Money’s freedom of speech

Posted on April 3, 2014
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April 3, 2014

I am wrestling with the issue of unrestrained contributions to political campaigns and action committees in the U.S. On the one hand, I think freedom of speech should apply to people, not money. People with money should not have larger freedom of speech.
On the other hand, I don’t have an easy response to Republican House Leader, John Boehner’s statement to reporters, “You all have the freedom to write what you want to write. Donors ought to have the freedom to give what they want to give.”
A.J. Liebling famously said, “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one”. Obviously columnists and editorial writers have a larger freedom of speech than the ordinary citizen.
Some years ago, a Canadian was charged with violating election law for printing and hand-delivering a flyer telling voters not to support a candidate for Parliament. The citizen was angry about the lack of support he got in an employment issue when the candidate was the mayor of Toronto. It didn’t seem right that he should be silenced.
I am convinced that the Chretien government was on the right track when it limited the amount people could contribute to parties, banned contributions from corporations and unions, gave $1.25 per year per vote to parties that polled more than 5% of the vote in the last election, and gave tax credits, not deductions, on a declining scale up to the limit. The program made it obvious to candidates that they were responsible and accountable to their constituents.

The Harper government has done away with the $1.25 and is scaling back the tax credits.
The Chretien system doesn’t deal with the issue of why the media should have a larger voice in opinion pieces. There used to be a regulation for media using publicly-owned airwaves in the U.S. to provide equal time to opponents of their opinion pieces. That’s gone now as witness the performance of some of the networks.
However the current financial free-for-all is obviously toxic to democracy. Elected representatives cannot represent the people who elected them. They dare not oppose the huge pressure groups who virtually own them. It is also counter to all ideas of ethical, moral and fair human behaviour that the growing prevalence of negative, often largely untrue, campaign ads could become an accepted norm in our social interactions.

On we go. DAC


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