The Supreme Court took up the battle over campaign finance this week, revisiting their 1976 finding that has turned free speech into the biggest cash-cow in Washington.
Enough, for god’s sake, we’ve had enough.
At issue is a Vermont law that sharply limits how much money state candidates can raise and spend. The purpose behind the Vermont legislation was twofold;
- To head off the ever-increasing financial chasm between throwing one’s hat in the ring and the cost of the ring
- To force the Supremes to revisit that thirty-year-ago ball that they dropped in the outfield of unintended consequence
For the percentage of Americans who were not even here thirty years ago, Buckley v. Valeo (the bobbled fly-ball) equates money with free speech and, disingenuously, knocks the legs out from under all of us who are not rich, but thought we somehow still had the right to speech.
Actually, we thought we had an equal right, but the Court said it wasn’t so in 1976, and they charmingly chose to say it in that bi-centennial year of constitutional celebration.
The Supremes were cagey. They mumbled about contribution limits being constitutional, but spending limits were not, thereby making a joke of that little box you check (or don’t) on your Income Tax return, the one that contributes a buck toward national elections.
Freeman’s First Law of Economics states that "figures don’t lie, but liars figure" and, right on cue, the cost of winning (or maintaining) a House or Senate seat made a seat on the Stock Exchange cheap by comparison. Legislators nearly forgot to pay attention to their elected work, in the frenzy to find and keep and pile up enough mazoola to stay on the Washington coctail circuit.
You can’t blame the little dears for constantly having their salon-tanned hands in everyone’s and anyone’s pocket. Just call it an unintended consequence.
In Court this week on the Vermont case, James Bopp, attorney for the state’s Republican Party, called the spending caps "a direct restriction on candidate speech." Apparently he’s gotten away with it, popped another high fly into the sun, according to blank looks on Supreme faces and the condition of their doodle-pads.
Listen-up, you exalted nine, “free speech is the right to speak, not the right to buy the time to speak.”
If it were, columnists would all be awarded newspapers. Not being able to cough up the change for seventeen 30-second slots on Fox News is in no way an abridgment of some idiot’s or congressman’s (but I repeat myself) right to stand up and gasbag the electorate.
We know that, and yet we sit back and allow our most venerated right to be mugged in the streets.
When free speech is kidnapped by money, as it has been for thirty years, only the rich have voices. Don’t think that hasn’t already happened, as the $650,000 Senate seat of 1976 has ballooned to $6 million today.
Which leaves representative government two choices
- Have the dough yourself
- Get it and be captive to whoever gave
That pretty well takes the representative out of government for, by and of the people and puts it squarely in the hands of the Jon Corzines and his like.
In order to level that bumpy outfield, upon which the Court keeps losing sight of the ball, we once toyed with the idea of equal-time requirements. But media lobbyists and paid-off legislators made short work of that. Now everyone has equal rights to buy speech, if they can afford it. The bill for that, in the last election, came to $3 billion. Guess how much of it went into media pockets?
That three billion bought us the most corrupt and corrupting national legislature in history. That same three billion purchased commercial after commercial, so raw and discomforting by both parties that the voting public was outraged and turned-off at the same time. That three billion has placed legislators below used-car salesmen in public trust and made entry into politics impossible but for the super-rich.
New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine is the poster-boy for buying into politics, having bought himself a Senate seat for $60 million, vacating it before his term had expired to buy himself a governorship. If he has his way, he’ll buy himself a presidency.
It just makes me tired and weak in the knees and thoroughly fed-up.
Justice David H. Souter said he was concerned that the same Vermont contribution limits would apply to candidates whether or not they face a primary challenge. "You could get to the general election and be broke," he noted.
Then I guess you’d have to rely on free speech instead of paid speech.