In Defense of Campaign Reform
In his Airtime “Stand Up for Free Speech,” [5/8, p. 48], Patrick D. Maines of the industry-backed Media Institute took a shot at the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, labeling it an “affront to the First Amendment.” His shot is a misfire.
Maines, like many opponents of campaign-finance reform, oversimplifies the issue by stating that the courts have ruled that “money is speech.”
Not quite. The courts have recognized that an individual's ability to spend his or her own money to express the individual's views has a high level of protection under the First Amendment.
But that wasn't at issue in McCain-Feingold. The issues in that legislation centered on whether unions and corporations could spend unlimited millions in their general treasury funds to influence the outcome of elections (answer: no) and whether ads that mention candidates by name in the period right before an election should be treated like other campaign ads (answer: yes).
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the argument that McCain-Feingold was an affront to the First Amendment. The High Court found that the legislation's “soft-money” restrictions do “little more than regulate the ability of wealthy individuals, corporations and unions to contribute large sums of money to influence federal elections, federal candidates and federal officeholders.”
The court held this “marginal” restriction on speech to be fully justified by “both common sense and the ample record,” confirming that soft-money contributions have a corrupting influence on government.
Misleading shorthand like that used by Maines only serves to obfuscate, not clarify, the First Amendment issues at hand.
Policy Director, The Campaign Legal Center
Who Should Decide?
The Center for Media & Democracy's Diane Farsetta wants “the FCC to require continuous on-screen disclosure of the source of provided and/or sponsored video,” she wrote in an Airtime [“Let's Label 'Canned' News Video,” 5/15, p. 26]. This strikes me as unconstitutional because TV newscasts, like newspapers and magazines, are protected from government interference under the First Amendment. But if you push the argument further, here are just a few questions one must ask:
- How will the FCC regulate TV/radio political talk to ensure equal time?
- How will the FCC regulate media conglomerates when they co-opt their news divisions to promote their other businesses, such as publishing and films?
- Which government agency will regulate the use of press releases by the print and Internet news media to ensure “full disclosure” when they are used?
Let the TV-news directors decide what is and is not newsworthy, air it or not, and encourage producers to identify its source.
CEO, KEF Media Associates