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Liberty's latest cure: Campaign finance reform

By George F. Smith
web posted February 18, 2002

"Fool me once, shame on you; fool me constantly, you must be Big Brother." -- rule of subjection

Campaign finance reform is Congress's latest expression of love for America. Politicians and their envy-eaten allies who favor reform are selling it as a victory for the common man over corrupt monied interests like Enron. As they see it, giant corporations, eager to put pals in office, funnel soft money to their favorite political parties where it often ends up hard at work supporting their candidates, thereby giving them government privileges the rest of us are denied.

On the other side, pro-liberty pundits are screaming about the unconstitutionality of the bill now going into the Senate. They could pick almost any bill at random and holler just as loud. There's nothing in the Constitution, they say, authorizing Congress to control political campaigns -- a view with which proponents of reform completely agree. With one catch.

Daniel Ortiz of the Brookings Institute spells out that catch: "One would search the Constitution in vain," he wrote in 1997, "for any mention of 'campaign finance,' let alone 'contributions,' 'expenditures,' 'soft money,' or any of the other specialized terms in the campaign finance vocabulary. Yet despite this silence, the U.S. Supreme Court has firmly and repeatedly held that the Constitution greatly limits what Congress and the states can do." (emphasis added) [1]

By virtue of that silence, the Constitution does limit what Congress can do. But to people like Ortiz, this interpretation is inhumane because it prohibits legal compulsion, except as punishment for a crime. They don't want to leave people alone, they want to dictate how they should live. One of the major victories of the New Deal was the unofficial repeal of the Tenth Amendment, which opened the gates for Congress to bleed and control business. The resultant havoc raised cries for more regulations, sending us spiraling towards statism. But to demagogues, interventionism is the great savior of American capitalism. It's the best thing they¹ve got as a cure for liberty.

Besides being flagrant violations of our rights, restrictions on campaign spending happen to favor incumbents, a coincidence that apparently tip-toed past our public-spirited legislators. "Money is of much greater value to challengers than to incumbents," Cato Institute's Bradley Smith writes, "so higher spending opens up the political system to new people and ideas." [2]

But incumbents could object. They could point out that the American people perceived that our government had a scant $2,000,000,000,000 budget with which to prevent 9-11 and so wisely demanded drastic increases in funding and power. The idea of ignoring the Constitution to guarantee our safety is unfortunate, pols will admit, but at least now when we board a plane we'll land at an airport instead of a conference room -- by virtue of converting minimum-wagers to federal employees and shaking down soccer moms and their progeny. If campaign finance reform will keep out of office radicals who are blinded by allegiance to the Constitution, then this legislation is truly a case of God blessing America.

If we peek behind the rhetoric of politicians calling for more control over our lives, we'll find an infallible fidelity to force. Acts of God notwithstanding, social problems emerge from the human act of choosing. The government's role, they believe, is to put a stop to those choices -- by passing laws. Their purpose is to convert us from beings who choose to robots who obey. This is what kept legislators up until 3:00 a.m. on Valentine's Day morning, ensuring we don't corrupt any more elections as we did when we chose them for office.

Government regulation has always been a con game. It creates havoc and injustice, not order and fairness. Nonetheless, it's sold to the public as a way of instilling civility in an otherwise dog-eat-dog economic system. That's Big Brother's two-for-one sale -- two myths in one breath. Government schools perpetuate these myths with great success.

Leftist commentators in the media and higher education point to Enron as a textbook example of the evils of unregulated capitalism. But Enron was buried in regulations, as are all business entities. If anything, the regulations helped provide a false sense of security for those who didn't know better. As for the fraud Enron committed, that's been on the books for ages as a criminal act, independent of politicians' meddling fingers.

As economist William L. Anderson explains, the Enron "collapse did not come because regulators blew the whistle on the company's fraudulent operations, but rather because potential investors came to realize the company's shell games could no longer be hidden. The judgment of investors . . . was swift and sudden: America's corporate darling was relegated to the abyss of penny stocks." [3]

While government has the power to run our lives, there will always be favor-seekers and mounting abuse. We need to take away that power. We need to restore the Tenth Amendment and return our lives to their rightful owners.

1. http://www.brook.edu/gs/cf/sourcebk/chap3.htm -- Campaign Finance Reform: A sourcebook, Ch. 3 "The First Amendment at Work: Constitutional Restrictions on Campaign Finance Law," Daniel R. Ortiz.

2. http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa238.html -- Policy Analysis, Campaign Finance Regulation: Faulty Assumptions and Undemocratic Consequences, Bradley A. Smith.

3. http://www.mises.org/fullstory.asp?control=892&FS=Regulation+and+Reality -- Regulation and Reality, William L. Anderson.

George Smith is full-time freelance writer with a special interest in liberty issues and screenwriting. His articles have appeared on Ether Zone, and in the Gwinnett Daily Post, Writer's Yearbook, Creative Loafing, and Goal Magazine. He has a web site for screenwriters and other writers at http://personal.atl.bellsouth.net/atl/g/f/gfs543/

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