Wait! Don’t run. This is important. The preamble may be (arguably) humorous, but this is serious business.
One of my readers, in an e-mail, lambasted me and some other bloggers who are or have been in the military for not commenting on the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in favor of the McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan Campaign Finance Reform Bill. To be honest, sometimes I know better than to discuss a subject about which I’m a bit ignorant or that I feel may be a bit above my skill level. Such was the case with this one. So I waited, read and learned a bit about it.
I read about the bill, read what other pundits, both professional and amateur, were saying about it, and mulled it over using my own admittedly limited knowledge base.
Heck, I only have a community college degree in Liberal (no laughing) Arts. I took some great history, literature and government classes en route, but they were just the foundation, not the building. So as I read, listen, watch and learn, I continue to build.
Sometimes it’s a bit intimidating to read some of the other blogging: scotch-swilling former military officers, lawyers who love Trek, curmudgeonly engineers, wild men with lit degrees, concert pianists with warped senses of humor, Russian spies not in from the cold, etc. What does some retired enlisted Air Force chick with an AA degree know? What would a Ranger know of these matters? (Sorry, couldn’t resist an LOTR line.) But those moments of insecurity, while not completely quashed, are held in check and put to use as a buffer against getting in over my head.
With an honest reading of my limitations out of the way, let’s see if a humble (hah!), mild-mannered (snicker), reasonably literate, normal (whatever) citizen can adequately crawl up the bowels of this subject. Forgive me if I spell out some things that may be well-known or self-evident to some.
From what I gather, McCain-Feingold restricts donations to political parties to $2000 and it restricts news organizations from printing/broadcasting presidential campaign ads within a certain period of time prior to an election. Many of its opponents fear that it is a violation of the First Amendment. Is it? Well let’s look at how the First Amendment reads.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.To abridge (according to Webster’s Third) means to “to diminish (as a right) by reducing.”
But wait! There already are some abridgments on the press. A press agency can be prosecuted for knowingly printing or broadcasting something demonstrably false, known as committing libel and slander, respectively. Obviously, neither is applicable to McCain-Feingold.
Telling the press when they, by law, can and/or cannot transmit non-slanderous or non-libelous information sounds like abridgment to me.
Has Congress passed this bill? They have. Has the president signed it? He has.
I want to know two things: the reason the legislative and executive branches agreed to this and why we citizens were asleep at the switch long enough to let it happen. Too boring? Not “sexy” enough? There’s one more thing I want to know: is the upholding of this bill by the judicial branch a harbinger of a slippery slop? In my government class, I learned that the SCOTUS often bases its decisions on precedent; they make their decisions based on previous ones (Brown v. the Board of Education of 1954 being a notable exception; it went 180 degrees away from Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896; the latter gave a legal basis to “Jim Crow” laws; the former dispatched them).
If one form of freedom of expression is muzzled, will that be the end of it? Or will the branches of government make more such laws, basing them on this one? Will it get to the point where others (read: bloggers) cannot transmit their opinions, informed and uninformed, on presidential candidates or anything else whenever they want? That’s how the SCOTUS concept of precedent works, yes?
As for the monetary—soft money—limitation, outside of funding criminal enterprise, since when is it constitutionally justifiable to tell an American citizen, rich or otherwise, what he/she what can or cannot do with his/her money? And what about this (Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1)?
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.(Though a state can't deny equal protection, does that mean that the federal government can? Help me, legal eagles.) Under McCain-Feingold, is protection applied equally to the man of modest means who wants to contribute two hundred dollars to the Democratic Party in the name of his small business and to the big-time CEO who wants to contribute $200,000 to the same in the name of his large corporation? Will the man/corporation who contributes the larger amount have a greater influence on, say, Senator Lieberman, than the first one? Maybe. So what? Let’s take another hypothetical situation and suppose that 10,000 members of a large professional union or a religious group contribute twenty dollars each to the Republican Party. Will they have influence on its candidates? Maybe. Again, so what?
What is wrong with influence, in and of itself? Influence can be large or small, good or bad. Is the potentially large influence of a big money contributor always bad? That’s how this normal citizen reads this SCOTUS decision. In judging that the constitutionality of McCain-Feingold is valid, the SCOTUS applies unequal protection of the law to the respective influence of a rich man/entity and an man/entity of modest means.
Being rich and having influence is being made to be illegal, because of that unspoken assumption: rich people are bad, every last one of them. Will it stop there? Who will be declared to be “bad” next? Who’s the next group that will be deemed to have too much of a sinister influence on political campaigns?
Oh, yes, and for the first time, President Bush has really ticked me off here.
(Thanks to Francis W. Poretto and e-mail correspondent Maj. Tim Mersereau for giving me the push to write this.)