In Praise of Super PACs
By: David Bozeman
One of the many inconvenient truths that irks liberal sensibilities is knowing that the First Amendment applies to everyone. Yes, even the so-called rich and the Bible-thumpin’, gun-totin’ rednecks (mostly in the south) who never finished high school and are thus unaware of the suffering President Obama has endured on their behalf are, indeed, protected by the same Constitutional guarantees to free speech that liberal icon Larry Flynt enjoys.
A motley band of Occupiers in my hometown (Fayetteville, NC) recently protested, among other complaints, the Supreme Court’s two year-old ruling that ended limits on corporate contributions to political campaigns. In South Carolina, according to the Associated Press, Justice Antonin Scalia was asked about that same ruling at a January 22 meeting of the state’s bar association. For those who don’t like the campaign commercials unleashed by the Super PACS, he simply responded “change the channel or turn off the TV.” Maybe not the most delicate response to a contentious issue but one that speaks to individual responsibility, nonetheless.
Justice Stephen Breyer, who voted on the losing side of the court’s 5-4 decision in “Citizens United” lamented that “there are real problems when people want to spend lots of money on a candidate. . .they drown out the people who don’t have a lot of money.”
The Super PACs in question, of course, are outside groups supporting certain candidates that can take in unlimited contributions as long as they don’t coordinate directly with those candidates. They have reportedly raised more than $30 million in the three presidential nominating contests so far. Rule of thumb: anyone who complains about too much money buying political speech is not seeking to limit the money, they are out to limit the speech itself.
In fact, free speech remains under assault in this country, usually from the left, whether through the rule of law or the disdain of public opinion. Political correctness, college speech codes, periodic calls for civility (usually in response to conservative passions), fairness doctrines and campaign finance restrictions more often than not emanate from the left. The infamous campaign finance reform bill that led to the Supreme Court’s decision, of course, was co-authored by everyone’s favorite mushy moderate, John McCain. Its intent, you guessed it, was to get money out of politics, particularly ee-vil corporate money.
Speaking as an average American, for whose protection most campaign finance reform was written, I can honestly say that it isn’t an influx of PAC money that I fear drowning out my voice. It is such institutions as the mainstream media that I fear, It is Hollywood. Even as benign a publication as Entertainment Weekly makes frequent jabs at leaders and ideas I respect. Certainly NBC does, as does The New York Times. How can a lowly guy like me compete with Paul Krugman, Kathleen Parker, Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney or George Soros? One way is by pooling my resources with other like-minded citizens and running ads. Collectively we can sway the course of an election. Just when the sharpest minds in the room were ready to anoint Mitt Romney the GOP nominee. . .
Money will always find its way into politics because political power is worth so much money. One legislative act can affect not just individual companies but entire segments of our economy. You want to equalize the political process? One step would be reducing the size of a federal behemoth that routinely enriches one group at the expense of another. In short, make political power less attractive to groups and PACs.
The First Amendment guarantees free speech, whether it is voiced individually or collectively. Political speech was what our founders most sought to protect, though the concept is just as often associated with flag burning and pornography. Two years ago, the Supreme Court sided with our founders — barely. A second Obama term could change the court’s ideological balance, but till then, free speech opponents can demonize any group of citizens as another greedy corporate interest. Still, every American has a voice, and Occupy Wall Street-ers deserve no more of a megaphone than any other individual citizen. If money is the conduit of truth, then let there be more money and not less and let the truth ring out.