OK, the incumbents
don't put it that way. They say: "There's too much money
in politics! We need campaign finance reform."
And they get it.
"Reform" sounds good. McCain-Feingold and a host of
state laws would protect us from the evil influence of big money.
But that's nonsense.
When our behemoth government has the power to spend more than
$2 trillion every year, big money will find a way to try to influence
it. It's the little guys, who aren't in office, who are silenced
makes it illegal for individuals to buy an ad that names a candidate
within 60 days of an election. "'Reformers' want elections
to be the private preserve of the political class," snorted
Ed Crane of the Cato Institute. He's right. And they're succeeding.
They've gamed the system so nearly every incumbent is reelected.
Only an unusually well-funded candidate can challenge the establishment.
In 1968, Eugene McCarthy drove Lyndon Johnson from office with
the help of funds from rich liberals like Steward Mott. Today,
McCarthy's campaign would be illegal.
reform or, rather, establishment politicians' protection acts,
has eliminated such challengers. Various laws prohibit those of
us who aren't running for office from buying ads before an election
to criticize those who are. The Sierra Club can no longer call
a politician a polluter. In Wisconsin, an anti-abortion group
could run ads mentioning Sen. Herb Kohl, but not Sen. Russ Feingold,
because Feingold was up for election. Too bad -- ads about Feingold
and others running for office might actually hold them responsible.
A federal judge has ordered the Federal Election Commission (FEC)
to regulate the Internet, which FEC chairman Bradley Smith warned
might even lead to regulating blogs that link to candidates' websites.
"Political activity is more heavily regulated than at any
time in our nation's history," Smith told the president in
his letter of resignation.
must shut up. The latest scam is playing out now in Washington
more money from voters, Washington's legislature passed a 9.5-cent-per-gallon
gas tax increase. To their annoyance, Washington law permits another
lawmaking process: Citizens can petition to put an initiative
on the ballot, which the public can then vote to pass. Some citizens,
thinking they were already paying plenty, organized a movement
to repeal the tax increase. Two local radio hosts, Kirby Wilbur
and John Carlson, spent lots of time on the air explaining why
they think the gas tax is a bad idea.
In response to this
challenge to their authority, a group of politicians turned to
campaign-finance laws to silence Wilbur and Carlson. The theory
is this: Radio airtime is valuable. So if a radio host expresses
strong political views, that's a contribution, just as if a caterer
were providing free food to the campaign's volunteers. Washington
law limits contributions in the final three weeks of a political
campaign to $5,000, so Wilbur and Carlson must shut up. Or at
least the anti-tax group must count the minutes they talked about
it on the air, assign some price to that and report that under
campaign finance limits. Or something -- Mike Vaska, the lawyer
acting as prosecutor, has suggested that if Wilbur and Carlson
distanced themselves enough from the other people on their side,
they'd be allowed to speak freely on the radio. Ironically, Vaska
just happens to be a member of a big private law firm that stands
to make big money off a higher gas tax -- maybe millions in legal
fees -- $25,000 per bond backed by the tax. For some reason, Washington
legislators seem to think that's OK. No one's telling him to shut
The political class
protects its own.
Spending and speech
limits are anti-democratic. Gene McCarthy said it well when he
pointed out that the Founders pledged their "lives, fortunes
and sacred honor" to win the Revolution. They didn't say,
"lives and fortunes up to $1,000."
We need more money,
not less, spent on politics. What's spent on campaigns now is
less than is spent advertising potato chips. Let the outsiders
The politicians should
not tell the people to shut up.