T Nation

Abuse of Campaign Finance Law


Which is completely expected, and which is why McCain/Feingold is a festering boil on the First Amendment.

This article below is about state-level campaign-finance laws, but note the last paragraph I quote below. The key protection of First Amendment speech is the ability to criticize (or advocate) government policies and proposed government policies without facing this kind of harassment from the government.



[i]Two popular conservative talk radio hosts, Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson, explained why the gas tax was bad news and urged listeners to sign the 225,000 petitions necessary to get the rollback initiative on the November ballot, though they played no official role in the campaign and regularly featured on their shows defenders as well as opponents of the tax hike. With the hosts' help, the petition drive got almost twice the needed signatures, but the ballot initiative, strongly opposed by labor unions, the state's liberal media, environmental groups, and other powerful interests, narrowly lost.

Meantime, however, a group of pro-tax politicians sued No New Gas Tax, arguing that Wilbur's and Carlson's on-air commentaries were "in-kind contributions" and that the anti-tax campaign had failed to report them to the proper state authorities. The suit sought to stop NNGT from accepting any more of these "contributions" until it disclosed their worth?though how the initiative's organizers could control media discussions or calculate their monetary value remained unclear. The complaint also socked NNGT with civil penalties, attorneys' fees and costs, and other damages. Even more offensively, to litigate the suit the politicians hired a private law firm, Foster Pepper & Shefelman, which serves as bond counsel to Washington State. The firm, which represents unions, hospitals, and retirement funds among its other clients, could thus clean up from the state's plan to sell gas-tax-backed bonds. Appearance of corruption, anyone?

The real target of the suit was clearly Wilbur and Carlson, or, more accurately, their corporate employer, Fisher Communications. If NNGT received the "contributions," that meant Fisher had sent them by broadcasting Wilbur's and Carlson's support for the initiative. Washington law limits contributions in the last three weeks of a political campaign to $5,000. Depending on how one measured the dollar worth of on-air "contributions," Fisher could thus face big fines and criminal sanctions if it let Wilbur and Carlson keep talking about the gas tax. "Thankfully, Fisher assured us that we could keep talking about the subject on the air, and we did," Wilbur says. The judge ruled in favor of the pro-tax pols, though he finessed the $5,000 limitation problem by ruling only on the "contributions" that occurred prior to the campaign's last three weeks.

The Institute for Justice, a libertarian legal defense group, has entered the fray, filing both an appeal to the Washington Supreme Court and a counterclaim against the politicians behind the suit. "I think this case presents a substantial issue under the First Amendment," institute attorney Bill Maurer explained. "This is one of the most important cases nationally about the right of the press to speak freely, without the interference of the government or regulation of the government?because the power to regulate is the power to suppress." Should the appeal lose, the days of political talk radio could be over not only in Washington State but everywhere. "McCain-Feingold could definitely be used in the same fashion," Maurer tells me. "In fact, the prosecutors in this case say McCain-Feingold permits them to do this. But pretty much any state that has campaign-finance laws that restrict contributions is subject to this abuse, too."[/i]


More anti-free-speech government shenanigans -- pushing for a return of "fairness doctrine".



[i]George Clooney has talked about returning to the days when everyone had the same "fact level." By that, he means he wants to return to the "good old days," as he sees them, when "The News" was a neat package presented from on high by Walter Cronkite [...] What Clooney fears is the increasing number of news outlets geared toward news of interest to conservatives [...] on talk radio, on the Internet and some on cable news [that have] have undermined the liberal media monopoly that used to exist.

Realizing they are losing influence and are on the defensive, liberals are moving to re-establish the Fairness Doctrine, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that required broadcasters to offer equal time to opposing views of those expressed on the airwaves. The result would be a government bureaucracy monitoring what goes out on the air and making broadcasters and commentators reluctant to discuss controversial political issues.

Accuracy in Media founder Reed Irvine had opposed the scrapping of the Fairness Doctrine, believing as many conservatives did at the time that it actually provided an opportunity for conservative voices to be heard. But after the Reagan Administration dropped it, conservatives were able to get their views out and succeed through de-regulation of the media marketplace. It was a tremendous victory for true media diversity and free expression.  And that is what scares the liberals.

Indeed, the dumping of the Fairness Doctrine led to the boom in talk-radio, which preceded the Internet, the Blogosphere, and the success of Fox News, a mostly center-right leaning alternative to the mainstream broadcast and cable networks.

Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal, the online publication of the Manhattan Institute, has written an outstanding article that examines the implications of so-called "campaign finance reform" and the efforts to restrict our speech, and access to the Internet and certain talk-radio shows, all in the name of fairness and equal access. It is chilling, it is frightening, and it can potentially happen, though ultimately I believe it will fail.

Anderson, also author of the book South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias, says that 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 politician's actions in office."

He says that McCain-Feingold, the latest incarnation of campaign finance reform, is a scary step toward the regulation of politics. It "makes it a felony for corporations, nonprofit advocacy groups, and labor unions to run ads that criticize?or even name or show?members of Congress within 60 days of a federal election, when such quintessentially political speech might actually persuade voters." This ultimately led to the explosion of spending by the so-called 527 groups (for their IRS designation) and spending, by groups like MoveOn.org, in which the money is much harder to track, and the accountability is vastly reduced.

Anderson also explores the move to restrict speech, including talk-radio, perhaps Fox News, and even the Internet, by talking about "fairness," whether as part of the Fairness Doctrine, or by utilizing the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) to determine what writings on the Internet might unfairly benefit one politician over another.

"What's really happening," says Anderson, "is that the Left, having lost its media monopoly, has had trouble competing in a true 'marketplace of ideas' and wants to shut that marketplace down." To back this up, he cites Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, who in a 2003 interview railed against Rupert Murdoch, the head of Fox. Said Dean: "I believe we need to re-regulate the media...so we can be sure that the American people get moderate, conservative, and liberal points of view." And Anderson cites another mainstream Democrat, Al Gore, who complained of the hollowing out of the American "marketplace of ideas." He blamed it on the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine "after which Rush Limbaugh and other hate-mongers began to fill the airwaves."

Part of the irony here is that Rupert Murdoch supported Al Gore for president in 2000, even helping to raise money for him at a high-profile fundraising event.

To demonstrate how real this is, Democrats introduced two bills in Congress last year to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Louise Slaughter of New York state, who introduced one of the bills, said that "Fairness isn't going to hurt anyone," while she blasted conservative talk-radio and cable TV, calling them "a waste of good broadcast time, and a waste of our airwaves."

The effort to regulate the flow of information is under way. In this case, liberals are trying to muzzle conservatives. The liberals are not so liberal when it comes to allowing views that trump their own.[/i]

Translation from politicians who support "fairness doctrine"

"I support any Fairness Doctrine that puts the government in charge of how people can receive their news, what they are allowed to hear, when they are allowed to hear it, where they are allowd to hear it, and why it must be this way (which, if you're wondering, is for their own damn good. Because it seems they haven't been voting correctly recently.)"


I still cannot fathom how people can think McCain/Feingold was a good idea.


This is very disconcerting news. Perhaps the Supreme Court will get a ruling and throw out McCain/Feingold?

As an aside: Does anyone actually like the FCC? I would like to see FCC and FDA reform as a political platform.