Friday, September 04, 2009

Ignoring the Obvious

OK, I've been silent for a while, but a commentary by Eliot Spitzer in Slate awakened me. I actually agree with Spitzer, but he makes life easy for himself by ignoring the powerful argument against his (and my) position.

Spitzer writes about Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the so called Hillary Movie Case . The Case deals with the Constitutionality of the McCain–Feingold Act, a 2002 bipartisan bill ment to limit the influence of Corporations on politics.

Previous rulings by the US Supreme Court have decreed that limiting Campaign contribution is constitutionally legit. Corporations can't "buy" a candidate by contributing unlimited amounts to his campaign.

The problem was, of course, that where there's a will, there's a way. The amount of money a corporation can contribute to a candidate may be limited, but until the McCain-Feingold bill, the amount of money Corporations spent on political speech wasn't. So, instead of the Corporation giving money to the politician to make films smearing their opponents, the Corporations now make the films themselves.

The McCain-Feingold act tried to limit these films, by regulating the political Speech of Corporations. The act prevented the showing of commercials for a film smearing Hillary Clinton before the 2008 /democratic primeries.

Censoring speech this way is uncomfortable in a Democracy. But if you don't censor it, you create the appearance and possibly the reality of deals between politicians and corporations? This is such a Dilemma, that Eliot Spitzer won't face it. He simply ignores it:

The problem of quid pro quos has been effectively dealt with by limiting direct contributions to the candidate (although the levels of these contributions may still be too high, especially at the state level). There is pretty general agreement that these limits do no harm to our First Amendment. The ability to contribute to somebody else is not at the core of our First Amendment rights, as long as you also retain the right to voice your opinion on your own.

When advocating for a position, Mr. Spitzer, it is NOT Kosher to ignore the other side's best argument.

Why then did I say that I agree with Spitzer's conclusion, that is, I agree that the US Supreme Court should rule McCain-Feingold unconstitutional?

For two reasons - First, the censorship involved makes me very uneasy. Whenever there's censorship, the question of who the censor is becomes critical. As a rule, it's a good idea to forsake it when possible.

Second, and more importantly, preventing Corporations from helping politicians is essentially impossible. The McCain-Feingold act has limits, and there would always be a way of getting around it.

As Elliot explains:

What distinguishes what Citizens United did and what Bill O'Reilly on Fox News—Rachel Maddow on MSNBC—does every day? Fox and MSNBC are corporations bombarding the airwaves with political rhetoric, from the right and left, that is as close to "electioneering communications" as anything I can imagine. [But Fox and MSNBC can do it because t]he McCain-Feingold statute excluded "media companies" from its limitations.

I disagree with Elliot about the distinction making no "logical sense". It is logical. It's just impossible to delimit.

Overall, I think there's an advantage to linking politicians with contributions. By breaking the connection between the Politician and the financier, the Politician can avoid taking responsibility - pretending to be all honorable and honest, while the swift boaters undertake his ugly offenses.

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