Posts tagged ‘First Amendment’

04/03/2012

Campaign Finance Needs Radical Change

The need for outlandish sums of money to finance TV ads in political campaigns for national, statewide, and some local races, has now reached a critical juncture where we must pressure the broadcast media, which profits handsomely from the way things are, as well as reluctant Senators and Congressmen, who routinely gain re-election thanks to the current system, that they must pass a Constitutional Amendment declaring money is not speech, and then submit it to the states so 75% of them may ratify it.

The problem should be obvious, but let’s walk through it, so we all begin on the same page. If someone wants to run for the U.S. Senate, the House, or the Presidency, they will not be taken seriously, unless they either have massive sums of money, or they have rich friends who can donate it to them. In 2010, the average Senator paid 9.8 million for his seat, while chairs in the House went for roughly 1.4 million each. In 2008, 2.4 billion was spent by Presidential candidates and their Political Action Committees.

If candidates raise those amounts, and win, they must then ignore the people’s business, so they can prepare for the next race, by spending most of their time raising money. The cycle never ends. While they are constantly raising funds, they have to spend even more time with the wealthiest 1%, and less with average citizens.

The issue of money in politics has been with us for a long time. Attempts to solve the problem commenced 40 years ago at the national level when candidates, political parties, and PACs, were first required to disclose their contributors, under the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). Many soon realized the mere disclosure of names did little to solve the underlying problem.

Just after the 1972 presidential campaign, when the public learned that large sums of cash had been delivered in brown paper bags to witnesses as hush money to keep them quiet during the Watergate Scandal, momentum for campaign finance reform grew. After President Nixon resigned in 1974, and the Democrats swept the Congress in the 1974 election, FECA was amended to establish a Public Financing system for Presidential races, funded by a tax return check-off. Caps were imposed on individual and PAC contributions, and limits were set for campaign expenditures. A Federal Election Commission (FEC) was created to enforce it.

The new law was challenged on Free Speech grounds, under the First Amendment, in Buckley v Valeo (1976), where the Supreme Court upheld limits on individual contributions, based on a compelling interest in preventing corruption, but then declared caps on sums campaigns could spend, and restrictions on groups (not clearly identified with campaigns), to be unconstitutional.

As a result, contributors shifted their millions from candidates, to political parties and non-candidate organizations, causing a growth in Political Action Committees (PACs). Constitutional amendments to limit the affects of Buckley failed in committee.

Since only those who accepted government funding were subjected to spending limits, and those who opted-out were free to spend as much as they wanted, over time, candidates with access to money, opted-out, forcing opponents to do the same.

The McCain-Feingold law (2002) (Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act) was an attempt to plug loopholes opened by Buckley, but once again, the Court, in McConnell v FEC (2003) ruled Congress could not restrict speech by non-profit organizations that do not coordinate activities with candidates, or expressly advocate for them. So money moved from political parties to IRS 527 non-profit organizations.

During the 2004 presidential race, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a 527 group that shamelessly lied about Sen. John Kerry’s record in Vietnam, were found to have violated federal law, because they failed to maintain their IRS status, as they directly advocated against Kerry. But the abuse continued.

Many states, such as Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, and Arizona tried to implement reform, but the Court quickly invalidated their efforts.  In Randall (2006), the Supreme Court found Vermont’s clean election law unconstitutional. In FEC v Wis. Right to Life (2007) the Court ruled if there is any reasonable way to view a commercial as an “issue ad,” it is exempt from federal law. In Davis (2008) they struck down an Arizona public financing law that equalized the playing field. Connecticut’s reform law was also declared unconstitutional in 2009.

In Citizen’s United v FEC (2010), the Supreme Court ruled corporations are people who have a First Amendment right to use their funds to support or oppose candidates. If Super PACs remain totally independent, they may raise as much money as they want from corporations, unions, and individuals, and spend it as they wish, as long as they do not coordinate activities with candidates.

There are now roughly 1,600 corporate PACs, and a smaller number of labor union, and trade organization PACs. The system is now totally controlled by money, and massive amounts of it. Diverse views, particularly those held by real people, not part of the upper 1%, will not be heard in a system based on money.

It would be interesting to see what the Supreme Court would do if Congress enacted a criminal law that treated contributions above a certain level as bribery. Would the court strike it down under the 1st Amendment, or finally end their obstruction to reform?

The government could mandate free time on public television, and give candidates free postage, as is the case in many European and South American states, but if a bill to this effect was proposed, commercial TV lobbyists, co-conspirators in favor of leaving things the way they are, would probably contribute large sums to key Congressmen to kill the bill in committee.

We need radical change in the form of a carefully worded Constitutional Amendment that would override the argument that money is a constitutionally protected form of Free Speech.

12/08/2011

Romney’s Economy: For Rich Insiders

Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, often called a Republican front-runner, should not, on issues regarding the economy, receive the vote of most Americans, because: 1) his tax policies would favor rich individuals and corporations; 2) his Free Trade policies would kill more manufacturing and U.S. jobs; 3) his promise to eliminate Public Broadcasting would reduce the flow of reliable and objective information; 4) his financial policies would save only the big banks and Wall Street; 5) his housing policies would do nothing for underwater homeowners; 6) his energy plans would ignore wind and solar, but would promote oil, gas, and nuclear special interests; and 7) his health insurance mandate idea will yield private insurance windfalls at the expense of taxpayers.

TAXES: While Romney said he wants to repeal tax breaks, he would in fact give more of them to the rich, by eliminating taxes on dividends, interest, and capital gains. He also wants to lower the corporate income tax rate from 35% to 25%. He appeared willing to tax the poor, when he said everyone should pay, regardless of income, though he did oppose Cain’s 9% national sales tax, which would have hurt the poor the most. Although Romney favors an expanded military role abroad, he opposes raising revenue to pay for it, because he thinks more taxes would only kill jobs. While he has said he wants to cut spending, he would run up even more debt, by staying in our unfunded War in Afghanistan. Although he said we should not pass massive debt on to the next generation, he was not sincere, since he will not stop wasting money on foreign military entanglements.

TRADE: Although Romney promised to issue an Executive Order identifying China as a currency manipulator, because they let the prices of their goods fall below market levels, and he pledged to sue them in the Dispute Resolution Body (DSB) of the World Trade Organization, to win the right to selectively impose tariffs, he has no intention of turning back the clock on Free Trade, or the WTO policies that have led to the death of many U.S. industries.

AUTO: Romney said the government should not have loaned money to GM or Chrysler, even though the act successfully saved thousands of American jobs. He would have let them go bankrupt.

JOBS: When Romney was asked to explain why people were laid off from the companies he acquired, he had little to say. He was however clear about his desire to fight unions, and his criticism of the National Labor Relations Board, for taking action against big business. He called corporate profits good, as he believes they trigger new hiring. He called Wall Street protesters people engaged in: “dangerous class warfare.”

FIRST AMENDMENT: While little harm would be done if Romney succeeded in abolishing the Endowment for the Arts, his desire to eliminate Public Broadcasting is a serious threat to the free flow of information, and an affront to those who respect the First Amendment. Those who routinely follow the PBS News Hour and BBC America, searching for reliable news from objective sources, find his desire a real threat to democracy, since we need PBS and the BBC to be informed citizens. As to faith, he correctly said the Founders appreciated the Freedom of Religion, and wrote a Constitution that respected all beliefs.

BANK CRISIS: While Romney said Fed chair Bernanke pumped too much money in the economy, he would not remove Fed power to do so, as he does not want Congress in charge of the currency. He defended President Bush for taking action to keep the banks open, adding we must prevent another contagion. When asked what he would do if the economies of the entire world were collapsing, he promised to take action.

HOUSING: Romney said the housing crisis was caused by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as they gave loans to people who could not afford them. He said slowing down the foreclosure process, buying up troubled homes, or giving a couple thousand towards the purchase of a new home, won’t solve the problem. He predicted home prices will not return, until the free market works.

ENERGY: Romney suggested developing our own oil, gas, and nuclear energy, to achieve energy independence. He said little about putting a new emphasis on solar, wind, or clean energy.

HEALTH CARE: Romney has been the greatest lobbyist the health insurance industry has ever had. He said a problem arose in his state, where 8% of the people had no health insurance, and they sought emergency room care, which shifted costs to taxpayers. He argued everyone has a personal obligation to buy health insurance, an idea he said he got from Newt Gingrich. He enacted a personal mandate and forced everyone to purchase coverage from private carriers. Although subsidies were provided for those who could not afford it, the Mass. plan did not create a more efficient government-run health care plan, like the single-payer system used in Canada. As to the U.S., Romney said Americans were not and are not satisfied with the status quo, because premiums are out of control. Many of Romney’s critics called the new National Health Care law signed by Obama, basically the same as Romney’s state plan. Romney tried, but failed miserably to convince them they were different. He argued the Mass plan was for one state, while the President’s, one-size-fits-all plan was for the entire nation. He argued Obama’s plan raises taxes and spends trillions. He promised a repeal of what has been called Obamacare, claiming we could save 95 billion a year. In a contradictory statement, he offered only to give the states waivers, so they could opt out. He also took both sides of the individual mandate issue, by first saying everyone should buy insurance, but then by arguing mandates are unconstitutional. In the event Obama’s law is repealed, or declared unconstitutional, the question arose as to what to do next. He acknowledged health care costs are disconnected from patient awareness, and people need to have a stake in the cost of health care. He accused the government of having too heavy a role. He advocated co-insurance for patients, but sounded like he did not realize most Americans already had that. Romney said he would turn Medicaid and Medicare over to the states and let them run health care.

SOCIAL SECURITY: Romney called the Social Security retirement program essential, and said it must be saved, not abolished. He called the use of trust fund money for other purposes criminal, and agreed to make the system sound. As to the unfunded prescription drug program, started by President George W. Bush, Romney would not repeal it.

IMMIGRATION: Romney wants no amnesty for illegal immigrants, a fence with agents to secure it, and an elimination of the magnet caused by states that give tuition breaks, and employers who hire illegal aliens. He would implement the federal E-Verify program. He said 4.5 million want to come here legally. He would admit those with degrees in math or science.

11/22/2011

1st Amendment Right: Peaceful Assembly

Students at the U of California-Davis, who peaceably assembled and were seated on the ground on public property during a protest against galloping inflation as to college tuition, were needlessly pepper-sprayed in the face at point blank range by thugs wearing law enforcement uniforms, despite any resistance by the victims.

While most of us learned in grade school the First Amendment guarantees: “the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” Linda Katehi, the Greek Chancellor at UC-Davis, ordered her campus police to remove the students, while failing to remind them to respect the constitutional rights of the demonstrators. Apparently, she was never taught the values we hold dear under our Constitution, as she grew up under an authoritarian regime in Greece.

Conservatives who consider inflation one of the worst economic evils should applaud the students for complaining about the outrageous increases in student tuition in recent years. Instead, the Tea Party types, who pretend to know the U.S. Constitution, fail to understand that the Framers would clearly be on the side of the demonstrators. Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and the others, despised the British police state imposed upon them, and they guaranteed in our Constitution the right to assemble for the purpose of demanding change. Obviously, when police pepper spray protesters, the ability to redress grievances is violated.

It is time for institutions like UC-Davis to hire Chancellors who understand the Bill of Rights. We need to stop placing foreigners in such valued and important American jobs, when they apparently have little or no knowledge of how our system is supposed to operate. Our police need training to understand that protest is as American as the Declaration of Independence.

We are a nation born on the principle that individual rights are weighed more heavily than the powers of the state. Where people gather to make government aware of their grievances, those in authority must put the tools of repression aside, and should instead listen to the protesters, and then respond to their concerns in an equally non-violent manner. To use force like pepper spray against non-violent demonstrators is nothing more than a violation of the First Amendment Right to Assembly