anything wrong with the tangy goodness of muskrat with a fine cotes du rhone)
    Almost like not wearing a condom is rape…

  8. If the corporatist propaganda didn’t work than why would the working class keep voting against their own interest? Just because it doesn’t always work, as in Meg’s case, is no sign that it isn’t effective. Progress would never occur if we didn’t win a game or two against the corporations every now and then. That should be self evident. Why spend millions on advertisement if the brainwashing wasn’t effective?

    1. Is this real, or a parody?

    2. “We” means the incumbent political elites, right? They’re the ones who get to choose who gets speech rights and who doesn’t under the proposed amendment, so I assume you’re either one of them or an idiot who thinks they’re on the same side as you.

  9. Corporate speech can’t be regulated effectively without regulating the media, especially in an age of corporate conglomeration, when behemoths like GE buy and sell major networks; and, from a liberal perspective, the single, most influential mega wealthy corporation disseminating misinformation and corrupting the political process is Fox News.

    “Licensing news outlets will fix that.”

    it’s hard to take reformers seriously when they profess their commitment to a free press.

    “The press won’t truly be free until it’s like broadcast television; free to the consumer under the benevolent protection of the FCC.”

  10. I believe the HuffPo is incorporated, are they not? Tell them they can’t do any political advocacy, either. That should be amusing.

  11. Robert has found the truth. If you are given a trillion bucks for nothing, why would you risk lending good for nuthin middle class idiots money?

  12. There are a few of us still around, don’t worry, you aren’t alone. I mean, we, plus two or three other people, might be all that’s it, but at least we aren’t alone.

  13. “We” means the incumbent political elites, right? They’re the ones who get to choose who gets speech rights and who doesn’t under the proposed amendment, so I assume you’re either one of them or an idiot who thinks they’re on the same side as you.

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