Jan. 22nd, 2010

I can't decide whether I agree with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which essentially ruled that the government is not allowed to regulate corporate speech intended to directly influence an election (in the specific case, a movie swift-boating then-candidate Hillary Clinton set to air during the most electoral-rich days of the 2008 presidential primaries). In a sense, it definitely seems like the court may be prepared to take the final step of declaring that all campaign finance limits aside from public disclosure is a violation of free speech, which would get us back to the worst days of influence peddling from the era of the robber barons. On the other hand, I think it really was an arbitrary law censoring the free exchange of ideas (silly and nigh-slanderous as they were), and that's hard to be a fan of. Of course, as always, one gets the impression that only one of the justices had to listen to the arguments before making up his mind. Indeed, so much so that the justices decided that they needed a second round of arguments when the conservative wing decided in deliberations that they would also invalidate parts of the finance law that weren't directly addressed by the case that was being argued before them.

But a part of me thinks that Supreme Court rulings aren't something that you should like or dislike, but some passive event like an earthquake or getting laid off. We've got some pretty big lemons here, what are we going to do with them? I wonder if there aren't opportunities here. The notion of public control of American government has been a bad joke since the 1920's and I haven't seen a regulation in my lifetime that hasn't been instantly worked around. I'm not so angry about it being unconstitutional, I want to talk about how it's been ineffective! We evidently can't remove the influence of money from elections, and we can argue about whether we should be allowed to try. So let's go further back to the source and try to create a culture in which absurd amounts of money don't help you much more than big amounts.

I like the idea of disclosure a lot. It would be nice if you could easily connect the dots to see that The American Family Foundation For Liberty And Family that ran that ad opposed to the public option was really the health care insurance industry taking money raised from your high premiums and using it to convince you to not reform their ability to continue making yet wilder profits at your expense. I don't think it's a liberal or conservative issue; I can't imagine that anyone likes it when a bully asks them why they are hitting themselves. And I am hopeful that the internet has made disseminating the truth cheaper and faster than producing an ad for a lie. We just need to develop the skills to do that, and more importantly to see the importance of it.

To underscore, this isn't a partisan issue. We haven't done anything if we just make ourselves smarter. We need to get people that we aren't used to agreeing with that none of us look forward to the corporate takeover of government, and until the Supreme Court gives the vote to corporations we all have the power and the responsibility of an informed electorate. We will always disagree over who our next Senator should be, but we will always agree that it is a decision that shouldn't be made as half-mindedly as we are used to.

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Matthew Daly

December 2012

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