Saturday, August 28, 2004

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(Updated for coherence, August 28 1155PM):

In news totally unsurprising to anyone who has not suffered a major head trauma, election spending restrictions are having massive unintended consequences, and not just in Canada: the U.S. is having their own problems arising from attempting to regulate political speech.

With apologies to Colby Cosh, the Washington Post's George Will is punditry's leader in exploding the myths surrounding campaign finance reform and regulated political speech. He rightly and frequently notes that money is speech, and restricting the former necessarily restricts the latter. (Fortunately, the correlation is not linear, or mathematical at all.)

With new McCain-Feingold restrictions on how candidates are allowed to raise and spend money, people with an interest in influencing the outcome of November's elections are simply bypassing the candidates and advertising on their own. Result: spending on electioneering continues to increase (apparently the people want to be heard, or something), but the candidates have even less control over the message.

But I'll gloss over the overall absurdity of restricting the most important kind of speech we have, and direct you to Will's column from last Sunday, introducing us to an unintended and absurd consequence of the USA's latest set of regulations. That is: a chain of Wisconsin car dealerships may have to suspend advertising for the 30 days prior to November 2nd, because the chain is named after its founder, now Republican senatorial candidate Russ Darrow.

...Jay Heck, director of the Wisconsin operations of Common Cause, the national advocacy organization for enlarged government regulation of political advocacy, says: "Why should (Darrow) have an unfair advantage and be able to pay to have his name out there with corporate money, where his opponents have to use regulated, disclosed money?''

Ah, fairness. Every argument for campaign spending restrictions is based on one of two premises: we should strive for "fairness" (but don't let it cross your mind that there might be more than one model of fairness out there), or that we need to address the perception that "money has too much influence in elections". Here's a rule of thumb for you: any law that seeks primarily to address a "perception" of anything is intrinsically horseshit.

Anyway, read the whole column and shake your head. (And pause to note that, by Mr. Heck's logic, a Tim Horton "Jr." could exact financial revenge on those who bought out his father's legacy for pennies on the dollar by running for Canadian office).

I also invite you to ponder the following question. It was posed in print to John Kerry as part of a long list, but really this kind of illogic prevails across the political spectrum:

You and other supporters of increased government regulation of political spending say this does not abridge freedom of speech. What does most of your spending pay for?


At 12:48 p.m., Blogger Greg said...

Aldini, I might give you your point when talking about a two party system like they have in the U.S., but with our multi-party system (which spans from left to right), I just don't see opinions not being expressed. The Conservative Party used all avaiable media to express its platform and particapted fully in all debates. It expressed its conservative ideas well and picked up seats in the last election. Similarly, the NDP articulated the ideas of the left. Now, the fact that we did not do as well as we would have liked, is not the fault of the so called gag law (it is the fault of our electoral system).

It seems to me you what you are arguing is that the "right" needs help to argue its case. That the Conservative Party alone, is inadequate by itself to overcome, what you see as a Liberal bias in the media. I respectfully disagree. The last election was salvaged by the Liberals not because of media bias, but because the Liberal message (even if it was negative and I, as an NDP supporter, hated it) touched enough voters to sway the result. If your party (and I realize that I am making a huge assumption that you are a Conservative supporter) did not win its case, maybe it needs to rethink its message, or make a stronger case next time. Anyway, that is my two cents. Enjoyed your post.

At 11:35 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...


And what about ideas and opinions that are NOT being articulated by the registered political parties? Gag laws restrict them from being aired in the mainstream marketplace of ideas. Why should all political speech be filtered by party spin flacks? As usual we have Liberals waxing illiberal and New "Democrats" favouring hamstrung "democracy" - all in the name of "fairness" which more often than not translates as "restrict the other guy's freedom to speak".


At 2:23 p.m., Blogger Greg said...

Well, give me some examples of ideas not being articulated by the parties. There seem to be parties for just about any opinion you can imagine, from the Christian Heritage Party on the right to the Communist Party on the left. I am not trying to be obtuse, but I am not sure that it is a problem.

At 7:38 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man! Examples! We were discussing the principles surrounding the gagging of free speech. Do you honestly believe that the "parties" can articulate "every" issue to "everyone's" satisfaction? The question remains - why should parties have a monopoly on political expression? If we continue on this path we'll soon be inundated with single-issue parties - to be followed closely by increasingly restrictive rules for forming them. Too bizarre! ...Jake


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