Real campaign-finance reform: Ban all paid political advertising in the U.S.

We were discussing this in this elections thread on the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall (where Governor Scott Walker has gotten much more funding from corporate, foundation, and out-of-state sources than has his challenger, Tom Barrett). I think the scope of the subject, though elections-related, is broad and systemic enough to warrant GD treatment.

What we need to do is make it not merely difficult but impossible for anybody (including the candidates themselves) to affect the outcome of any election by spending money on it. Our only alternatives are that and a de facto plutocracy, which is what we’ve got now. The 1% have more than enough economic power, without allowing them to wield political power out of proportion to their numbers on top of that.

And I say we do not need to scrap or even amend the First Amendment to do it (though I might well support a constitutional amendment to effect this, if strictly necessary, and depending on the wording). We need only get a SCOTUS in place that will accept the plain fact that money is not speech and will overturn such contrary decisions as Buckley v. Valeo.

From The Next American Nation, by Michael Lind (The Free Press, 1995), pp. 256-259 (from before the McCain-Feingold Bill, but I don’t think the picture has changed all that much since it passed):

They don’t come much more libertarian than Goldwater, and even he was appalled at this state of affairs.

From the same book, pp. 311-313:

N.B.: This relates only to advertising, not editorializing. Media outlets would remain free to editorialize, Fox News and MSNBC would be free to continue politicizing the news each in its own way, etc. The Equal-Time Rule and the Fairness Doctrine are topics for a different debate; in any case, their scope is limited to airwave-broadcast media, not print, cable, or Internet media.

Bear in mind that there are other democracies, such as France, where every candidate in an election gets an equal ration of free air time and no other political advertising is allowed, and we over here still tend to think of those countries as “free countries.” However, as Terr points out, France has a lot of speech-related laws that would be considered unacceptable here. Be that as it may, I think CFR is a topic distinguishable from criticizing public policy/officials.

“Wall of separation between check and state” is, at least, something you can get on a bumper-sticker.

FWIW, some Wikiquotes on campaign-finance reform:

Today’s political campaigns function as collection agencies for broadcasters. You simply transfer money from contributors to television stations. Senator Bill Bradley, 2000.

We’ve got a real irony here. We have politicians selling access to something we all own -our government. And then we have broadcasters selling access to something we all own — our airwaves. It’s a terrible system. Newton Minow, former Federal Communications Commission chairman (2000).

You’re more likely to see Elvis again than to see this bill pass the Senate. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (1999) on the McCain-Feingold Bill on Campaign Reform

Unless we fundamentally change this system, ultimately campaign finance will consume our democracy. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) (1996).

[Buckley v. Valeo is] one of the most weakly reasoned, poorly written, initially contradictory court opinions I’ve ever read. Senator (and former federal district court judge) George J. Mitchell (D-ME) (1990).

We don’t buy votes. What we do is we buy a candidate’s stance on an issue. Allen Pross, executive director, California Medical Association’s PAC (1989).

Political action committees and moneyed interests are setting the nation’s political agenda. Are we saying that only the rich have brains in this country? Or only people who have influential friends who have money can be in the Senate? Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) (1988).

The day may come when we’ll reject the money of the rich as tainted, but it hadn’t come when I left Tammany Hall at 11:25 today. George Washington Plunkett (1905).

Who are to be the electors of the federal representatives? Not the rich, more than the poor, not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscure and propitious fortune. James Madison, Federalist 57 (1788).

You do realize, don’t you, that such a set of laws would convey a large advantage to incumbents and to the two currently established political parties?

Incumbents can more easily get their names and faces in the news than their challengers, often in the course of carrying out their jobs. Their challengers would be severely limited in their ability to do so.


It would eliminate the enormous funding advantage incumbents enjoy now; that makes a much bigger difference. Incumbents will always have a face-in-the-news advantage anyway, just because they are incumbents, therefore of compelling media interest.

As I pointed out in the other thread, banning “paid political advertising” requires repealing the First Amendment. You can twist into a pretzel and claim that donating money to a political candidate is not “speech” but you can’t do the same with me, with my own money, buying an ad in the paper promoting my favorite candidate or political idea, or me, with my own money, putting up a billboard on the land I own doing the same. Denying that that is “speech” is transparently dishonest.

And once you repeal the First Amendment, good bye United States. At least for me.

Forbidding people from advocating in favor of or against political candidates would certainly violates the First Amendment and it’s moronic to argue that it doesn’t.

But the point being made is that it takes money to advocate for a candidate. If you ban spending money for political advertising, you are stifling political speech.

Unless you believe that free speech only extends to how loud you can yell, then even distributing a handbill requires money to print, and the OP’s proposal would ban that.

The counterargument is that rich people have an unfair advantage and get “too much” speech. Well, of course. Rich people also have more free time to spend at their place of worship, can buy better guns under the 2nd amendment, buy larger pieces of property exempt from search and seizure under the 4th,hire better lawyers under the 6th, etc.

The idea that rich people have it better than poor people is not a new idea.

Exactly and the very essence of the First Amendment was to protect political speech.

The idea is too stupid to merit serious consideration.

There is no good reason why that should be allowed to translate into their having more political power than others.

You failed to demonstrate how banning paid political advertising requires repealing the first amendment any more than banning smoking advertisements. Then you followed up with an absurd argument:

The relationship between advertising and behaviour is well established. Health promotion campaigns have been analysed for effectiveness, such as Cowpe (1989), Hletko (1987), Roberts (1986). Advertising has a significant impact on cigarette consumption. 40% of respondents in exit polls claimed to be influenced by advertising in the Florida and New Hampshire polls. In 2010, 85% of seats won were by candidates outspending their competitors. If donations are a result of popularity and advertising doesn’t influence decisions, banning paid political advertising will have no effect.

Look, if spending a lot of money on political advertising doesn’t work, why does anybody do it?! We’re talking about something that has been going on since the 1950s at least, done by businesscritters who are generally very careful about where and how they spend/invest their money.

It’s not as if there is some completely inflexible and overriding right to free speech in America. You aren’t free to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. When one right conflicts with another accommodation must be reached. If you believe, as BrainGlutton clearly does, that our right to free speech is conflicting with our right to free and fair elections then seeking an accommodation is to be expected. The solution presented here may be a bit extreme but it’s way off base to assert that it could not be enacted without repealing the 1st Amendment. Courts are perfectly comfortable balancing rights. They do it all the time.

For myself, I’m not sure how far we need to go in the direction of campaign finance reform but I am sure that there is absolutely no chance that we will go too far. So any proposal with any chance of success should be supported. Preach it, BrainGlutton!

How is that any different than saying that one type of speech was more effective and therefore must be banned?

IOW, I say that all fags must die, and you give a coherent argument in favor of gay marriage. You win the campaign to defeat Amendment Y on gay marriage. I demand that your speech be stifled because there was no “free and fair” election because you have a gift for rhetoric when I don’t.

Your argument presupposes that the advertising created an environment that made the elections a farce. Obviously people responded to the message.

Does political advertising influence for whom you personally are going to vote?

Correlation does not equal causation. How about in 85% of cases most of those who donate decided to do so for the candidate that was more likely to win?

Actually, in practice you can get pretty far with just “fags must die” and making coherent arguments can make you sound like some faggoty elitist east-coast college type.

How does campaign financing work in Canada? Serious question.

It’s completely different because it doesn’t promote anything being banned. That’s not an argument in favor of campaign finance reform. It’s merely an observation that those opposing BrainGlutton’s proposal by claiming it would nullify the 1st Amendment didn’t have a leg to stand on.

The main difference would seem to be scale. Eloquence influenced this single election. Money influences all elections. If there came to be a class of people with such powers of persuasion that they could prejudice electoral outcomes across the board then society would have to adjust to deal with that. That might entail curtailing their advocacy for candidates or it might simply mean limiting the amount of money candidates could spend hiring these people. Notice the money cropping up there again? Because there is also a huge difference in scale between personal skills as a whole and our basic economic unit. You buy politicians because it’s a good investment. Politicians are cheap compared to the rewards to be reaped from gaining a tax break or preventing effective regulation of your industry. That same feedback loop doesn’t exist with personal skills or anything else that I’m aware of. “It’s all about the money” is a common phrase in America. Do we say that about anything else?

Money influence in politics is certainly a big problem, but I don’t know what the solution is. Undoing recent regulations allowing PAC’s might be a good step. Also, instead of outlawing private campaign finance, we could try to drown its effects with public money.

I’ve underlined part of 2sense’s comment to emphasize the key point he makes. When you’re speeding too fast in the wrong direction and think of putting on the brakes, worry of speeding too fast in the other direction should not be a concern.

This same point applies to many political debates here. Proposed reforms are sometimes decried as Marxist. Ummmm … whatever flawed tendencies the U.S. system has now, Marxism is not the danger.

Yet some libertarians have shown up in the thread, appalled by your proposal. American political extremists of 50 years ago might be considered moderates today.

“The need for collecting large campaign funds would vanish if Congress provided an appropriation for the proper and legitimate expenses of each of the great national parties, an appropriation ample enough to meet the necessity for thorough organization and machinery, which requires a large expenditure of money. Then the stipulation should be made that no party receiving campaign funds from the Treasury should accept more than a fixed amount from any individual subscriber or donor; and the necessary publicity for receipts and expenditures could without difficulty be provided.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Poof - it’s done. SuperPACs still collect enormous sums and spend them on political advertising. SuperPACs are not “parties”.