Why conservatives should care about the campaign finance reform issue

Renew AmericaOn Tuesday, the headlines came out that the Supreme Court is planning on revisiting arguments for a case involving campaign finance reform that it first heard this spring, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The case revolves around a 90-minute long documentary about Hillary Clinton that was prepared by a conservative activist group, Citizens United, and which was released right around the time that the primary season was starting last year. Because of this, the Federal Election Commission ruled that it constituted "electioneering" advertisement, and could be regulated under the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002. At issue, fundamentally, is whether corporations and groups should be able to influence the political process, since the funding for the Citizens United documentary came, in part, from corporate sponsors. The Court has hinted that two prior precedents could be overturned that prevent corporations from funding political broadcasts and politically oriented books in the timeframe immediately prior to an election.

Campaign finance reform is one of those issues that fails to generate a lot of interest for many people. That's really a shame, because it is a very important constitutional issue that could potentially impact our lives in a very great way. Yet, many conservatives I've talked to are neutral, lukewarm, or even in favor of it. Well, this issue is important, and that's why I am addressing it here from the perspective of conservative philosophy, as boring and untitillating as it may be.

Leftists have longed hoped to be able to remove the ability of private citizens and groups of citizens to influence the direction and policies of our government. This drive has taken place under the guise of "campaign finance reform," an euphemism that disguises its real purpose. The arguments advanced by leftists typically revolve around the "need" to reduce, and then eliminate, the corrupting effects of "corporate" money on our political system. "The people" — that nebulous entity to whom leftists often appeal for justification — ought to be the ones who influence our government's policies. By "corporate," leftists typically mean "any organization whose goals conflict with the progressive agenda." Hence, groups like the NRA or pro-life organizations would fall under the opprobrium of "corrupting corporate influence" just as much as Big Pharma or Big Insurance. Conversely, by "the people," the Left usually means "left-wing activists and activist groups who have arrogated to themselves the role of speaking for everyone, whether they like it or not." The goal of "campaign finance reform" is eventually to eliminate private donation to campaigns entirely, and replace it with a public financing system similar to what exists in many European countries at present. If all candidates and parties have to get money from government financing, so the argument runs, then the corruption due to "corporate" influence will be removed, and "the people" will be better represented.

The problems with these arguments are both numerous and obvious.

First and foremost is that this nationalization of political speech — and face it, the ability to contribute to the funding of campaigns or issue-oriented media is as much speech as anything else — places our freedom of speech in a precarious position. No longer would you or I be able to support the candidates and issues of our choice through the concrete means of giving our money to the cause. Instead, the government would be completely, incontestably able to decide whose political persuasion gets money, and whose doesn't. If the leftists got their way, and with the sort of complete control of the apparatus of government that they currently enjoy, there would be nothing to stop them from simply deciding that the Republicans and the Libertarians and whatnot are too "extreme," and therefore will not receive any public funding, which would essentially kill any political opposition in the cradle. This argument isn't theoretical. This already routinely takes place in Europe, where the dominant left-center parties in several countries have defunded smaller opposition Right parties, especially those that oppose the Islamification through immigration that is taking place on that continent. It's a way that the Left in Europe has of stifling opposition before it has the chance to get out of hand.

I've discussed before the fact that the Left is basically a knowledge-control cult. The Left hates the free flow of information. This is why they want to kill talk radio. It's why they want to hand control of the internet to Obama and some Czar that he gets to appoint without the advice and consent of Congress. This is why they cooked up the idiotic idea of having an email address that the leftist ground troops could use to "snitch" on people who aren't on board with the Democrats' efforts to destroy our health care system. Campaign finance reform is just another link in that chain. If the government gets to control the flow of money to political parties, then the government gets to control the flow and direction of political discourse. Wrong ideas? No money.

Ironically, this would serve to actually make the government less responsive to the will of the people, not more so. Think about what it would be like it there was no credible political opposition to the government because it has been defunded, and any independent attempts to get the word out via any type of media are criminalized. Consider where we'd be if the Left got its way, and there was no outlet for the millions of Americans who, for instance, oppose the attempt to impose health care "reform" onto us. You'd have the government "doing something," but the will of the people — as has been repeatedly expressed through everything from polls to town halls — would be completely shut out. That's what the Left would like to see happen. That's why the Democrats and their activist groups are so incensed that conservative groups are allowed to publicly debunk all the lies that the leftists are telling us about their health care plans. With the sort of campaign finance scheme they'd like to see put into place, they'd have free run of the marketplace of ideas by default. However, it would no longer be a marketplace, but an echo chamber. In short, the leftists who want public control of election financing are really angling to see a one-party system established — by their party — if it were possible. And consider how responsive to the will of the people one-party systems usually are, which is to say, not at all.

Therein lies the crux. The elimination of private financing of elections is a strike against the democratic traditions of our Republic. Corporate bodies such as the NRA, Right to Life, the Club for Growth, and so forth are not evil, faceless right-wing entities that are seeking to impose their agendas onto "the people." These groups ARE "the people," or at least a good share of us. Why does the NRA have millions of dollars available with which to lobby politicians? It comes from the dues paid by the millions of individual citizens who are members of that organization. In essence, the NRA is not promoting its own agenda, but the agenda of millions of American citizens who have voluntarily chosen to associate themselves with that group. The same can be said for any public advocacy group (even those on the Left, like pro-abortion or environmentalist groups). The ability of large numbers of Americans to form voluntary associations, and to exert a greater influence on the policies of our government than they could individually and alone, represents the true democratization of our political system. It makes our system truly "of the people." Limiting the capacity of these groups (or, as is typical attempted by the Left, to limit those groups with whom the Left disagrees) to advocate and influence our government through campaign finance "reform" is a strike at the very popular foundation of our political system. It transfers power out of the hands of the average citizens, and into the hands of politically suitable bureaucrats and politicians who are able to control the public financing.

This is true even for political donations by actual, true-to-life for-profit corporations. Businesses are made up of individuals, and represent an "association" just as much as does any non-profit advocacy group. The actions of a business are, in a sense, performed on behalf of the thousands or possibly millions of shareholders who own stock and have a vested interest in seeing the company remain profitable. Further, a company benefits the hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of employees who exchange their labor for a paycheck. If the company is not profitable because it didn't compete with all the other myriad of pressure groups out there, then the employees of that company will suffer. By acting for the good of the profit margin, the company is acting for the good of each person who has a stake in the corporation.

Ultimately, campaign finance reform represents an assault on our First Amendment rights — both to free speech and to freedom of assembly. Using your money to support a group that lobbies for policies that you agree with is a form of speech. You are exerting your voice in a way that you could not if you were acting alone, reliant only upon your own resources. Indeed, you are doing so in a way that allows you to compete more effectively with those who individually have more resources than you. With democratization comes equalization. Having groups like the NRA or National Right to Life with multiple millions at their disposal helps the average conservative citizen to be better able to oppose rich, left-wing bankrollers like George Soros or Bill Gates.

Likewise, our Constitution guarantees us the right to freedom of assembly — which means we have the ability to freely associate with whatever group or organization we choose, for whatever purpose. If the ability of these free associations to lobby and influence our political process is destroyed, then that removes much of the reason for these associations to exist in the first place. The government, by controlling election financing, would be indirectly acting to suppress the existence of voluntary citizen organizations. De Tocqueville observed the democratizing effect that voluntary associations had in early America. This effect would be nullified, and citizens would find themselves pressured even more to instead identify with and yield themselves to an oligarchic state.

In short, for all those conservatives out there who misguidedly support campaign finance reform, or who are ambivalent towards the issue, please consider the effect that this has on our freedom. There is nothing liberty-friendly about this "reform." It is, instead, a move by those on the Left to destroy the ability of their competition to have equal access to public participation. This means that you — conservatives — will be directly harmed by it, as will our entire free political system, which is predicated on the right of the people to have a say in their own government. Get active, and help us oppose campaign finance reform. Don't let the Left take away your voice.

© Tim Dunkin