Publicly-financed elections: Unconstitutional and immoral
Here's my response to a Gang of Four blog posting which argues for publicly-financed elections: Nancy, my only interest in “campaign finance reform” is to do what is possible to reduce chances of corruption, of someone simply buying a politician, but with primary emphasis on our fundamental (and First Amendment) rights. In my view, giving money to a campaign is a free speech right. McCain-Feingold is clearly unconstitutional, and the biggest failure…yes, I said the biggest failure…of George W. Bush’s presidency was his signing that travesty while saying that he realized it is unconstitutional. As far as the possibility (or certainty) that a rich person might have a bigger impact on an election than a poor person because the CEO can buy more advertising time (indirectly) than a construction worker can, I simply don’t care because I don’t see any problem…as long as campaign contributions are immediately disclosed in a way that the public (and the press) has easy access to. [I should emphasize here that I’m talking about contributions by individuals. We might find a hint of common ground if we were discussing contributions by corporations and unions which both are in the business of directing concentrated benefits (to themselves) and hoping that the diversified costs (across all taxpayers) won’t be noticed. Take 5 cents from every person in America and you’re talking about a lot of money even though almost no single American will spend the time to argue about it. Do it enough times, though, and you have today’s government with it’s massive overspending, earmarks, and deficits.] We should not socialize elections any more than we should socialize medicine. It’s not relevant that some people contribute more than others can afford to contribute. Indeed, given than about half of the American population pays no federal income tax, I’d hope that those of us who do pay tax take a greater interest (and have a greater influence) on elections than those who simply use government to transfer money from me to themselves. Not only are campaign finance limits a restraint on my free speech rights, but publicly-financed elections also represent an unethical taking of money from people who would otherwise choose not to contribute to a political campaign. If people don’t care about their government enough to contribute, then they get the government they deserve. Voting is a responsibility. It should be done by people who have at least attempted to familiarize themselves with issues. There is a reason we don’t operate like Australia, where you’re fined if you don’t vote. It’s a free choice made by people in a free country, and our campaign contributions should be equally free (i.e. to be given or withheld.) The problem with many if not most “liberal” goals (including campaign finance restrictions, socialized medicine, and the welfare state in general) is that they are approached purely from a utilitarian point of view. Namely, “campaign finance reform” supporters think about some pleasant-sounding goal they’d like to see, such as rich people having less influence on elections. They approach the issue with an ends-justifies-the-means mentality, leaving them willing to trample on rights…from free speech to freedom of religion to freedom of association. (The right does similar things on social issues, and I oppose the “religious right” on most such things although I find their abuses somewhat less damaging than the left’s attack on true economic and political liberty.) So, while you might not like the concept that “Americans with money essentially pick the winners in our elections”, there is nothing in our Constitution or in fundamental political ethics that gives you the right, responsibility, or duty to do anything about it. And, I repeat, as long as contributions are fully, immediately, and publicly disclosed, you have no legitimate moral case to make for either restricting how I contribute political money or for extracting campaign contributions from those who would rather not participate. Finally, as I was re-reading your posting, I noted the moniker “clean elections” being applied to publicly-financed (socialized) elections. What a frighteningly Orwellian term! While we want our electoral system to be as free of corruption as reasonably possible while still respecting the primacy of our rights, there’s no doubt that part of the “clean” term refers to people who don’t like the “messiness” of our political process. You show me a “clean election” and I’ll show you Castro’s Cuba or Putin’s Russia. Supporters of “clean elections” are probably the same people who want all kids to get prizes at the science fair or awards at the track meet, people who hate and fear competition in any and all of its forms. But our political system is meant to be rough-and-tumble. It’s meant to be messy. Can you imagine what Jefferson or Madison would say if they heard someone implying that our elections should be “clean” in the sense of minimizing the intensity of competition? Yes, that goal is perfectly consistent with much of the liberal agenda, but in my opinion it’s as repugnant and anti-American as Obama’s refusal to wear an American flag lapel pin or to or put his hand over his heart during our national anthem.
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