In a recent blog entry called “One Dollar, One Vote”, Martin Mapes brought up the issue of “Money is Speech.” This slogan represents the idea that where a person puts his money is the same as speech, so that limiting where he can put his money represents a restraint on “free speech” and a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech to the Constitution. This principle has been used to challenge a number of campaign finance laws.
Insert my standard caveat here: I do not write about what the law does or does not say, but about what the law ought or ought not to say. So, I am not interested in whether limiting campaign contributions is a violation of the First Amendment, but whether such laws are a good or a bad idea.
I view campaign finance legislation to be a waste of time and effort. The only thing that they accomplish is to create a confusing set of regulations that a person has to go through in order to run for public office. If they have any effect at all, it is to keep amateurs out of political campaigns because they are worried about their ability to navigate the campaign financing laws. This leaves the field open to the professional politicians, with party advisors working to make sure that they meet the requirements. If anybody actually gets caught by these laws, it is more a matter of carelessness or hubris than an attempt to gain some type of an advantage.
The Public Relations Specialist
Let us assume that you are some wealthy person – say, a corporate executive involved in some industry. You have a great deal of money that you can use to influence a particular campaign. I, in turn, am a consultant advising you on how you can have an effect on the election.
First, you make a campaign contribution for the maximum amount to this candidate. You convince everybody you know to do the same. In asking them to do so, you make a deal with them to provide support for the candidate of their choice.
Second, make a contribution to the county party that the candidate belongs to, to the maximum amount.
Third, find somebody to dig up whatever you can on any actual or potential opponent that this person may face. There can be no law against learning as much as you can about a particular candidate. If you find anything, make it public. If you find anything that could look bad for this candidate, make that public as well. You can give the information to the candidate of your choice. However, I would recommend giving it instead to a columnist or radio talk-show host who will print it in the paper or put it out on the air. This will help your candidate, but can scarcely be counted as a campaign contribution.
Fourth, look at the issues that your candidate supports. Now, either send contributions or find somebody willing to set up an organization that will defend that position at the local level. For example, if your candidate is going to argue in favor of privatizing social security, then find a local organization that is in favor of privatizing social security. Have them hold a conference in this candidate’s district. Give them money so that they can run television and radio advertisements defending the privatization of social security in your area.
Fifth, do the same thing with issues that your opponent supports. Only, this time, you are going to help finance the organizations who are speaking against your opponent. It’s the same principle – give those organizations some money so that they can speak up on those issues.
Sixth, if you own a company, arrange to buy some advertising for whatever talk radio show that will best help your candidate. Allow that talk radio host to afford some more advertising and help to boost its ratings. You might even slip him or her some of your research so that it reaches the voters. Help him to promote the show.
Invite speakers and writers into the area. Invite an expert on the subject of privatizing social security to give a presentation in your area, or help to finance the organization that might do this. Invite an author into your town to sign books on the subject at a local book store. Purchase a number of those books yourself and give them away.
These are just a few ideas that I can come up with just off of the top of my head. If somebody wants to pass some type of campaign finance laws, this may interfere with some of the ways in which you can contribute to your preferred candidate, but there are hundreds of other directions for that cash to flow. Ultimately, campaign finance laws are like trying to stop a river with your bare hands. The water (money) is just going to flow around you. The water (money) will still get where it is going. At most, you are going to create a little bit of turbulence along the way.
The fact is, money is speech. The only way to prevent a person from finding ways to support a candidate through campaign contributions is to ban speech itself. It means gagging any group that says anything that may favor a candidate. It means that, while the election is going on, environmental groups are banned from discussing the environment, senior-citizens groups are banned from discussing issues that affect senior-citizens, and anti-war protestors are prohibited from saying that we should bring our troops home, because advocating any issue will indirectly support any candidate that supports that same issue.
What Really Helps
If I had a magic wand that I could wave to improve the world, I would turn up society’s intolerance of those who deceive and manipulate the public. I would institute a program that would inform the public on the different types of deception that public relations and “perception management” firms have perfected, and I would establish an organization whose purpose is to expose the use of those organizations. I would promote those organizations and encourage every voter and customer to express great contempt at those who use these practices.
One of those organizations can be found on my list of links, “factcheck.org.” This organization goes through campaign advertisements and looks for examples of deception an distortion. I would very much like it to be the case that any candidate or public interest group whose advertisement shows up on this list that is marked as false or misleading instantly loses that candidate enough votes to threaten his chance at winning an election. They show every sign of being bi-partisan, more interested in finding and reporting errors than in promoting any political party.
I would simply like the people themselves to tell candidates and special interest groups, “We need accurate information, and we are simply not going to tolerate your manipulative antics any more.” So, evidence of false and misleading information has an immediate detrimental effect for that candidate or organization.
Candidates need to be informed of one’s decision that he or she is going to be basing their voting decisions substantially on moral character and, in doing so, the candidate’s willingness to be honest with the voter and to avoid false and misleading statements will be a major part of that decision. I would like to recommend that people be ready to share this decision with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
When those others say, “All candidates do this. Every one of them misrepresents the truth when it suits them to do so,” answer, “Only because we let them, and look at where that got us. We have a culture where a candidate can stand up and make statements that factcheck.org can say are lies and nobody cares. If nobody cares about whether the candidates lie to us, then how stupid is it for us to expect them not to lie?”
This is a change in culture, not a change in the law. However, it is the only type of change that can affect the amount of deception we get in political campaigns. It is the only way to force candidates to provide us with honest information on the issues. If we are not willing to do this, then we can continue to expect that our elected offices will fall into the hands of those who are most willing and able to finance the most convincing lies.