Monday, December 06, 2010

Speech Vs. Publicity

George Will follows the right wing of the cliff like a lemming in this howler of an article confusing the definition of free speech, and supporting the Supreme Court-backed march towards the feudalization of the United States.

Yup, I'm talking about campagin financing. While this time, his focus is on the Arizona state method of allowing candidates to voluntarily limit their contribution ceiling and campaign dollars by applying for public campaign funding.

Will uses the rhetorical device of false equivalency: because public funding of a campaign will increase the amount of money to a candidate based on the amount of money private funding candidates spend against them, Will claims that somehow "limits" someone's free speech in some way. Speaking of the 9th Circuit, who upheld Arizona's law, Will says

It upheld this abominable law that is obviously designed to coerce candidates into limiting their political speech by making the exercise of their First Amendment rights trigger government spending on behalf of their opponents.


Sorry, that's not true. No one is limiting what a privately funded candidate or polictical group can say, or how they can say it or how much money they can raise to say it (all different things, in descending order of civil-liberty-related importance). All this law does is allow for a publicly funded candidate to respond without going bankrupt; and I do not believe they recieve dollar-for-dollar matching funds, or funds in triplicate, as Will attempts to suggest. But they do get to tell the voters that they aren't raising money from interest groups, and are instead accepting limits on their own funding.

It isn't their fault that American voters tend to distrust those candidates who spend all their time hobnobbing with the richest and most well-connected contributors and then writing legislation or contracts that benefit those contributors. (Why would people equate smoke with fire, anyway?)

The other thing this law does is make campaigning accessible to more individuals, not just rich or well connected individuals, by removing the artificial but real limits on free political speech built into a system where running for office costs as much as it does. Those real limitations are, noticably, ignored by Will in this article.

Finally, no one's free political speech is limited by any campaign finance law, despite how many well-financed right-wing pundits continue to say it is. Limiting money to a candidate does not silence speech - they still have the right to say whatever they like, with only the other candidates, the media and the education of the voters to determine if what they say is true. All that campaign-finance rules affect is how the candidate publicizes their free speech.

There's a big difference between the two.

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5 comments:

Mavric said...

Just in case you haven't seen it, yahoo has some interesting statistics on campaign money here:

http://yearinreview.yahoo.com/2010/blog/8246/most-expensive-votes/

It makes me feel good that in two of the top three races, the big spender lost. If I am not mistaken, both candidates were spending from their personal funds rather than from money that was raised in campaigning lending to the idea that raising money is more an indicator of how many people get your message than what resources you have available.

Speaking more directly to the point of your article, the author is using a fairly common tactic of attacking a law he sees as counter to his political interest, and trying to build as much emotional outrage against it as possible. Its not nearly as cool to say that in these times where government is trying to get a handle on spending, this is an extravagence the state doesn't need. Instead he tries to bill it as a moral imperative that reads more like propaganda from Animal Farm than a cohesive argument.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Sometimes the big spender loses. It happens. Roy Barnes outspent Sonny Perdue by huge margins in 2002, and he still got whooped. Sometimes narrative is worth its weight in gold.

But in the overwhelming majority of cases, the folks who spend the most money own the debate, stifle the competition and win the election. In most cases, you have to demonstrate a significant ability to raise funds in order to get involved with a run for political office.

Mavric said...

You speak generally and assume causation without showing why you think that's the case. I agree that there is a corralation between a successful candidate and raising campaign funds, but I am not convinced that money raised is much more than an indicator of popularity, much like polling.

Linda McMahon, Sharon Angle, heck, even Hillary Clinton, all threw personal funds onto their campaign and lost. Why didn't that extra cash help control the narrative? What about Rick Scott you ask? He outspent his opponent 6 to 1 with conservative PACs outspending their liberal counterparts 3 to1 to eak out a victory with a razor thin margin. I'm willing to grant 1% leeway to owning the debate.

Three of the top ten campaigns who spent the most money lost. The two campaigns that spent the most money lost. That certainly isn't "overwhelming majority" in my book. Popular candidates with an attracive message raise campaign funds. I think that attributing their win to the money they spend is putting the cart before the horse.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

We can fuss about money's affect on politics all day and never reach agreement. I hate it when people focus on the "horse race" of politics as if polls and fundraising are the only things that matter. But that doesn't mean they don't matter.

Will's overall narrative (echoed by an activist & reactionary Supreme Court) is that restrictions on campaign funds (even the non-restriction restrictions he's talking about) are violations of the First Amendment. To these individuals money = speech.

And while the top spenders may have lost, my concern remains the definition of free speech and participating in the electoral process. As we saw in South Carolina, anyone can file as a candidate for either Party, and once in a great while, they'll win off nothing more than name recognition or voter apathy. But that is an exception that proves a rule.

I have a right to reasonable free speech on this website. I have a right to run for political office. I can do both of those things relatively inexpensively, and be perfectly within my rights. I'll likely lose an election if those two things are all I do, but if I want to start raising a lot of money, and buying a bunch of television and radio ads (those things that make my chance of winning greater), certain rules and regulations will then apply.

Those rules and regulations do not restrict my rights (as Will seems to think), as long as all participants in that particular election cycle must also abide.

Mavric said...

You and I agree that Will using emotionally charged phrases without caring how well they apply to the point he is trying to make. Giving someone else the opportunity to reply in a public debate doesn't infringe on my right of free speach. It only hampers my ability to bully other candidates out of the race.