Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Anti-Free Speech Fallacy of ‘Dark Money’

NJ.com’s Claude Brodesser-Akner reported that You'll be shocked at how much political cash will flood into N.J. this year. There are important state ballot questions to be decided. As a result, NJ politics may overshadow the presidential and congressional contests. This will mean “ a blizzard . . . that will bury the state in accumulating drifts of political campaign cash never seen before. Unions and special interest groups expect to shower a walloping $100 million on the Garden State in advance of” the election, Brodesser-Akner contends.

The issues are secondary to my purposes in this blog post, however. Brodesser-Akner’s article appeared on the front page of the New Jersey Star-Ledger, implying that the article is news reporting. But this paragraph got my attention:

Part of the reason for the the coming flood of dark money is the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, in which the nation's highest court ruled that the "free speech" clause of the Constitution prevented the government from restricting independent political expenditures by non-profit corporations.

I left these comments:

Dark money?” Is this news reporting or a political opinion piece? Sounds like the latter.

“Dark money” is the phrase used by enemies of free speech to insinuate that the money collected and spent on political advocacy is somehow ill-gotten and intended for underhanded purposes just because the source is not public knowledge. But all “dark money” is is private money spent by private individuals on causes and candidates they believe in. They want to remain anonymous? So what? It’s their right. It’s also the right of candidates to accept only campaign support from people who disclose their identity, and of voters to vote only for candidates who announce such a condition.

The flood of campaign money is a reflection of the size and scope of the government’s involvement in our lives. So no one should “be shocked at how much political cash will flood into N.J. this year.” Given the gravity of the issues, we should welcome it. The money spreads viewpoints and information. The “special interests” speak not only for themselves but for ordinary citizens who agree with the message but lack the resources to reach mass audiences, while providing fodder for public debate between voters of differing viewpoints. In the end, the voters have the final say. The last thing we need are laws that restrict free speech, which will only serve to protect the political class and the government from accountability, scrutiny, and criticism.  

There’s nothing “dark” about private money used for political advocacy, whatever the amount and whether the spender chooses to remain anonymous or not. There is something dark about people using government force to pry open the lives of politically active citizens and/or restricting their political activism. Who but those who want to evade debating the issues and instead engage in ad hominem smear tactics would care who is funding the political ads we see and hear? Thank you, Citizens United!—one of the most pro-liberty, and moral, SCOTUS decisions of my lifetime.

Related Reading:

Campaign Finance: Free Speech, Not Disclosure, is the Main Issue

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