Posts tagged ‘Free Speech’

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.

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01/20/2012

Republican Debate: S Carolina (1-19-12)

MILITARY: Paul, who served along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the 1960s when he was in the Air Force, would cut overseas military spending. He asked why we have troops in Korea, 59 years after the Korean War ended; or in Japan and Germany, 67 years since WWII. We subsidize those countries, he said. Why are we in Afghanistan now for 10 years, and fighting so many undeclared wars?  He argued it is making us bankrupt. Romney thinks we have an aging Navy and Air Force, and it is wrong to balance the budget on the back of the military. He wants a military so strong no one would even think of testing it.

VETERANS: Paul receives twice as much support from veterans than all the others combined, he said. Santorum would continue the multitude of veteran’s preferences.

SOVIET UNION: Gingrich harbors the delusional belief he and Reagan were somehow responsible for Gorbachev’s unilateral decision to dissolve the Soviet Union.

TRADE: Romney wants to crack down on China, since he thinks they cheat with unfair trade. Santorum was asked about Apple Computers, an American company with 40,000 employed here, and 500,000 in China. He would cut to zero corporate income taxes for companies who manufacture in the U.S. Paul tried to explain the consumer benefits from cheaper products made in China. He said a $100 computer instead of one $1,000 is a benefit, but the audience reaction fell flat. He mentioned foreign auto companies still make money assembling cars in America.

IMMIGRATION: Gingrich would control the border and if needed, move half of the 23,000 who work for Homeland Security to Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. He would: 1) enforce English as an official language; 2) modernize visas; 3) make it easier to deport; 4) allow guest worker programs; 5) impose enormous sanctions against businesses that hire illegals; 6) have local boards review residency permit applications for those here 25 years; and 7) drop federal lawsuits against South Carolina, Alabama and Arizona. Romney said immigration is a simple matter of forcing employers to check a data base. Those illegally here need to go home, and apply for citizenship, like everyone else. No one should gain an advantage by coming here illegally. Santorum said if you want to become an American, the first thing you have to do is respect our laws. Someone who has been here 25 years, he said, has been breaking the law 25 years, and probably stole someone’s Social Security number. Paul does not believe those who hire should be forced to become policemen, as border guards and the federal government have that job. There should be no federal mandate that forces states to provide medical or educational needs, Paul said. Instead of protecting borders in Afghanistan, Paul said, we should use those resources at home.

VULTURE CAPITALISM: Santorum wants capitalism that works for everybody, including working men and women. Gingrich argued Romney’s Bain Capital leveraged a company in South Carolina and left it with debt. Romney claimed he created 120,000 jobs at four places, and only 10,000 lost their jobs. He said a lot of people benefitted, as profits went to pension funds, charities, and a wide variety of institutions.

JOBS: Santorum wants a Republican Party that talks about putting back to work the men and women who built this country. Paul said the solution is for the government to get out of the way, by reducing regulations, and dropping taxes to zero. The country has to liquidate their debt, Paul said. Regarding jobs, Gingrich would repeal Dodd-Frank, as he thinks it is killing small banks. He would develop natural gas and overhaul the Corps of Engineers.

LABOR: Romney thinks Obama is stacking the NLRB with labor stooges. Santorum pledged to sign a national right-to-work law.

MANUFACTURING: Romney claimed GM was given to the UAW. Santorum noted manufacturing dropped from 21% to 9%, because it costs our companies, excluding labor, 20% more than our top nine trading partners, to do business in America.

ENERGY: Romney wants to use our resources to become energy secure. He complained the 500 million dollar solar energy loan to Solyndra was a waste, as Obama’s rejected the Keystone Pipeline.

ENTITLEMENTS: Santorum believes all Obama wants to do is give people food stamps and Medicaid. He heard Iowa was being fined, because they didn’t sign up enough people for Medicaid. Romney thinks Obama wants to create a European style social welfare state.

HEALTH CARE: Santorum claimed he consistently favored health savings accounts. He accused Romney of promoting a Mass plan, which was not based on the free market. Over half the new people buying health insurance in Mass, he said, were fully subsidized by the state. He also accused Gingrich of supporting an individual mandate for over 10 years, from the 1990s through 2008. As to Gingrich’s idea to make everyone post a $150,000 bond, if they did not buy insurance, Santorum asked how many in the audience could post $150,000. Romney said he would go for a complete repeal of Obamacare. People should be able to take their own insurance with them as they go from job to job, he said. He denied setting up a government-run health care system, since they bought insurance from private companies. He accused Obama of creating a 2,700 page, tax-increasing, Medicare-cutting, monster. He would return health care to the states, and get the government out of Medicaid. Gingrich said to repeal it, a Republican House and Senate must be elected. He claimed to have led the charge against Hillarycare and help write the Health Savings Accounts law. He admitted he was wrong for supporting a mandate. Paul, who apparently did not practice medicine in poor areas, thinks health care “worked rather well” before the government got involved in the 1960s with Medicare and Medicaid. He remembers a fictional world, where “there was nobody on the streets suffering with no medical care.” He accused Santorum of expanding government with the unfunded Prescription Drug law.

BUDGET: Gingrich erroneously took total credit for the 4 years when President Clinton and a Democratic majority in the Senate balanced the federal budget.

TAXES: Santorum would cut the corporate income tax rate to zero. Gingrich opposed President Bush Sr. when he raised taxes, despite a pledge not to do so.

TAX RETURNS: Gingrich put his 2011 tax returns online, showing he paid 31% of 3 million in income taxes. Romney said, over jeers, he would disclose his tax return for this year, when it is due in April, and probably for other years too. He thinks disclose would only serve the purpose of allowing people to attack his financial success. He lied as he added: “I didn’t inherit money from my parents.” He claimed he pays a lot in taxes. When he was asked if he would follow his father’s lead in 1967 and release 12 years of tax returns, because only one year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show., Mitt said just “maybe” and “I don’t know how many years I’ll release.” As the audience jeered him, he then said he would release “multiple” years. Santorum, whose tax rate is higher than Romney’s 15%, said he keeps his records on his laptop, and would release them when he gets home. Paul said he would be embarrassed to disclose his tax returns, because they show so little, but added Congressional financial statements show everything a person might need to know, and he has no conflicts of interest, since he doesn’t even talk to lobbyists.

FREE SPEECH: A question arose regarding the Stop Online Piracy Act, which pits anti-censorship groups against those who say movies and other property are being pirated. Gingrich said the degree of pre-emptive censorship in the law is unacceptable. He though people could use Copyright and Patent protections to sue infringers. Romney argued we should more narrowly go after offshore pirates. Paul said Republicans have been on the wrong side of this issue, as he joined Democrats to oppose it. Santorum opposed the law, but added the Internet is not a zone where people can trample on the rights of others, as property must be respected.

MARRIAGE: The hypocrite Gingrich, who went after President Clinton with a vengeance when he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, was appalled, as he denounced the media for having the audacity to ask him questions about his affair, while married to his second wife. He described it as a vicious attack of the sort that makes it hard to find descent people to run for public office, and harder still to govern. He then distracted everyone by coming up with the preposterous diversion that he was tired of the media protecting Obama by attacking Republicans.

ABORTION: Romney said he was pro-life, and it was the Mass Supreme Court that made abortion available under his health care law. Planned Parenthood was not mentioned in his law, he said. Gingrich claimed a pro-life voting record of 98.6%. Dr. Paul was taught pregnant women are two patients. Santorum said Paul’s right to life record was only 50%. Paul said abortion should be handled by states, where murder and violent crimes are dealt with.