Friday, January 13, 2006

Something for the Roberts Court to Nullify

In a lengthy discussion of "Campaign Finance Reform," the following:

Campaign-finance reform has a squeaky-clean image, but the dirty truth is that this speech-throttling legislation is partly the result of a hoax perpetrated by a handful of liberal foundations, led by the venerable Pew Charitable Trusts. New York Post reporter Ryan Sager exposed the scam when he got hold of a 2004 videotape of former Pew official Sean Treglia telling a roomful of journalists and professors how Pew and other foundations spent years bankrolling various experts, ostensibly independent nonprofits (including the Center for Public Integrity and Democracy 21), and media outlets (NPR got $1.2 million for “news coverage of financial influence in political decision-making”)—all aimed at fooling Washington into thinking that Americans were clamoring for reform, when in truth there was little public pressure to “clean up the system.” “The target group for all this activity was 535 people in Washington,” said Treglia matter-of-factly, referring to Congress. “The idea was to create an impression that a mass movement was afoot—that everywhere they looked, in academic institutions, in the business community, in religious groups, in ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking about reform.”

Treglia urged grantees to keep Pew’s role hush-hush. “If Congress thought this was a Pew effort,” he confided, “it’d be worthless. It’d be 20 million bucks thrown down the drain.” At one point, late in the congressional debate over McCain-Feingold, “we had a scare,” Treglia said. “George Will stumbled across a report we had done. . . . He started to reference the fact that Pew was playing a large role . . . [and] that it was a liberal attempt to hoodwink Congress. . . . The good news, from my perspective, was that journalists . . . just didn’t care and nobody followed up.” The hoaxers—a conspiracy of eight left-wing foundations, including George Soros’s Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation—have actually spent $123 million trying to get other people’s money out of politics since 1994, Sager reports—nearly 90 percent of the spending by the entire campaign-finance lobby over this period.

(snip)

This notion of corruption—really a Marxoid opposition to inequality of wealth—would have horrified the Founding Fathers, who believed in private property with its attendant inequalities, and who trusted to the clash of factions to ensure that none oppressed the others. The Founders would have seen in the reformers’ utopian schemes, in which the power of government makes all equally weak, the embodiment of tyranny.

(snip)

Campaign-finance reform now has the blogosphere in its crosshairs. When the Federal Election Commission wrote specific rules in 2002 to implement McCain-Feingold, it voted 4 to 2 to exempt the Web. After all, observed the majority of three Republicans and one Democrat (the agency divides its seats evenly between the two parties), Congress didn’t list the Internet among the “public communications”—everything from television to roadside billboards—that the FEC should regulate. Further, “the Internet is virtually a limitless resource, where the speech of one person does not interfere with the speech of anyone else,” reasoned Republican commissioner Michael Toner. “Whereas campaign finance regulation is meant to ensure that money in politics does not corrupt candidates or officeholders, or create the appearance thereof, such rationales cannot plausibly be applied to the Internet, where on-line activists can communicate about politics with millions of people at little or no cost.”

But when the chief House architects of campaign-finance reform, joined by McCain and Feingold, sued—claiming that the Internet was one big “loophole” that allowed big money to keep on corrupting—a federal judge agreed, ordering the FEC to clamp down on Web politics. Then-commissioner Bradley Smith and the two other Republicans on the FEC couldn’t persuade their Democratic colleagues to vote to appeal.

The FEC thus has plunged into what Smith calls a “bizarre” rule-making process that could shackle the political blogosphere

(snip)

...consider the case of Bill Liles, who faced an FEC inquiry when Smith was commissioner. In 2000, a businessman in the little Texas town of Muleshoe, Harvey Bass, painted save our nation: vote democrat al gore for president on a beat-up box and plunked it on his furniture store’s porch. Sick of looking at it, Liles and a friend pasted a “bigger and better” poster praising W. on a trailer and parked it right across from Bass’s store. This was too much for another local, Don Dyer, who complained to the FEC that Liles’s sign lacked mandated disclosures about who paid for it and whether Bush had signed off on it.

Though the FEC in the end let Liles and his fellow activists off, the men had in fact broken not just disclosure rules but any number of other regulations, too, recalls Smith. They had clearly spent a bit more than $250 on their makeshift sign, for example, but hadn’t reported it, as required, to the FEC. “Total statutory penalties could have easily exceeded $25,000,” Smith observes. How different is Liles’s praiseworthy activism from that of many political bloggers? The medium differs, but Liles, like a blogger, is simply voicing his opinion. And this was pre-McCain-Feingold.

(Godfoddah: PAY ATTENTION:)

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

Wilbur’s and Carlson’s on-air commentaries were “in-kind contributions” and that the anti-tax campaign had failed to report them to the proper state authorities. The suit sought to stop NNGT from accepting any more of these “contributions” until it disclosed their worth—though how the initiative’s organizers could control media discussions or calculate their monetary value remained unclear. The complaint also socked NNGT with civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs, and other damages. Even more offensively, to litigate the suit the politicians hired a private law firm, Foster Pepper & Shefelman, which serves as bond counsel to Washington State. The firm, which represents unions, hospitals, and retirement funds among its other clients, could thus clean up from the state’s plan to sell gas-tax-backed bonds. Appearance of corruption, anyone?

The real target of the suit was clearly Wilbur and Carlson, or, more accurately, their corporate employer, Fisher Communications.

(snip)

“This is one of the most important cases nationally about the right of the press to speak freely, without the interference of the government or regulation of the government—because the power to regulate is the power to suppress.” Should the appeal lose, the days of political talk radio could be over not only in Washington State but everywhere. “McCain-Feingold could definitely be used in the same fashion,” Mauer tells me. “In fact, the prosecutors in this case say McCain-Feingold permits them to do this. But pretty much any state that has campaign-finance laws that restrict contributions is subject to this abuse, too.”

“The ‘appearance of corruption’ can mean anything,” says former FEC commissioner Smith. “If the ‘appearance of corruption’ is sufficient to justify regulation, the practical effect is to eliminate the need for the government to show any justification for the regulation in question.” In fact, even John McCain, now incorruptible after his involvement as one of the scandalous Keating Five, could appear corrupt. Several aides from his 2000 presidential run, including his former campaign manager, press secretary, finance director, and legal counsel have been working for the Reform Institute, a nonprofit group dedicated to (you guessed it) campaign-finance reform—though it primarily seems to be the 2008 McCain-for-President campaign-in-waiting. Some months back, when Cablevision sought approval for a pricing change from the Senate Commerce Committee, then chaired by McCain, the company developed a sudden interest in campaign-finance reform and gave the Reform Institute a $200,000 “soft” donation. Looks fishy, no?

Besides John McPain's Personal Glamor Infatuation, there's little to him...

In his powerful McConnell dissent, Clarence Thomas spelled out “the chilling endpoint” of the Court’s reasoning: “outright regulation of the press”—exactly what the campaign-reform theorists ultimately seek. “Media companies can run pro-candidate editorials as easily as nonmedia corporations can pay for advertisements,” Thomas explained. “Media corporations are influential. There is little doubt that the editorials and commentary they run can affect elections.” The Supreme Court has found little to distinguish media and non-media corporations.

Asked Thomas: “What is to stop a future Congress from determining that the press is ‘too influential,’ and that the ‘appearance of corruption’ is significant when media organizations endorse candidates or run ‘slanted’ or ‘biased’ news stories in favor of candidates or parties?”

Answer: Nothing.

“Although today’s opinion does not expressly strip the press of First Amendment protection,” Thomas warned, “there is no principle of law or logic that would prevent the application of the Court’s reasoning in that setting. The press now operates at the whim of Congress.”

(snip)

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.

(snip)

Today, more than 1,400 stations feature the talk format exclusively—and the vast majority broadcast conservative voices, because that’s what draws the listeners, desperate for an alternative to the liberal mainstream press.

Small wonder, then, that House Democrats proposed two bills in 2005 to bring the Fairness Doctrine back—and as a law, rather than a mere agency regulation. New York Democratic representative Louise Slaughter, who introduced the first of the two bills, says that Right-ruled radio is a grave threat to American freedoms, “a waste of good broadcast time, and a waste of our airwaves.” People “may hear whatever they please and whatever they choose,” she tells PBS’s Bill Moyers, in a statement as incoherent as it is illiberal. “And of course they have the right to turn it off. But that’s not good enough either. The fact is that they need the responsibility of the people who are licensed to use our airwaves judiciously and responsibly to call them to account if they don’t.” In other words, people can’t be trusted with freedom but need the supervision of a paternalist government.

Slaughter doesn’t want to re-regulate only radio. When asked by Moyers if she was also proposing the new Fairness Doctrine for Fox News or MSNBC, Slaughter responded: “You bet. . . . Fairness isn’t going to hurt anybody.”

(snip)

Finally, in early 2005, an online petition drive called for Americans to “renew the Fairness Doctrine.” The imbalance favoring conservative media voices, especially in talk radio, the petition argued, “results in issues of public importance receiving little or no attention, while others are presented in a manner not conducive to listeners’ receiving the facts and range of opinions necessary to make informed decisions.” One of the three sponsors of this paternalistic document: Media Matters for America, a left-wing press watchdog group, founded by conservative-turned-lefty David Brock, with help from ex–Clinton advisor John Podesta.

Well, well, well. Another Hildebeeste surrogate emerges from the Milorganite pond...one hardly has to say more.



...read it all.

Personally, I'd LOVE to have Sen. Feingold (D-AlQuaeda) stop by and attempt to halt my blogging. He might learn a little about pitchforks and "riding to the sound of the guns." But Feinie doesn't have the guts.

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