The country that until the last few months banned Fox News from its cable systems, but allowed Al JaZeera since its inception, is at it again.
Recent events north of the 49th parallel cause me to consider the benefits of having a social experimentation laboratory so near. For example, some Americans look to Canada as a model for health care (socialized) and even foreign policy (peace through wimpiness).
We’ve barely avoided those errors, but Canadian “Campaign Finance Reform” may yet have some lessons for us.
We have not avoided that.
I’ve become suspicious that the free speech suppression conspiracy, so ably represented by the Pew Charitable Trust (see Democracy Project), has covertly (how else?) seized on Canada’s campaign finance regulations as an example for the US.
The benefit to this realization is that we can learn the conspiracy’s long term intent by watching the Canadians.
They have the art of incumbent protection and political finance fraud down to an art that First Amendment foes like George Soros can only envy.
In Canada, the battle to suppress political speech by prohibiting third parties from spending money to promote or oppose candidates started in earnest in 1974.
In its incrementalist maneuvering the 1974 legislation prohibiting such expenses at first provided for a “good faith defense” –
“Notwithstanding anything in this section, it is a defence to any prosecution of a person for an offence against this Act… if that person establishes that he incurred election expenses…
(a) for the purpose of gaining support for views held by him on an issue of public policy, or for the purpose of advancing the aims of any organization or association, other than a political party or an organization or association of a partisan political character, of which he was a member and on whose behalf the expenses were incurred; and,
(b) in good faith and not for the purpose related to the provisions of this Act limiting the amount of election expenses that may be incurred by any other person on account of or in respect of the conduct or management of an election” (Canada Elections Act, subsection 70.1(4))
Basically, Canada’s Parliament said; “You can speak about issues as long as you are not a member of an organization, such as a political party or advocacy group, that might benefit from such speech. However, we might still let you get away with it if you can demonstrate you’ve never actually held a strong opinion.” (Despite the obvious connection, the term “Canadian Loonie” does not derive from this legislation. It actually originates with the Canadian $1 coin, which features a Loon (the aquatic bird) on the obverse.)
Defendants using this “good faith defense” proved too frequently able to avoid incarceration for the comfort of Members of Parliament. So in 1983, Bill C-169 removed the good faith defense.
Unfortunately for the Incumbency, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench struck down this incremental restriction on free speech. Canadians may have been gagged, but the duct tape wasn’t yet applied.
However, like our own FEC, Parliament was by no means finished. In 1992 the Incumbency created the Lortie Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing.
Among other suggestions, the Commission recommended that “election expenses incurred by any group or individual independently from registered parties and candidates not exceed $1,000;” (Note: the restriction is not on contribution to a party, but on individual expenditure. A fine distinction that Pew has already figured out by funding its anti-First Amendment endeavors “under the radar”.)
After years of litigation, the House of Commons voted (Feb-2000) to accept the Lortie Commission’s recommendations concerning the regulation of third parties during elections. Canada’s Supreme Court has upheld this legislation.
Practically, our friends to the north have gone even further. They’ve eliminated the middle-man for funneling money to the re-election campaigns of incumbents.
Also, tax deductions for contributions to political parties are a standard part of the campaign finance rules.
As a Canadian, your taxes help fund the political contributions of others. You pays your money whether you wants to take your chances or not.
As Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper points out:
“The central idea proposed is that we replace corporate and union contributions as the basis for financing political parties with forced funding from taxpayers. Our view is that this solution is worse than the problem… If shareholders and union workers do not want their funds to be used to fund particular political parties, why should they be forced to do so as taxpayers?”
Our question is: Why hasn’t John McCain proposed forced taxpayer financing for elections?
Give him time; he isn’t clever enough to see it all at once.
He has, after all, only just realized that his pet legislation wasn’t perfect and that he isn’t instantaneously omniscient. McCain has taken the lesson that he is only incrementally and/or retroactively omniscient: the legislation just needs more tweaking. That the entire idea was a crock in the first place has not entered his mind.
Incrementalism would be necessary notwithstanding this narcissism, because most Americans would otherwise recognize McCain’s Campaign Finance Reform as an illegitimate restriction on their right to free speech. (Many of you reading this probably thought SCOTUS would take care of this for you in reviewing McCain-Feingold. George Bush thought so.)
The Canadian experience, if it affects McCain at all, simply counsels him to patience.
The Canadians have demonstrated that their socialized health care results in rationing. Their foreign policy pronouncements rank in importance with those of Peewee Herman.
We also have their example regarding the dangers of incumbent protection through repression of free speech, even if we pay attention belatedly.
Who can blame our representatives though? Campaign Finance Reform resulted from hundreds of millions of stealth dollars spent by enemies of the First Amendment to influence those very incumbents who most benefit from avoiding criticism. Good thing they can’t call “snap elections”, on top of that willing naiveté.
If we look at Canadian health care, foreign policy and electoral finance we could conclude that it’s been a near thing for us.
If Hillary hadn’t run her health care reform process as she did we might have been saddled with an “advanced” version of Canada’s sad state of affairs. If John Kerry had been elected president, we might even now be eating a daily ration of Canadian bacon equal to our weight in softwood lumber.
Unfortunately, we missed the campaign finance lesson.
It’s too bad Hillary didn’t get a chance to run a campaign finance reform initiative in the same way that she ran the health care reform process. We might have been able to avoid McCain’s folly altogether.