Skip to comments.The Plot to Shush Rush and O’Reilly
Posted on 01/12/2006 8:00:22 PM PST by FreeKeys
Talk radio, cable news, and the blogosphere freed U.S. political discourse. The Left wants to rein it in again.
The rise of alternative mediapolitical talk radio in the eighties, cable news in the nineties, and the blogosphere in the new millenniumhas broken the liberal monopoly over news and opinion outlets. The Left understands acutely the implications of this revolution, blaming much of the Democratic Partys current electoral trouble on the influence of the new medias vigorous conservative voices. Instead of fighting back with ideas, however, todays liberals quietly, relentlessly, and illiberally are working to smother this flourishing universe of political discourse under a tangle of campaign-finance and media regulations. Their campaign represents the most sustained attack on free political speech in the United States since the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts. Though Republicans have the most to lose in the short run, all Americans who care about our most fundamental rights and the civic health of our democracy need to understand whats going onand resist it.
The most imminent danger comes from campaign-finance rules, especially those spawned by the 2002 McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act. Republican maverick John McCains co-sponsorship aside, the bill passed only because of overwhelming Dem support. Its easy to see why liberals have spearheaded the nations three-decade experiment with campaign-finance regulation. Seeking to rid politics of big-money corruption, election-law reforms obstruct the kinds of political speechpolitical ads and perhaps now the feisty editorializing of the new mediathat escape the filter of the mainstream press and the academy, left-wing fiefdoms still regulation-free. Campaign-finance reform, notes columnist George Will, by steadily expanding governments control of the political campaigns that decide who controls government, advances liberalisms program of extending government supervision of life.
The irony of campaign-finance reform is that the corruption it targets seems not to exist in any widespread sense. Studies galore have found little or no significant influence of campaign contributions on legislators votes. Ideological commitments, party positions, and constituents wishes are what motivate the typical politicians actions in office. Aha! reformers will often riposte, the corruption is hidden, determining what Congress doesnt dolike enacting big gas taxes. But as Will notes, that charge is impossible to refute by disproving a negative. Even so, such conspiracy-theory thinking is transforming election law into what journalist Jonathan Rauch calls an engine of unlimited political regulation.
McCain-Feingold, the latest and scariest step down that slope, makes it a felony for corporations, nonprofit advocacy groups, and labor unions to run ads that criticizeor even name or showmembers of Congress within 60 days of a federal election, when such quintessentially political speech might actually persuade voters. It forbids political parties from soliciting or spending soft money contributions to publicize the principles and ideas they stand for. Amending the already baffling campaign-finance rules from the seventies, McCain-Feingolds dizzying dos and donts, its detailed and onerous reporting requirements of funding sourceswhich require a dense 300-page book to lay outhave made running for office, contributing to a candidate or cause, or advocating without an attorney at hand unwise and potentially ruinous.
Not for nothing has Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas denounced McCain-Feingolds unprecedented restrictions as an assault on the free exchange of ideas.
Campaign-finance reform has a squeaky-clean image, but the dirty truth is that this speech-throttling legislation is partly the result of a hoax perpetrated by a handful of liberal foundations, led by the venerable Pew Charitable Trusts. New York Post reporter Ryan Sager exposed the scam when he got hold of a 2004 videotape of former Pew official Sean Treglia telling a roomful of journalists and professors how Pew and other foundations spent years bankrolling various experts, ostensibly independent nonprofits (including the Center for Public Integrity and Democracy 21), and media outlets (NPR got $1.2 million for news coverage of financial influence in political decision-making)all aimed at fooling Washington into thinking that Americans were clamoring for reform, when in truth there was little public pressure to clean up the system. The target group for all this activity was 535 people in Washington, said Treglia matter-of-factly, referring to Congress. The idea was to create an impression that a mass movement was afootthat everywhere they looked, in academic institutions, in the business community, in religious groups, in ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking about reform.
Treglia urged grantees to keep Pews role hush-hush. If Congress thought this was a Pew effort, he confided, itd be worthless. Itd be 20 million bucks thrown down the drain. At one point, late in the congressional debate over McCain-Feingold, we had a scare, Treglia said. George Will stumbled across a report we had done. . . . He started to reference the fact that Pew was playing a large role . . . [and] that it was a liberal attempt to hoodwink Congress. . . . The good news, from my perspective, was that journalists . . . just didnt care and nobody followed up. The hoaxersa conspiracy of eight left-wing foundations, including George Soross Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundationhave actually spent $123 million trying to get other peoples money out of politics since 1994, Sager reportsnearly 90 percent of the spending by the entire campaign-finance lobby over this period.
The ultimate pipe dream of the reformers is a rigidly egalitarian society, where government makes sure that every individuals influence over politics is exactly the same, regardless of his wealth. Scrutinize the pronouncements of campaign-finance reform groups like the Pew-backed Democracy 21, and youll see how the meaning of corruption morphs into inequality of influence in this sense. This notion of corruptionreally a Marxoid opposition to inequality of wealthwould have horrified the Founding Fathers, who believed in private property with its attendant inequalities, and who trusted to the clash of factions to ensure that none oppressed the others. The Founders would have seen in the reformers utopian schemes, in which the power of government makes all equally weak, the embodiment of tyranny.
To eradicate corruption, leading theorists of campaign-finance reform, such as Ohio State University law professor (and former Ohio state solicitor) Edward Foley, Loyola law prof Richard Hasen, and radical redistributionist philosopher Ronald Dworkin, want to replace privately financed campaigns with a system in which government would guarantee equal dollars per voter, as Foley puts it, perhaps by giving all Americans the same number of political coupons, which they could then redeem on the political activities of their choice. This super-powerful government would ban all other political expenditures and require all political groups to get operating licenses from it, with stiff criminal penalties for violators. The experts have even started calling for draconian media restrictions to achieve their egalitarian aims. In Foleys view, the chilling of speech is the necessary price we must pay in order to have an electoral system that guarantees equal opportunity for all. But when these experts pen law-review articles with titles like Campaign Finance Laws and the Rupert Murdoch Problem, you know it isnt the New York Times or CBS News that they have in mind.
Campaign-finance reform now has the blogosphere in its crosshairs. When the Federal Election Commission wrote specific rules in 2002 to implement McCain-Feingold, it voted 4 to 2 to exempt the Web. After all, observed the majority of three Republicans and one Democrat (the agency divides its seats evenly between the two parties), Congress didnt list the Internet among the public communicationseverything from television to roadside billboardsthat the FEC should regulate. Further, the Internet is virtually a limitless resource, where the speech of one person does not interfere with the speech of anyone else, reasoned Republican commissioner Michael Toner. Whereas campaign finance regulation is meant to ensure that money in politics does not corrupt candidates or officeholders, or create the appearance thereof, such rationales cannot plausibly be applied to the Internet, where on-line activists can communicate about politics with millions of people at little or no cost.
But when the chief House architects of campaign-finance reform, joined by McCain and Feingold, suedclaiming that the Internet was one big loophole that allowed big money to keep on corruptinga federal judge agreed, ordering the FEC to clamp down on Web politics. Then-commissioner Bradley Smith and the two other Republicans on the FEC couldnt persuade their Democratic colleagues to vote to appeal.
The FEC thus has plunged into what Smith calls a bizarre rule-making process that could shackle the political blogosphere. This would be a particular disaster for the Right, which has maintained its early advantage over the Left in the blogosphere, despite the emergence of big liberal sites like Daily Kos. Some 157 of the top 250 political blogs express right-leaning views, a recent liberal survey found. Reaching a growing and influential audiencehundreds of thousands of readers weekly (including most journalists) for the top conservative sitesthe blogosphere has enabled the Right to counter the biases of the liberal media mainstream. Without the blogosphere, Howell Raines would still be the New York Timess editor, Dan Rather would only now be retiring, garlanded with praiseand John Kerry might be president of the U.S., assuming that CBS News had gotten away with its last-minute falsehood about President Bushs military service that the diligent bloggers at PowerLine, LittleGreenFootballs, and other sites swiftly debunked.
Are the hundreds of political blogs that have sprouted over the last few yearstwenty-first-century versions of the Revolutionary eras political pamphletspress, and thus exempt from FEC regulations? Liberal reform groups like Democracy 21 say no. We do not believe anyone described as a blogger is by definition entitled to the benefit of the press exemption, they collectively sniffed in a brief to the FEC. While some bloggers may provide a function very similar to more classical media activities, and thus could reasonably be said to fall within the exemption, others surely do not. The key test, the groups claimed, should be whether the blogger is performing a legitimate press function. But who decides what is legitimate? And what in the Constitution gives him the authority to do so?
A first, abandoned, draft of proposed FEC Web rules, leaked to the RedState blog last March, regulated all but tiny, password-protected political sites, so bloggers should be worried. Without a general exemption, political blogs could easily find themselves in regulatory hell. Say its a presidential race, Condi Rice versus Hillary Clinton. You run a wildly opinionated and popular group blogcall it No to Hillarythat rails daily about the perils of a Clinton restoration and sometimes republishes Rice campaign material. Is your blog making contributions to Rice? Maybe. The FEC says that a contribution includes any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office (my italics). If your anti-Hillary blog spends more than $1,000, you could also find it re-classified as a political committee. Then youve got countless legal requirements and funding limits to worry about.
In such a regulated Web-world, bloggers and operators of political sites would have to get press exemptions on a case-by-case basis. The results, election-law expert Bob Bauer explains, would be unpredictable, highly sensitive to subtle differences in facts, and to the political environment of the moment. Even when the outcome is happy, says Bauer, a favorable result is still an act of noblesse oblige by a government well aware that if it turns down a request, the disappointed applicant is left with litigation as the only option.
Sites would live in fear of Kafkaesque FEC enforcement actions, often triggered by political rivals complaints. If the matter is based on a complaint, notes former FEC counsel Allison Hayward, the respondent will receive a letter from the FEC with the complaint and will be asked to show why the FEC shouldnt investigate. An investigation involves the usual tools of civil litigationdocument requests, depositions, briefs, and the like. The outcome can take months or longer to determine, says Hayward. If a complaint is filed against you, there will be a flurry of activity while you respond, then perhaps silencethen another letter will arrive and you will be required to respond promptly, then maybe nothing again for months. Most political bloggers arent paid professional reporters or commentators but just democratic citizens with day jobs who like to exercise their right to voice their opinions. If doing so without a lawyer puts them or their families at risk, many will simply stop blogging about politicsor never start.
and you even want a Constitutional Amendment Prohibiting regulation of ANY medium, not just the printing-press press.
We need for a Constitutional Supreme Court to challenge the McCain-Feingold horrid legislation which our FINE PRESIDENTE SIGNED INTO LAW!!! A major attack on the first amendment by the Washington elitist establishment.
Very good article. Thanks for posting it.
bump for publicity
These liberal, commie so called journalists really believe that they should be the only ones to voice their opinion and not only that, but they believe they shouldn't be questioned or corrected.
For so long now, they have gotten away with much.
I have always felt that FreeRepublic was more than just a place to vent.
We have had the opportunity to expose the world to a different opinion and most importantly, the truth, the facts.
We have had the opportunity to change the course of politics and yes, the world.
Not too dramatic of a statement when you consider what Dan Rather may have gotten away with.
As for Bill O'Reilly, I really have to hand it to him. As much as I disliked him, he has been the one stepping up to the plate on alot of issues. I wish my representatives would follow suit. Keep up the good work Bill.
Coincidentally today I got an email from Jim Babka of DownsizeDC.org, who writes:
|When politicians break the law, other politicians impose new laws on you. It's happened before. It's happening again. The excuse this time is the Abramoff scandal.
Because some politicians may have broken the bribery laws Senator John McCain wants to punish you for their sins.
We have a rule here at Downsize DC. We avoid mention of partisan labels and political personalities. That's not what we're about. We're about issues and principles. But we must make an exception in Senator McCain's case.
McCain is very popular with the media and much of the public. But we don't agree with the public's media-driven perception of him. We think McCain is so bad that we don't much care who we offend by saying so. If the approaching death of the First Amendment and representative government has a poster-child, it's Senator John McCain.
Downsize DC exists in part because of him. The passage of his campaign finance law, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, followed by the narrow defeat of our suit against it in the Supreme Court, were two of the main factors that led us to create DownsizeDC.org.
BCRA means incumbents and establishment candidates will always have too much money, while non-establishment challengers and minor party candidates will never have enough. Voters can endorse the establishment's approved candidates, but nothing more. BCRA convinced us that change was no longer possible through partisan political campaigns. The American ballot-box is a sham.
Do other means of change remain open? Citizen lobbying was the only option we saw still available. A massive army of citizen lobbyists could compel Congress to submit to reasonable reforms. We're convinced it's possible, but only if it remains legal.
Does Senator McCain want to outlaw citizen lobbying? Not in so many words. But he does want to regulate it to death, so that it might as well be illegal. His regulatory approach would create a dramatic "chilling effect" on citizen lobbying.
Senator McCain is a political opportunist of the worst kind. Whenever the media obsesses over some controversy, real or imagined, John McCain is always Johnny-on-the-spot with legislation he claims will fix the problem. But McCain's so-called solutions always regulate the innocent public, while shielding incumbent office holders. Such is the case with his approach to the Abramoff scandal.
In the Abramoff case the anti-bribery laws apparently worked. Violators are being investigated. Abramoff has copped a plea that includes testifying against former Congressional staffers, Congressional spouses, and sitting office-holders. In fact, one of the potential culprits in the Abramoff scandal is now co-sponsoring McCain's bill to "freeze out" public lobbying.
Prosecutions are coming in the Abramoff case. As far as we can see, no new laws are needed. But "Keating-Five McCain," motivated by his obsessive need for more TV time, thinks otherwise. And as has been the case with him in the past, his proposed new law seeks to further insulate incumbent office holders from the public.
Buried within McCain's new legislation is a provision that would lay the groundwork for regulating you and your use of [political activist] organizations ...
Counting you... It's not to late!
Oh! You mean like the Wisconsin Five on trial now would have had the election stolen in that state if they hadn't done the deed of slashing the Republican Get out the Vote Vans Tires. < / sarc
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