Political Money Talks
by EDWARD CLINE
September 12, 2012
In my last column, "The Islamic Vigilantes of Speech," I discussed how Islamic activists oppose freedom of speech which either criticizes Islam by word or image, or which violates Islamic moral dicta, such as the one prohibiting the depiction of uncovered women. But Islamists are not the only ones who wish to stifle freedom of speech. We have our own genuinely home-grown secular censors who subscribe to the same repressive totalitarian ideology, one sans a deity or a prophet.
Ruth Marcus's column on the Opinion Page of the Washington Post on September 4th, "Plan B on Citizens United?" broached a subject that has not seen much press recently. I cannot recall any. That could not be because the Mainstream Media has been preoccupied with the Republican and Democratic conventions. It is likely rather because it is not a subject that the Democrats wish to raise at this point in the Obama administration, with the country being only a month and a fraction away from the probable demise of the Hope and Change era. Unless Washington or Syria or Iran generates powerful aftershocks that disturb the ocean, we have seen the last ripples of the Marxist tsunami of hopelessness and political stasis lap the scattered debris on the shores of this country.
Marcus writes that the Obama administration and its coterie of political jugglers and finaglers have been discussing hush-hush the chance of a Constitutional amendment that would contradict and overturn the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling on Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission (558 U.S. 50 (2010), in which the court found that arbitrarily imposed limits on how much corporations and nonprofit corporations and unions could contribute to political action committees that funded campaign ads were in violation of the First Amendment of protected political speech.
The ruling did not annul the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act or "BCRA"), only that part of it covering indirect contributions. It let stand the ban of direct corporate or union contributions to candidates' campaigns or their political parties. The SCOTUS site for the ruling features this preamble:
Holding: Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast.
Marcus quotes Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, and his senior advisor, David Axelrod, on the subject of a constitutional amendment.
Obama advisors have been edging up to this for months. In February, urging donors to open their checkbooks to Obama-supporting super PACs, campaign manager Jim Messina said that "the president favors action - by constitutional amendment, if necessary - to place reasonable limits on all such spending."
Marcus then cites Axelrod on the quasi-issue:
Senior adviser David Axelrod took it a step further in June. "What the Supreme Court did with the Citizens United ruling, opening the door to this unlimited spending . . . is taking us back to the Gilded Age. We're back to the robber barons trying to take over the government," Axelrod said. "I hope that one of the things we can do when we win this election is use whatever tools are available, up to and including a constitutional amendment, to turn this back."
You must hand it to Axelrod. He never lets go of that Marxist-Leninist patois. Robber barons. The Gilded Age. "Running dog lackeys of capitalism" is always on the tip of his tongue, but he manages to repress the deprecation. But, never mind his mouth. When it comes to political campaign spending, the Democrats have never had any qualms about spending too much. They like being government robber barons, entrenched in their own Gilded Age of tax and spend and regulate. This, neither Axelrod nor his compadres in the White House would ever breathe a suggestion of, and woe to the person who even hints at the hypocrisy.
Then came Obama himself. In the midst of the Republican convention, in a question-and-answer session with the Web site Reddit that received more notice for his promise to unveil the White House recipe for honey ale, the president was asked what he thought should be done about the avalanche of unlimited donations.
"Money has always been a factor in politics, but we are seeing something new in the no-holds-barred flow of seven- and eight-figure checks, most undisclosed, into super PACs; they fundamentally threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens," he wrote...."Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it)," he wrote. "Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight on the super PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change."
A change that would not be "processed" until he had won a second term in the White House. And this is the thrust of Marcus's article: Without those super PACs, the Democrats would need to rely on a zillion two-dollar donations from hoi polloi supporters willing to waste the price of a canister of salt or a stick of butter or half a gallon of gas. The Democrats can't fault the Republicans for exploiting super-PAC loopholes in McCain-Feingold, because the Democrats do it every day, as well. Thus the quietude on the issue this season. It explains why the MSM doesn't dwell on the issue, either.
Marcus has reservations about a further whittling away of the First Amendment.
As a philosophical matter, I don't like the notion of tinkering with the Constitution; the fundamental problem is not the First Amendment but an interpretation of it that frustrates any effective rules on campaign spending. As a practical matter, I worry that starting down the long road to a constitutional amendment would detract attention from more achievable options, such as the Disclose Act.
The Disclose Act would require that all campaign donors above an arbitrarily determined amount be publically revealed, and presumably and subsequently pilloried by the Left. The Disclose Act's official site insults one's intelligence right at the very beginning:
Corporations and special interests are trying to buy our elections with secret donations.
We need the DISCLOSE Act to force them to reveal their political spending -- and cut down on the unlimited special-interest influence. Americans deserve to know the funders behind the TV ads flooding our airwaves.
Corporations and special interests bought Obama the election in 2008. Some of these donors were the beneficiaries of TARP and bailouts and "green energy" subsidies. Who are they kidding? Take a look at the list of leftist luminaries who support the Disclose Act, and also at the list of "special interest" PACs and organizations that paid for the site. Very revealing, indeed.
Ruth Marcus was not the only columnist to observe the Three-Card-Monte shell game on the issue of campaign finance. Robert Schlesinger of US News & World Report on May 9th gnawed his own fingernails over the credibility of the Democrats in "Democrats Soft Pedaling Super PAC, Citizens United Opposition":
Democrats may not like Citizens United or "super PACs," but they're not nearly as vocal about it as they used to be. One little noticed piece of evidence that they're soft pedaling the issue can be found (or not) on the Democratic National Committee's website, which has quietly dropped the topics from its list of "Issues" it touts.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the tonal shift comes as Democrats are trying to kick their super PAC efforts into gear.
Schlesinger reported that the drop-down menu that ranted on about campaign finance and the unfairness of Citizens United-sanctioned super PACs under the topic of "Fair Elections" disappeared in July.
When I reached out to DNC Press Secretary Melanie Roussell on why Citizens United/Super PACs are no longer touted issues, she E-mailed back that, "We shuffled things around as part of our site update but it is still on the site: http://democrats.org/issues/fair_elections. We're as committed to fair elections and mitigating the corrosive effects of the Citizen United decision as we've ever been, despite Republicans standing in the way of sensible efforts like the Disclose Act."
Yes, we are still "committed" to "fair elections" but not just this moment, please. We're trying our best to steal this one. When it's all over, then we'll "disclose" the accessories to the felon.
Not unreasonably Team Obama decided that rather than unilaterally disarming super PACs, they too needed a super PAC to match the fundraising behemoths that have sprouted up on the GOP side. Enter Priorities USA Action. One supposes that it's kind of hard to rail against super PAC contributors as clamoring special interests who drown out the voices of ordinary Americans and then turn around and ask them for money.
The Hill's Blog Briefing Room on September 2nd featured another luminary with credibility and moussed hair problems, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who defended the use of super PACs just this one time:
The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) defended President Obama on Thursday for his decision to support contributions to a top Democratic super-PAC. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said Democrats have to work within the system, blaming Republicans for taking advantage of the rules.
"We cannot unilaterally disarm" in the current campaign climate, she said on CNN. "The Republicans have several million dollars in super-PAC money."
Well, so have the Democrats. This is news? The system is so rotten, we can't help ourselves. They bring knives to the fight. We bring knives. They bring zip guns. We bring zip guns. Or screw drivers. Or .357 pistols with hollow-point ammo magazines. So agrees David Axelrod in the same article:
"This doesn't mean that we believe this is the best way for the system to function," David Axelrod, a top Obama campaign strategist, said Tuesday on MSNBC. "The president's going to continue to fight for ways to reform that system in the future, but that's not going to happen in this campaign, and we have to live in the world as it is, not as we want it to be."
And when it's all over, we'll ban weapons of any kind, especially if they cost a lot of money. In fact, we might ban fights. We'll get a constitutional amendment passed. And the world will be as we want it to be. Quieted down. Obedient. In lock-step on the way to the Marxist City on the Hill.
Which brings us to the idea of a constitutional amendment.
Ruth Marcus may not like the idea of tinkering with the Constitution. But the idea isn't as abhorrent to her as it might be to anyone with more than her ounce of political sense. The Constitution has been tinkered with. It needs a number of amendments, but not one that complements the legislative abridgement of the First Amendment or freedom of speech. Repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment would be good for starters, just as repeal of the Eighteenth was enacted by the states and Congress with the Twenty-First Amendment and helped Americans brace themselves for hard times without being penalized. (That repeal, however, was accompanied by the establishment of the welfare state in 1933, as a kind of trade-off.) Half of the presidential cabinet departments need to be made redundant, or declared unconstitutional. About ninety-nine percent of the legalized locust-infestation of Congressional regulatory legislation should be repealed as unconstitutional, and we would need to go as far back as the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and even back to various earlier banking legislation that gave the U.S. government a monopoly on "legal tender."
An amendment returning the U.S to the gold standard would be welcome, for it would harness the government to a régime of accountable and controllable spending. That is why FDR wanted to abandon the gold standard. A gold standard would have prohibited the establishment of a welfare state. Once it was out of the way, the sky was the limit. Or, rather, the bottomless pit of deficit spending and budgets anchored on social and "reform" programs.
Soon after taking office in March 1933, Roosevelt declared a nationwide bank moratorium in order to prevent a run on the banks by consumers lacking confidence in the economy. He also forbade banks to pay out gold or to export it. According to Keynesian economic theory, one of the best ways to fight off an economic downturn is to inflate the money supply. And increasing the amount of gold held by the Federal Reserve would in turn increase its power to inflate the money supply. Facing similar pressures, Britain had dropped the gold standard in 1931, and Roosevelt had taken note.
Read the rest of the sorry story here. It's quite frank and honest about the reasons FDR and Congress wanted to expropriate private wealth. It was legalized theft from the very beginning.
But the more important reason why a constitutional amendment is a bad idea now, especially one that would automatically taint one's freedom of speech if one's words, images and arguments were paid for by "robber barons," is that our current stock of politicians and their advisors aren't intellectually or morally up to it. Every man Jack of them is a welfare statist of one stripe or another, regardless of the political party. A constitutional amendment is further beyond their ken than that of the authors of the Eighteenth and Twenty-First. An amendment that placed limits on who could pay for political speech and by how much would be just that, and nothing more. One couldn't expect more than that from our "leaders." They all think in terms of their "duty" to manage the country and its electorate.
Couple that absence of intellectual fortitude with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's work with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to ban specifically all criticism of Islam, and the picture becomes clearer of what precisely the Democrats have in mind when it comes to the First Amendment.
Edward Cline is the author of the Sparrowhawk novels set in England and Virginia in the pre-Revolutionary period, of several detective and suspense novels, and three collections of his commentaries and columns, all available on Amazon Books. His essays, book reviews, and other articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Journal of Information Ethics and other publications. He is a frequent contributor to Rule of Reason, Family Security Matters, Capitalism Magazine and other Web publications.