Hoover Daily Report

Campaign Finance Obfuscations

Monday, April 8, 2002

Campaign finance reform is back again, since it's got some powerful Republicans pushing for it! It should never have come to any kind of government action so why have the House and Senate approved a bill that could overhaul the nation's campaign finance laws to a degree not seen since the Watergate scandal nearly three decades ago?

Those who oppose campaign finance reform blew it when they tried to make it a freedom of speech issue. What those who find it disgusting to order people not to send money to whatever group or person they want to support should have done is to make the case on the basis of one's right to liberty of action and right to private property. If I earn money fair and square, it is I, not Congress or the United States president or anyone else, who should get to decide where it will be spent. Unless I am aiding and abetting some kind of violent crime with a victim, I am doing nothing that may be banned by anyone else. As a free citizen, in what purports to be a free society, I get to send money to anyone—and if I join a group for this purpose there should be no questions asked.

So instead of this straightforward defense of campaign contributions—be it soft or hard money—we now have spurious arguments about how regulating or banning such practices amounts to shutting people up. The excuse for this is that the right to private property has become so ill-protected in our legal system that invoking it as a legally powerful reason for keeping and using one's own wealth as one sees fits is nearly impossible. Courts do not pay attention to the fact that one is spending one's own money to advance a cause or a candidate.

But the First Amendment still has some clout. Freedom of the press is championed by at least the press, as well as those in the academic world. So if one wants the freedom to gain legal protection, one must relate it to freedom of speech or expression.

Although it may be a clever legal ploy to argue for freedom of speech, it is not convincing. To gain popular support, something must square with common sense. The defense of spending one's own wealth on some political cause or candidate by linking the spending to free speech just hasn't been persuasive. It's better to be honest and insist on the right to the free use of one's own property.