Intended consequences

Baleful though it may be, the history of limiting political free speech in the name of equal outcomes controlling corruption, and in direct violation of the Founder’s First Amendment intent, is not the history of unintended consequences. The consequences were, and are, quite intentional: Protection of incumbent privilege.

This is what had some Senators so outraged about talk radio during the Amnesty Bill “debate.” They really thought they could ram through a power-broker negotiated bill, bypass entirely the normal committee procedure, and restrict debate so much that most Senators would not even have time to read, much less consider, the content. The final cloture vote took place while the bill was still being rewritten. No Senator had read it. If it were up to PBS and NPR in the days of the “Fairness” Doctrine, the Kennedy-McCain Bill probably would have succeeded.

These irate pols are lamenting the comfy insulation from real-time public scrutiny they enjoyed when the “Fairness” Doctrine was in vogue. The fact that a broad political spectrum of Senators could foam at the mouth agree about protecting their own privilege is no surprise. The jabbering about reviving the “Fairness” Doctrine is merely a specifically targeted subset of the Campaign Finance “Reform” concept they so deeply respect.

Campaign Finance “Reform” appeals to Senators because it offers to replicate the incumbent protection features of gerrymandering on a more general footing, and to inject as much uncertainty about legal liability as possible in order to discourage uppity citizens from initiating untidy political debate. Politicians calling for speech reform are calling for it in order to secure their vested interests and immutable privileges. Their motivation matters. Take John “Straight-Talk” McCain, for example, the prime mover of the last ruinous round of Constitution-Lite.

How does campaign finance reform help McCain? It allows a very public penance for his own financial pecadillos, and that justifies forcing his moral fierceness onto the rest of us. It assuages McCain’s guilt and indulges his totalitarian tendencies in one go. More directly, it allowed him to set up a non-profit campaign reform promotion 501(c)3 which could pay his campaign staff between elections. He eventually acknowledged this impropriety.

Former FEC commissioner Bradley Smith provides some very interesting history regarding this ongoing stealth attack on the First Amendment, and points out some consequences at the state level you probably have not heard. You should. Reading all of the linked articles mentioned below is highly recommended, but Bradley Smith’s is a must, must read.

Bradley A. Smith
Campaign Finance Reforms War on Political Freedom An ongoing danger, despite two recent court victories…Which sources of influence are regulated and which are not is a choice deeply entangled with tacit assumptions about who benefits from each of those sources. Despite their noble-sounding claims, reformers aren’t really trying to equalize political influence: in fact, they’re doing exactly the opposite, regulating only those sources of influence that they disagree with.

…Another disturbing regulatory trend is to go beyond regulating the money that funds speech to regulating the speech itself. For example, in the Shelmerdine case, the FEC valued the driver’s “contribution” not at the $50 that it cost him to place a decal on his car, but at several thousand dollars—what the FEC determined to be the advertising spot’s monetary value. Similarly, if an executive instructs his secretary to type a fund-raising letter, the FEC values the contribution not at the cost of typing the letter, but at the amount of money that the letter raises. This move dramatically expands the reach of campaign finance laws: not only can the FEC limit funds that can be used for speech, but it can limit speech itself by assigning it a monetary value. And it opens the door to all kinds of mischief: for instance, the FEC could determine that a posting on a popular blog was worth thousands of dollars.

Yet “reformers” whole case in undermining the First Amendment rests on the idea that speech and money are not equivalent!

If that sounds farfetched, consider that in Washington State a trial court ordered that radio disc jockeys John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur report their on-air talk as campaign contributions. The Washington State Supreme Court reversed the case this April, but the court didn’t base its decision on the First Amendment, instead ruling that the statute in question didn’t cover radio talk. In a footnote, the court specifically noted that “nothing in our decision today forecloses the legislature, or the people via the initiative process, from limiting the statutory media exemption.”

Such an intrusive regulatory regime is but a logical step toward the holy grail of campaign finance reform: a fully regulated, taxpayer-funded system of political speech.

…“I have come to doubt that the masses of the people have sense enough to govern themselves,” wrote Ben Tillman, the founder of federal campaign finance reform,” in 1916. Eighty years later, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt famously described the battle over campaign finance reform as two important values in direct conflict: freedom of speech and our desire for healthy campaigns in a healthy democracy. You can’t have both.”

Returning to the “Fairness” Doctrine, per se:

By KIRSTEN POWERS…Liberals claim they just want “fairness” – but if that were so, they wouldn’t limit their concern just to talk radio, the one area where they’ve been shut out (by their own incompetence, mind you – Air America, the liberal talk-radio network, was a complete fiasco). They aren’t concerned that Americans “get both sides of the story” on abortion or embryonic-stem-cell research or abstinence training. They weren’t concerned about “fairness” when Katie Couric blamed evangelicals for the death of Matthew Shepherd.

They protest that the airwaves belong to the American people. They’re right – which is all the more reason to keep grubby government mitts off of them. And if we’re going to start dictating media content for the good of the proletariat, then there’s no reason to stop with radio. (As Fox’s Sean Hannity joked last week, “OK, then we want the ‘no sex before marriage’ channel to balance out MTV.”)

In calling for the restoration of the Fairness Doctrine, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called conservative talk radio the “generators of simplicity.” Presumably this differs from the high-minded debate that occurred over at Air America, where Randi Rhodes liked to say that “Satan is Bush’s campaign manager” and routinely claim (why was unclear) that the Bush administration was full of repressed homosexuals.

Finally, let’s hear from Brian Anderson, who also sees the connection between CFR and the FD:

The Plot to Shush Rush and O’Reilly
Brian C. Anderson…It’s not just the blogosphere that’s at risk. The Left has also begun to use campaign-finance reform—not McCain-Feingold but equally onerous state regulations—to try to shush political talk radio. The oldest of the new media—Rush Limbaugh went national around 15 years ago—political talk radio is the Right’s dominion. Not one of the top 20 nationally syndicated political shows features a left-of-center host, and right-leaning radio talkers outnumber liberals three to one. Over 40 percent of Americans tune in at least occasionally to this extremely influential medium, and over 20 percent use it as a primary source of political information. Given the Left’s continuing inability to compete on the dial—its much-ballyhooed Air America doesn’t even register in the Arbitron ratings in some markets—its preferred strategy in the future likely will be to force conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and William Bennett off the air.

…Perhaps the liberal mainstream media will stop cheering campaign-finance reform when they realize their First Amendment rights are at stake, too.

Though campaign-finance madness is the Number One regulatory threat to the new media, it’s not the only one. The Left is now pushing Congress to restore the Fairness Doctrine, which would kill talk radio and possibly conservative-friendly Fox News, too.

It won’t stop there. It’ll extend to the traditional “exempt” media, too. TOC has pointed this out many times. The “press exemption” is extra-Constitutional, and when they’ve gutted the First Amendment what possible justification could it retain?