You Say That as If It’s a Bad Thing . . .

 Posted by on 23 June 2008 at 12:20 am  Election, Politics
Jun 232008
Senator Obama decided to opt-out of public financing of his presidential campaign. Not because he is taking a principled stand in favor of property rights and freedom of speech. It’s pretty much about expediency; Obama’s purported rationale is that politically active groups called “527s” are not subject to the same campaign spending laws and so are free to solicit large contributions that allow them to run around “Swiftboating” candidates. The real reason he’s rejecting the money is that he can privately raise from small individual donors four or five times as much as the government could give him, giving him a huge money advantage in the election. (Frankly, this reason is nothing to be ashamed of.) If Obama’s were a principled move, I’d say it was a hopeful step in the right direction. As it is, it’s just a fortuitous happenstance for us freedom-loving folk.

Dr. Yaron Brook has penned a wonderfully principled commentary on the evils of campaign finance legislation. He has a concise reply to people who favor campaign finance reform as the only way to curb the power of special interests:

. . . [Y]ou might still be wondering: Can’t large contributions buy political favors? They can–when politicians have power to grant special favors to special interests in the first place. In today’s Washington, it’s not just money that purchases favors. Politicians dispense favors for the sake of prestige (say, their name on a bridge), for the purpose of appeasing vocal critics lobbying against them, for the attempt to win your vote (say, a pet project in your district that will create jobs), etc.

It’s not money that corrupts–it’s the lure of arbitrary political power. A true crusader against political corruption would not strip American citizens of their right to free speech; he would seek to put an end to the government’s power to grant special favors to any group.

The title of Dr. Brook’s article is “War on Free Political Speech,” and the article ends with a clarion call to “restore the First Amendment” and “abolish campaign finance laws.”

Now, consider The New York Times article about Senator Obama’s rejection of public campaign funding. I counted 868 words in it, and there’s not a single word, clause, sentence or paragraph that even remotely hints at the essence of the issue, which is the right of everyone to spend his or her money promoting (only) those ideas he or she agrees with. The word “speech” doesn’t appear in the article. The word “free” appears once:

[Obama] has been freed from the necessity of spending countless hours fund-raising.

The article concludes with the observation that Obama has achieved this desirable result by “snubbing the campaign finance system,” which neatly encapsulates the issue the author wishes to focus on: that Obama’s move could represent “the death knell of public financing.”

If, like Dr. Brook, you see public financing as a government war on free speech, then the possibility that these laws are in their death throes is a welcome prospect. But the author of the Times appears rather to want to warn readers of an ominous development: the title of the Times article is “Obama’s Decision Threatens Public Financing System.”

The only sensible reaction to hearing about a threat to public campaign finance is: hooray! But The New York Times reports it as if it were a bad thing.

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