June 26, 2007

"A sharp turn away from campaign finance regulation."

Here's the Linda Greenhouse piece on the "issue ads" case, Wisconsin Right to Life. Under the Court's ruling, there's a free speech right to run the ads unless they are “susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.” How much is this going to affect the 2008 campaign?
While the decision did not deal directly with the soft-money ban, which is in a separate section of the law, election experts said the effect would be to undercut the soft-money section as well by permitting a largely unlimited flow of money from corporate treasuries to pay for the all-important broadcast advertisements in the weeks before primary and general elections. Groups seeking to influence the outcome of the election could easily sidestep the prohibition on explicit appeals for or against candidates, supporters of the law said.
If it's easy to "sidestep the prohibition," isn't that a good thing? The line between what you have a right to do and what's illegal should be clear -- especially in free speech law. Here, though, the idea is that you only have a right because we're assuming you aren't actually trying to affect the election, yet the Court, by setting up such a presumption to defend that right, has given cover to all sorts of people who absolutely do want to affect the election. And so the McCain-Feingold law is deeply undermined.

Here's what I wrote about the case yesterday. I tend to think that there will be a lot of lawsuits as people take advantage of the Court's ruling and run ads that have an impact on elections. You might think it should be easy to say there's always a "reasonable interpretation" that there was some other purpose to the ad, but the question is when will courts be willing to exclude all the alternate interpretations in particular cases. I think the stakes are so high and the urge to run ads so great that we will see plenty of cases.

26 comments:

steve simels said...

Oh, screw that legal crap.

The masses are clamoring for more vegetable porn!!!

C'mon, Ann -- those carrot sticks aren't gonna penetrate the onion rings by themselves!!

Get with it, woman!!!!!

Bruce Hayden said...

I too think that there will be a lot of litigation, and even more skirting ever closer to the edges. Part of the problem is the question of remedies. So, if you find that a candidate won an election by cheating by crossing the line, what can you do? The important thing is that he won. Unless and until you start incarcerating them, it is often worth the risk - fines of winning campaigns are easily covered by campaign contributors.

Greenhouse has become a reliable liberal shill, in her BDS. At one time, I thought her almost reliable. But now, I look at most of what she says through the prism of her apparent political beliefs.

So, I trust the Ann Althouses more these days. A lot more.

Bruce Hayden said...

Steve,

The problem is that it is looking more and more like Ann was right on the sexual imagery in the Clinton video. It is likely that much of it was unintended. And maybe some of it was a mistaken attempt at humor. But still, it is looking more and more like Ann caught something that most initially missed.

steve simels said...

Bruce Hayden said...
Steve,

The problem is that it is looking more and more like Ann was right on the sexual imagery in the Clinton video.


On the Bizarro World maybe. Here on Earth it's still blithering idiocy to even suggest that.

Internet Ronin said...

And so the McCain-Feingold law is deeply undermined.

Wonderful. Here's hoping that house of cards collapses completely and is relegated to the dustbin of failed social experiments where it belongs.

Seven Machos said...

Steve -- If what Ann Althouse was so crazy and wrong with her interpretation of the Clinton video, why do you keep talking about it? Why does it cause you to come here and post daily many days after the whole fracas is long over?

Internet Ronin said...

Seven, not that you asked, but it seems to me that he posts in hopes of provoking Ann into responding to him or deleting his posts, and because people respond to him. Thus far, he's managed to entertain himself fairly well.

If Ann continues to not rise to his bait and no one responds to his childish taunts then he will probably get bored and go away until the next opportunity arises. Pretty typical behavior, IMO.

Mike said...

Groups are seeking to influence the outcome of the election! The Founders are rolling over in their graves!

What part of free speech do these people not get? Seriously.

election experts said the effect would be to undercut the soft-money section as well by permitting a largely unlimited flow of money from corporate treasuries to pay for the all-important broadcast advertisements in the weeks before primary and general elections.

They use corporate money as their boogie man. But Wisconsin Right to Life is not a corporation. The Sierra Club is not a corporation (well, you know what I mean). That's the fallacy of the "without campaign finance laws, only deep pockets will be heard" argument. The Sierra Club, just to use them as an example, pools money from lots of small pockets concerned with their cause, thus giving that cause a voice with the same amplitude as "big oil" and "big timber" and all those other scoundrels who, according to the Sierra Club, want to ravage the planet.

I understand why politicians want to limit speech, but for the life of me I can't understand why anyone else does. The only explanation I can come up with is the left are a bunch of control freaks.

Richard Dolan said...

There are two different concepts of "corruption" in play here; only one of them took a hit yesterday. Campaign finance reform started out as a way to prevent the scandal of high rollers buying politicians through the handy device of unlimited campaign contributions directly to the candidate or his campaign. "Access" was the usual way it was phrased, but the implication was something worse. Along the way, a different notion started to get thrown in as well -- the political process (not any particular candidate) was corrupted if high rollers (corps and unions included) had too big a voice; they could yell so loud (buy so much air time) that they would drown out the "little voices."

The original "corruption" concern about the danger that the high rollers would buy politicians wasn't really impacted by yesterday's ruling; all of the "soft money" bans directed against that problem remain firmly in place. The dissent's complaint to the contrary seemed a bit over the top. As far as I can tell, all the 527 money spent in the last two cycles has bought any of the folks paying for the 527 ads all that much "access" with officeholders or candidates for high office.

The second concept that keeps creeping in to the discussion -- the loud voices drowning out the "little voices" -- is itself a direct attack on First Amendment values. The Gov't shouldn't be in the business of policing who gets to speak or who loudly. That's just censorship for its own sake. Those who have been pushing that idea no doubt see themselves at the beneficiary of such censorship, since they aren't likely to prevail otherwise. Those guys just miss the whole point of the "marketplace of ideas" metaphor, no doubt intentionally.

I think the majority got the quiz right yesterday, and that doing so, they restored some needed balance to campaign finance reform generally.

MarkW said...

I'm still gobsmacked by the idea that speech in favor or against voting for a candidate can be restricted in any way. If there's ANY speech that should enjoy full, unencumbered 1st amendment rights, surely that is it.

I think these court decisions upholding even partial restrictions will, in decades to come, be looked on as some of the worst, least-explicable decisions ever made (or at least I hope so).

Still, better this decision than the far more restrictive one that the 4-votes in the minority would have given us.

Kirk said...

Mike,

"The Sierra Club, just to use them as an example, pools money from lots of small pockets concerned with their cause, thus giving that cause a voice with the same amplitude as 'big oil'"

True enough, but that statement doesn't go far enough. Where on earth do people think Big Oil™ gets its money? In exactly the same way--in small purchases at the pump by individual consumers, and in somewhat larger purchases by larger users.

John Stodder said...

I hate to sound like some paranoid right-winger, but I'm sorry, the mainstream media's unanimous despair over this ruling can only be intepreted one way. In the weeks before an election, they want as close to a monopoly on what the public hears and sees about candidates as they can get.

It's sad when we can't depend on the biggest publishers of intellectual property in the nation to defend the First Amendment. It points to some significant rot at the heart of these institutions.

Bring back the First Amendment absolutists! That's the kind of liberalism I'm talkin' about!

John Stodder said...

Confidential to Steve Simels:

You've got a good blog. (powerpop.blogspot.com) Making an ass of yourself is not a good way to get the respect for it you deserve.

Trying to parse the symbolism chosen by content creators in any medium is paying their creation the highest respect. Somebody chose to put carrot sticks there for a reason. Ann's interpretation is not only fun and provocative, it is perfectly valid. Especially because the thing being parodied used the onion rings to convey powerful symbolic associations. To change them from onion rings into carrots has meaning -- unavoidably.

If you prefer to believe the onion rings/carrot sticks thing is completely incidental and random, without any intended or subliminal meaning, you're cutting yourself off from a rich source of knowledge about the world around you. Since your blog is all about music, this is a very strange position for you to take. Imagery is critical to the songwriter's art.

It would make more sense for you to counter Ann's interpretation with one of your own -- give yourself a chance to display your writing chops to a sympathetic audience. Don't fall into the Doyle/Dave {tm] trap of being only a tiresome scold.

blake said...

John--

Well, yeah, but that would require effort.

jane said...

Bill didn't clamor for French fries and Hill insist he munch on a side salad, instead. What diner has carrot sticks on the menu?? The choices were contrived for a reason.

For me, the more candidate and issue advocacy ads with full disclosure as to who's producing and paying for them the better. Still, politics has become more about psychology, marketing, news sound bites, ad time slots and appeal to tribal identity (ethnic, gender, party) than it is about candidates' integrity and positions and voter political philosophy.

There's a great undecided middle out there without strong inclinations that needs to be enticed and/or scared in order to "make the sale" right before Election Day. Which is a little frightening to me, but whatcha gonna do-- revamp our educational system to better teach civics and critical thinking from K through college?

That's what McCain and Feingold should have tackled, instead.

B said...

Linda Greenhouse has always brought a reliable liberal slant in the "news" pages of the Times.

However, she is one intelligent cookie, and, frankly, I just don't see how a review of any decision by the Supremes can be complete without some of Greenhouse's insider info and backgrounding. It's just a matter of filtering for those of us that can recognize the chaff and glean the few good kernels.

Bruce - and so many of the above commenters hit the nail on the head with this one - said the same thing, only better: now, I look at most of what she says through the prism of her apparent political beliefs.

Also, Seven's point yesterday on this same subject:

The amount of free speech is not determined by your wallet. The amount of audience for your free speech is determined by your wallet.


Now, to forever put a stake through the heart of the "Fairness Doctrine" . . .

James said...

jane said...

Bill didn't clamor for French fries and Hill insist he munch on a side salad, instead. What diner has carrot sticks on the menu?? The choices were contrived for a reason.

Not that I want this debate to continue on much longer (I believe that Ann is right in saying that one certainly can see the sexual imagery, but not with her full analysis), but the choice food in the scene is based on the Sopranos. They were trying to tie in Sopranos images (they were eating onion rings in the final scene) and Hillary says no, eat the healthy crap. (By the way, I think the sexual interpretation is a lot less convincing than the Hillary "nanny state" interpretation. She knows what's best for us, etc. etc.)

jane said...

Sexual AND nanny state interps are valid.

I didn't see the Sopranos episode. Were carrot sticks (which aren't American diner fare) feaured in the show?

Steven said...

Ah, yes. How dare the Supreme Court protect core political speech! Free speech was put in the Constitution to protect sadomasochistic gay pornography, not political expression!

Mike said...

John Stodder said: ...the mainstream media's unanimous despair over this ruling can only be intepreted one way. In the weeks before an election, they want as close to a monopoly on what the public hears and sees about candidates as they can get.

Nail. Head.

John Stodder said...

Well, there is a famous downtown LA diner, an institution that is now owned by former Mayor Riordan called The Pantry. When you sit down, you are served, gratis, a bowl of cold crudites -- not just carrot sticks, but celery and radishes too.

If someone was doing a parody of Mayor Riordan and onion rings suddenly appeared on the table instead of the veggies, I would consider that highly suggestive of...something. I'd probably leave it to Ann to start the ball rolling.

blake said...

Riordan owns The Pantry?

Man, am I outta the loop.

BJK said...

The implications of this case will be interesting to watch in '08. If things go the way I predict, McCain-Feingold just got de-fanged.

SAMPLE AD:

Your run-of-the mill negative advertisement - blaming a candidate for the usual (taking money from....people with money, having a voting record, guilt by association, etc.)

Tagline: "Call or write to 'Candidate X' and demand (s)he clear the air about his (her) record."

---

Is the purpose of that ad only to affect an election, or to demand public accountability and/or disclosure from a political candidate?

Are you sure???


Personally, I think the country would be better off if it were able to acknowledge that money given to a candidate is speech every bit as much as money spent on running ads supporting that candidate. Just do away with Buckley v. Valeo and all of it's senseless ilk.

Campaign Finance Reform doesn't "take the money out of campaigns," it only shifts things around and makes the principals less accountable. (See, e.g. Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, MoveOn.org.)

The Drill SGT said...

Mike said...
Groups are seeking to influence the outcome of the election! The Founders are rolling over in their graves!

What part of free speech do these people not get? Seriously


I heard a line on T last night that really stuck with me. Perhaps on PBS It went something like this.

"You can't get much closer to the core of the 1st Amendment than to be considering a case there Congress passed a law making it a criminal act to criticize a member of Congress."

Mr.Murder said...

It's a jackboot ruling because it lacks clear definition and allows someone to weigh what is/is not of effect for an election.

Let's see how many times ther DoJ asks courts to rule against items that are not along the lines of what the RNC wants now...

Mike said...

"You can't get much closer to the core of the 1st Amendment than to be considering a case there Congress passed a law making it a criminal act to criticize a member of Congress."

The liberal position is, apparently, that the 1st Amendment protects porn, but does not protect the right to criticize our elected officials. This simply astounds me. I'm OK with allowing porn, but I am sure that is not what the Founders had in mind. They intended to protect political speech, and rightly so.

Although I tend not to agree with my Senator (Feingold) on most issues, I did respect him in the early days of his Senate tenure. But McCain/Feingold changed that.