Enter Stage Gabbing

First Amendment consistency

By Steven Martinovich

(September 25, 2000) Consistency may be the hobgoblin of small minds but it isn't a bugbear for politicians, at least not Arizona Senator John McCain (R). The senator, who is the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, seemed to come out against censoring the entertainment industry not too long ago. That committee recently heard testimony on a Federal Trade Commission report alleging the industry has been targeting violent and sexually explicit material to underage audiences

"Before we embark on censorship," said McCain during a September 17 appearance on ABC's This Nation, "we'd better make very sure where this all leads."

While it's not an outright rejection of Vice President Al Gore's call for sanctions on the entertainment industry unless they "voluntarily" accept limitations on their speech, McCain at least didn't resort to censorship as a first option. Not that he hasn't done so before.

When it comes to campaign finance reform, McCain doesn't have any problem with limiting free speech. In a rather ironic turn of events, McCain even recently threatened to shut down the Senate this coming year unless campaign finance was dealt with in a manner that the senator supported.

"I believe we have enough friends and comrades that we can force that," he said.

And he has tried to force it in the past. McCain, along with Wisconsin Senator Russell Feingold (D) have proposed a complete ban on so-called "soft money" -- the unlimited and unregulated contributions from corporations, labor unions and individuals to political parties. The pair also want ads that advocate the defeat or election of candidates under the guise of advocating an issue banned.

This year's election must be a complete anathema to McCain. Texas Governor George W. Bush raised record amounts during his nomination bid and continues to haul in large donations. Vice President Al Gore, no stranger to accepting money that "no controlling authority" can ban, has accepted millions of dollars in the last few weeks alone from those in the entertainment industry. Yes, those same people Gore is trying to censor...well, at least that's what he says.

Simply put, campaign finance reform only gives aid to two groups: media and the government. Though one would expect the media to defend speech - they do jump into court at any opportunity to defend their First Amendment rights - most major newspapers have decided to support campaign finance reform. The reason why a group of people who believe in free speech would support legislation that would limit political speech is fairly obvious. Fear of competition.

The media enjoys the enviable position of being the guardians of the information gate. Even with the Internet, most people continue to get their information from the traditional venues of news media. As House Majority Whip Tom DeLay told a Cato Institute audience on July 20, "[T]he fewer competing sources of information, the better. It's a simple case of existing businesses pushing out rivals and imposing new barriers to entry." No newspaper in America would voluntarily accept the McCain-Feingold restrictions on their editorial content but it is good enough for you.

Government likes proposals like McCain-Feingold because they would promise to reduce the ability of opponents to complain about bureaucracy - the business of America today. If you make it harder to complain about expanding government, you can expand government all you like.

The best campaign finance reform is none at all. While today's system isn't perfect, it's much better than any of the proposals put on the table. Public financing - which Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura supports and calls "socialist" - would force citizens to support the campaigns of people they may hate or remove them from the process. You can't ban any particular special interest group since everyone belongs to one group or another. And no matter what you do, you give more power to government or media.

As DeLay pointed out, America has had a campaign finance law since its inception. It is called the First Amendment.

"Unfettered political speech, along with the right to bear arms, is the most certain means we possess of protecting the rest of our freedoms," he said.

If McCain truly wants to fix the system, which by all accounts could use some fixing, he would do well to support a complete drop of all rules with the exception of full disclosure. Voters could then judge a candidate by who is donating money and how much and what effect that largess could have on a person seeking elected office. It would mean less government and wouldn't infringe upon Constitutional rights.

It would also mean that John McCain would be consistent in his support of fundamental freedoms.

Thanks for reading,

Steven Martinovich


Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

web posted August 28, 2000

ESR writer quoted in the Washington Times

On August 23, the Washington Times printed some of Diane Alden's commentary in its Culture Briefs section on page 2, specifically, several paragraphs from her piece "A run for the border" which ESR ran on August 14.

You can find the section online at http://www.washtimes.com/culture/culturebriefs-2000823211050.htm

Congratulations to Diane! And thank you to Charles Bloomer who came across the reference!

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