Thursday, December 11, 2003

Triumph of hope over experience

It's not so surprising that liberal editorialists, who are incapable of distinguishing between corruption and corruptibility, might shrug off, or even celebrate, the McCain-Feingold ruling. The same with politcians, who benefit from its limits on competitive races, and good-government types, who hate the process of campaigning anyway. (Maybe we should dispense with elective office entirely and simply appoint bureaucrats to rule our lives.)

What's more puzzling is the lack of outrage by responsible liberals such as Mickey Kaus, who (second item) is not "wildly upset" by the decision. Why? Because

It doesn't prevent rich (and non-rich) individuals from banding together to spend as much money as they want on "independent" last-minute issue" ads that criticize or praise candidates by name--something that I'd argue is their right. It only bans them if they incorporate.

Of course, a future Congress or court could do away with this "right," as well, and there's nothing in the majority's reasoning to prevent either. Indeed, some champions of the law, including Russ Feingold, think this law is merely the first step. They want to enact further campaign restrictions and replace the Federal Elections Commission with a new, three-member enforcement panel ... a group that would be easier to pack with outright enemies of free speech.

IMHO, Mickey and his allies still have too much faith in central planning (even if it's not of the economic variety) -- of the belief in the wisdom, fairness, and public-spirited nature of bureaucrats to remain impartial arbiters when in fact, regulations were the last thing that was needed to combat the "evils" of political campaigning.

The reason campaign finance is a "problem" is that the government is too busy doing things it shouldn't. Rather than being an impartial defender of people's rights, it's doling out favors to the well-connected or to the beneficiaries of the causes of the well-connected. If the government didn't hand out goodies in the first place -- whether material benefits or regulatory largess -- few people would be motivated enough to bother with lobbying office-holders or financially supporting their campaigns. That's why the whole CFR agenda is so poisonous to the American democratic system ... it makes it more difficult for those who are on the outside to protect themselves from the avarice of insiders.

Besides, as John Eastman points out,

The whole opinion is 298 pages, affirming in significant part a district court opinion of over 1600 pages, which upheld the 90-page statute, implemented by a 1000 pages of regulations. Somewhere along the way the Court has lost sight of the meaning of "no law," as in "Congress shall pass no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.

BTW, Ken Starr, who argued for the losing side before the court, gave some enlightening answers to questions yesterday in a Washington Post online chat. The transcript is here. And here is a link to a series of pieces from Reason in the early days of the McCain-Feingold debate, some written by me.

A futile and stupid gesture

The Review-Journal's take on the campaign-reform decision (with quotes from Animal House!). Just curious: Has anyone put together an editorial-page scorecard on the ruling? Sure, the mammoth, lefty, establishment papers that Congress exempted from the law (for now, as Justice Thomas noted) cooed about the decision, but I'm not seeing much institutional concern from any papers other than those identified with "the right" over it. Very sad, very shortsighted, and very cynical.