This is Part II of a response to the program segment shown below. With the Senate Majority Leader Reid routinely attacking the far-right billionaire Koch brothers on the floor of the Senate and Democrats bringing up an amendment for a vote to overturn Citizens United this year, the debate of whether money can be constitutionally untangled from political speech is heating up. On May 16th, Chris Hayes, the host of All In had MSNBC contributor, Josh Barro, on his show to discuss an amendment to render constitutional the regulation of money in campaign finance. The second half of the segment, including the interview with Barro, begins at 8:13; his false ontology will be addressed below.
Ontology is “the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. [O]ntology deals with questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist, and how such entities can be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.” There is little question that money and speech exists; the issue to be settled is whether they are equivalent or not. Are there more similarities or differences? If the latter, then how did they become equivalent; and how can the American people break this equivalency?
Barrow’s equivalence confuses speech with volume. The sheer volume of television and radio advertising of speech, the same campaign ad over and over perhaps, is different from the content of the ad, the actual speech. The issue with political competition (elections) is fairness. Rich people certainly do not want a level playing field, i,e. campaign finance reforms. In theory 99% of Americans should want fair elections, but the Josh Barros and other magicians, who turn money into speech, will mislead and confuse some of the people all of the time. Barro has tweeted, that elites “are usually elite for good reason, and have better judgment than the average person” and has identified himself as “neo-liberal.”
Money is legal tender. It pays for speech, and it can amplify speech. Money is the medium, not the message. The more money, the “louder” (more frequent) the speech. An American oligarchy is a government where a consistent majority of Congress has the support of the wealthy few and then governs in the interests of those funders of their campaigns. It is, as Hayes pointed out, what studies indicate we have in place today in the United States. As a medium of election activities, money can be regulated under the Constitution without limiting the content of speech in any way.
Equating money with speech is a corruption, a distortion of the First Amendment that began with Buckley v Valeo. The Supreme Court was wrong to equate money with speech in 1976. A well-written amendment would restore the First Amendment to allow Congress to regulate political spending and giving should they choose to. The language offered in Move to Amend’s We the People Amendment compels (“Federal, State and local government shall…”) legislatures to treat money in politics as one of many manners of holding elections under Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution. Retired Justice John Paul Stevens has argued that correcting this Court imposed doctrine will require a constitutional amendment.
Those arguing for the ontological false equivalency of money and speech are directing the American experiment in self-government toward plutocratic oligarchy where there are only elections between candidates supporting the views of one faction of the oligarchy (conservatives) or another faction of it (reformers). The ideology of the wealthy campaign funders is moot. Comprehensive campaign finance reformers want to direct the American experiment in self-government back toward what was in place in the United States until Buckley (1976) and away from plutocracy. As Professor Schultz writes in The National Law Review, “Allowing the allocative criteria of the economy to substitute for equality in the political arena gives money and wealth a role that they just should not have in American democracy.”
A vision or model of fair elections can clarify a lot. Elections are expensive. Congress has the option of making the airwaves (television and radio) free to all candidates on the ballot in equal amounts; but, if the votes in Congress are not there for that idea, campaign finance reform can still equalize citizenship in politics. Comprehensive campaign finance reform could include voter debit card system* — run through the Post Office perhaps — to provide equal amounts of money to spend on candidates who are on the ballot and registered PACs. If all eligible voters were allotted $50.00/yr to spend on candidates or PACs, it would add money to the total amount spent in 2012. This would keep money in politics and aid with the costs of “electioneering communications.” Candidates and PACs would have to become debit merchants through the Post Office. One voter, $100/election cycle, one vote. Keeping the spending high will garner support for equal citizenship from the media-campaign complex that has arisen.
A compromise bill might result in a two-tier system where tax-payers could check a box and add more money to the “voter bucs” debit account up to an amount that will depend upon the ideological make-up of the House and Senate if and when Congress and state legislatures ever reattain the power they had for the first 180+ years of the Republic. The Court has usurped this power beginning with Buckley in 1976 and continuing with Citizens United, Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom PAC and recently with the McCutcheon decision.
Cheaters would be stripped of their office and a replacement selected by rule. Selling debit information (“voter bucks”) should result in a one-two year suspension of debit card recharge. Buying or stealing debit information should be punishable with fines and jail time.
Reforming campaign spending is more difficult. It costs money to start a campaign. Limits on overall spending to keep elections fair must take this into account. Spending limits would vary widely from low-cost local races to high cost presidential campaigns. The idea is to give the best ideas, expressed as campaign platforms, as good of a chance to win an election as any candidate backed by the 0.05% of the wealthy few. The ideal is a government of, by and for the people, not corporations and their primary owners. Equalizing speech expenses would enhance speech content because more diverse ideas would be heard. Candidates of average means could compete with those backed by plutocrats.
Getting an amendment passed in the Congress of millionaires backed by multimillionaires and billionaires will require far greater public demand for it than is currently heard. Voters will have to make this a key determining factor when they vote. Unfortunately, another economic disaster may be needed to wake people up to the dangers of corporate governance. Because the game is so rigged in support of financial elites, Congress may have to be bypassed to restore American democratic order.
* The 50$/voter idea is a slight modification of Professor Lessig’s ideal of equal citizenship.