Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Money Talks

I'm more than a little frustrated with the Supreme Court and these campaign finance rules. I'm not so much against the rulings as the reasoning. Money rules the world, that's the state of things (for the time being); I think it's a little silly for us to think our laws can change that in some way (although I'm not against trying). However, the idea that the money I give to someone is somehow and expression of speech is downright silly.

Yes, lending support via cash is a way of expressing yourself, but so is punching someone in the face. It always helps to have some insight into motivation. I suppose you call this kind of "speech" art, in that it leaves interpretation up to the individual, but it's not even direct speech. That's really my problem.

Essentially, what a gift speech is doing is saying, "I support this candidate or organization," the message is intended for a general audience. However, anonymity obscures that communication. We end up with ads and flyers that essentially say, "some people with money think what we say is good." That's not real speech, it's funding someone else's speech.

Again, I'm not opposed to that sort of thing. I think it's going to happen anyway. I do, however, think it's perfectly appropriate to make such speech clear and public. We, who are hearing these messages (especially as their broadcast publicly) deserve the right to know who's speaking. Anonymous acts are cowardly.

It's been argued in court, successfully sometimes, that donors have a right to anonymity to protect them from backlash by opponents of their views. It seems to me that acceptance of reprisals are a good and natural part of our free speech doctrine. I'm not talking about criminal or violent response; that is wrong, but being cut off from business or other relationships because of what we say is simply a natural consequence of speech. The government can't penalize someone for their speech, of course, but the rest of us are (and should be) perfectly welcome to do so.

(Many of my evangelical brethren seem near addicted to boycotts for any perceived slight of speech; they also seem to be the least capable of receiving the same treatment for their own speech... odd.)

In the end, I think I've come up with a compromise that might please everybody. I'm not sure bans and limits of campaign finance will really work, but what if we required the donors to appear in the ads they fund. What if we really required political giving to be actual speech?

What if, instead of the slickly produced attack ads with blatantly false or misleading ominous voice overs, we had grizzled, wrinkly, 80-year-old Sheldon Adleson whining crankily about whatever issues he's upset with at the moment?

That seems more real and more fair. If you respect the guy's opinion, then you'll listen, if you don't, you'll tune out. Just like real speech. The same would go for the UAW or the NEA or the Sierra Club.

There may have been a time in the world where words could be received devoid of context. I suspect more than a few of our Supreme Court Justices still live in that world. I'm just not sure most of the rest of us do.

I don't mind all the money poured into election campaigns - I think it's a waste and an embarrassment, but certainly not immoral - I do think the receivers of those messages are owed some transparency.

It only makes sense.

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