Free Speech under Siege; in California, 'Progressive' Thinking Has Progressed to the Idea That Because Money in Politics Is Bad, Political Competition Is, Too

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, December 5, 2005 | Go to article overview

Free Speech under Siege; in California, 'Progressive' Thinking Has Progressed to the Idea That Because Money in Politics Is Bad, Political Competition Is, Too


Will, George F., Newsweek


Byline: George F. Will

Attacks on freedom of political speech are becoming more brazen. Because the attackers aim to enlarge government's control of the political campaigns that decide who controls government, the attacks advance liberalism's program of extending government supervision of life.

Some liberal senators have filed a brief urging the Supreme Court, in a case concerning Vermont's speech restrictions, to affirm that people like the seven senators--"elected representatives and seasoned participants in the electoral process," meaning professional politicians--"are entitled to broad deference in the regulation of federal elections." Entitled, that is, to regulate the quantity, the timing and even the content of speech about themselves. Indeed, in its 5-4 decision upholding the McCain-Feingold law's expansion of government regulation of political communications, the Supreme Court held that political incumbents are entitled to judicial deference when they write rules that control challenges to their incumbency.

Under Vermont's limits, a candidate for state representative in a single-member district can spend no more than $2,000 in a two-year cycle. Every mile driven by a candidate--or a volunteer--must be computed as a 48.5-cent campaign expenditure. Just driving--and not much of it--can exhaust permissible spending.

In 1976, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of federal limits on large contributions because such limits serve the compelling purpose of preventing corruption--which is already illegal--or the "appearance" of it. But the court struck down spending limits because they involve no similar "appearance." Obviously such laws limit the quantity of political communication and favor the well-known incumbents who enact them: they limit the ability of challengers to make themselves known.

When writing regulations to implement McCain-Feingold, the Federal Election Commission in 2002 declined to bring Internet political speech, meaning bloggers, under the metastasizing federal apparatus of speech regulation. McCain-Feingold does not mention the Internet when listing forms of "public communication" (e.g., mailings, billboards) the FEC should regulate. But unregulated speech is an affront to today's liberalism. And a federal judge with an interesting theory of liberty--that whatever Congress does not specifically exempt from regulation should be regulated--decided that the FEC's exempting the Internet from regulation is impermissible because Congress was silent on the subject. She ordered the FEC to write regulations. This, even though Internet communication is limitless, virtually cost-free and, hence, wonderfully anarchic. …

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