View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Thursday, April 15, 2004

B-School Blues - XX 

Wherein we learn of the virtues of regulating political speech.

For some reason, yesterday, Mr. Seawell devoted the last portion of class to a ringing defense of campaign finance reform. In fact, there are considerable limits on the campaign and political activities of corporations that should be addressed in business school. Unfortunately, Buie spent more time justifying the laws than describing them.

We learned that the initial campaign finance restrictions were enacted in 1971, in response to worries about the corrupting effects of money in campaigns. We were provided with no actual evidence to that effect.

Of course, this happened "just before the country became caught up in the most corrupt administration in history." Never mind that Watergate was about the abuse of federal power to cover up campaign dirty tricks, and had nothing to do with campaign financing. There's no reason to think Nixon or any of his buddies did anything in response to campaign donors. But, um, Buddhist Monks, anyone? No, I didn't think so.

We learned that the restrictions on contributions were upheld, while Buckley overturned the restrictions on spending. We told that, somehow this "created" (his words) an unlimited demand for campaign spending. How restrictions on contributions "create" a demand for spending was never quite got round to, a crucial point, on would think, especially in business school. Nor was it explained how politicians suddenly got the urge to spend campaign money. "Never get into an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel" suggests a longstanding power of the press. It also suggests that buying campaign ads in newspapers predates the desire to buy them on television.

We learned that the Court is now "recognizing the reality" that it's unfair that someone who has more money can contribute more to a campaign. PACs were left out of the discussion entirely, except a mention as the only means that labor unions & businesses can contribute to campaigns. (This hardly means that labor unions, almost monolithically Democratic, have been politically inactive, but somehow that got missed, too.)

We learned that "issue advertising" whose purpose is to elect a candidate is now illegal within 60 days of an election. We learned that this was a "reasonable restriction" on outside groups influencing an election. Naturally, the fact that incumbents get to keep on casting votes that are now immune from paid criticism right up until the election, well, that isn't important now.

Buie did admit that state campaigns couldn't coordinate with candidates even before the "modest and incremental" McCain-Feingold, but did manage to communicate through the papers, anyhow. This type of coordination is at the heart of Republican objections to Section 527 groups. For some reason, that part went completely unmentioned. Actually, 527s pretty much went unmentioned altogether. Funny, that.

There may or may not be a coherent, reasoned argument in favor of the progressive muzzling of political speech. There may be an intellectually honest reason why I, a private citizen, shouldn't be allowed to take out an ad in favor of or opposed to a candidate during that part of the election cycle that's most important. There may be some case to be made that the First Amendment doesn't actually mean what it says. I do know I have yet to hear one.

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