Sunday, June 21, 2015

Are ‘Average Voters’ Hurt or Benefited by Unrestricted Campaign Spending?

With 2015 came the start of the 2016 presidential election cycle (yes, 2016!). And with the star of that cycle, the Left renewed its assault on the First Amendment. In Citizens United's damaging cost, the New Jersey Star-Ledger wrote in January:

The events of last weekend marked the first lap around the 2016 political catwalk, though it still feels more like a horse auction.

There were Republican candidates assembled in Rancho Mirage to solicit the blessing of the Koch Brothers, who used a fraction of their fortune – originally created by their father’s oil deals with Stalin – to bankroll 45,000 political ads last year alone.

Imagine the horror: 45,000 political ads, paid for privately, with the purpose of advocating ideas in advance of an election! How un-American! How Stalinistic!

Of course, free speech opponents claim to want to silence “big money” in the name of “average” people. But do average people benefit from the coerced silence of wealthy campaign spenders who have the means to spread ideas to mass audiences? Or is it someone else—the regulators, the taxers, the controllers, the redistributors, the political class—that the Statists are trying to protect? I answered these question in comments posted to the article web page.

In this post, I present my answer to the first question. Next, I’ll tackle the second question.

My comments:

“The voice of the average voter is muted and our political system is debased.”

How so? When the Koch Brothers spend their own money on disseminating their right-wing viewpoints, they speak for the millions of average voters who agree with them. When George Soros spends his own money disseminating his left-wing viewpoint, he speaks for millions who agree with him. For those who disagree, it’s an opportunity to present counter-arguments. When those with the financial resources engage in political spending to reach mass audiences, they don’t “mute” the “voice of the average voter”: They amplify the average voter’s voice. Far from “muting” average voters, big money in politics—whether the spenders are “dark” or known—gives voice to millions of everyday people, brings relevant political issues to the public forefront, and fosters debate in coffee houses, around kitchen tables, in social media, in online debate forums, in newspaper letters sections—anywhere ordinary people gather to chat.

No matter how much anyone spends on his own speech, no private citizen or institution can mute anyone else’s voice. An “ordinary” individual can write letters to the editor, speak to friends and co-workers, attend town-hall meetings, start a blog, participate in social media or online debate forums, or post this comment on the Star-Ledger’s website. He can pool his money with others to take out ads, or donate money to think tanks or PACs that advocate viewpoints he agrees with. He can contact his congressman. Who could stop him?

In the name of "democracy," statists trivialize the voter. They imagine a direct connection between campaign spending and politicians. But there is no such connection. Voters, not campaign spenders, put politicians in office. All the money in the world won’t buy you an election. That’s because the voter stands between the money and the politician and/or the issue the spender supports. If the spender can not persuade the voter, his spending is for naught. This obvious fact makes the following comment by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, quoted by the S-L and repeated in various forms ad nauseam, look ridiculous on its face:

“The notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be.”

Of all the arguments against Citizens and McCutchen, the idea that they allow wealthy donors to “buy our democracy” is the most far-fetched of all. Can anyone name one case where a Koch or a Soros was standing in a voting booth, offering money to voters to vote a certain way? In the end, it’s the vote that counts. We still have one-man-one-vote—each of us stands alone in the voting booth. Billionaire or penniless, we are all equal. Each of us is competent to consider all viewpoints rationally. Each of us had to settle on our own viewpoint, and vote accordingly.

Only the government, with its law-making powers, can “drown out” a person’s voice, and any attempt by government to legally restrict any person’s freedom to spend his own money for the purpose of advocating his viewpoint is an attack on everyone’s First Amendment rights. How is some rich industrialist’s campaign spending any different from newspaper spending? If it’s right to limit the political spending of the Koch Brothers, why not newspaper editorialists? In the end, free speech and press are linked. We don’t need government for the many or the few, but for everyone equally. That’s what Citizens United and McCutchen are about—equal protection under the First Amendment.

Related Reading:

Ideas, Not Money, Matters in Political Campaigns

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