Wednesday, February 03, 2010

O'Reilly and Obama vs. Stossel and the First Amendment

Bill O'Reilly had John Stossel on last night, to talk about the recent SCOTUS ruling which overturned parts of McCain Feingold, and a 63 year old law. They showed a clip of Obama scolding the SCOTUS at the State of the Union show, and then O'Reilly came out in defense of Obama's position, while Stossel defended the First Amendment. It was a great segment, but Bill O was wrong on the facts of the ruling. He had to admit that Obama was wring on the facts in the SOU speech, but stuck to his guns, saying he had problems with the decision.

The real problem is that there are any limitations on political speech at all. Let's say Citgo, owned by Hugo Chavez, wants to spend $20 million on ads to elect a socialist to the US Senate. Let's say that it will now be able to do this, through it's US subsidiary (which is not certain). Every ad they put on TV has to say "paid for by Citgo." Even large corporations like to keep their political dealings separate from their public image. Citgo USA does not want to be connected with Hugo Chavez. It's bad for business, and I guarantee the political response ads would hurt Citgo, in the pocket.

There's also the fact that the current campaign regulations overwhelmingly favor incumbent politicians, or "deep pocketed" outsiders. The system of regulation on political speech is corrupt, already. Unions and corporations already spend exorbitant amounts of money on "issue ads," without mentioning a particular candidate. It seems like the law is preventing straightforward communication. Why can't they say "we support President Obama, because he bailed us (and you, our customers and employees) out?" We have commercials for cheesy credit card "debt rescue" companies using Obama's name, but a corporation can't run a political ad?

O'Reilly seemed under the impression that corporations and unions can now "give" unlimited funds to a candidate. It did no such thing, as Stossel pointed out more than once. Any corporation, union, or citizen can now buy TV ads favoring or opposing a particular candidate, without co-ordinating with either side in the campaign, right up to election day. The "co-ordination ban" part of this law was left intact by this ruling, though it's had a spotty record of enforcement. That issue wasn't addressed at all in this ruling.

Let's remember what the case was about. A corporation produced an anti-Hillary Clinton movie, and was barred from advertising it on TV for thirty days before any primary election. The reasoning behind that decision was that the movie was an anti-Hillary "advertisement" itself, so the TV commercials for the movie were "anti-Hillary" advertising. Incredibly, one of the lawyers supporting the ban admitted that it would also have applied to a TV commercial for an "anti-Hillary" book, which may have been a turning point in the trial. In any case, this is a victory for free speech, regardless of O'Reilly's concerns.

Election law, like most other areas of the law, is too convoluted for many lawyers to understand, much less an average Joe or Jane who wants to run for office. This ruling clears up a few of the peripheral cobwebs, but one can only hope that the fools in Washington won't try to "fix" it, because we all know what that will do: keep the fools in Washington.

Supreme Court overturns campaign finance law -

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