Free Speech Thought for the Day

I suppose a large number of Americans must support the free speech restrictions embodied in McCain-Feingold and other campaign finance laws, or they wouldn't have passed.  The logic of such laws is apparently to reduce the influence of "big-monied interests" in elections, I suppose by being able to saturate media with their point of view.

So here is my question - have you ever met anyone (other than John Kerry with his Iraq vote) who thought that they had been duped or unduly influenced by election advertising?  Have you met anyone who says "yep, I voted for the guy with the most ads instead of what I believed in?"

The fact is that I have never met such a person, even among those who support campaign speech restrictions.  Their position is always that they are of course too smart to be gulled by the ads but "a lot of other people are not as smart".  But who are these other people?  They are like the friend of a friend who swears his grandmother put her cat in the microwave to dry it off.  They don't exist.  The fact is that no one thinks that they personally are unduly influenced by campaign ads, but they think everyone else is. 

Here is a rule of thumb:  When supporters of a law take the position that "This law is not necessary for me but for all those people who are not as smart as I am", it is a bad law.


  1. Max Lybbert:

    I remember voting for some propositions that I liked, but later found out I preferred the existing law more. In both cases, the propositions failed.

    I wasn't duped by ads. I had read the propositions. I just hadn't bothered to read what they were changing.

  2. Pedro Bento:

    Freedom for me, but not for thee.

  3. Zoran Lazarevic:

    Voting results have historically win-to-lose ratio proportional to the ratio of amounts of money spent by candidates during the campaigns.

    If I had infinite amount of money, I would not dupe you - I would change your mind! After hearing that sky is red 1000 times a day, you would start thinking it is true. After the elections, you would say: "I was not duped. Sky indeed is RED and blood is BLUE. I firmly believe that is the proper naming for the colors"

    Human nature is to believe nicer ads and often repeated words. Political campaigns can boil down to bidding: who gives more money, wins. This strategy gears the society towards maximizing our bank accounts, as opposed to maximizing preservation of environment, safety, equality, health, decency, morality, etc. And that is the reason why people (who don't know economics) want to limit the influence of money.

  4. Matt:

    "Voting results have historically win-to-lose ratio proportional to the ratio of amounts of money spent by candidates during the campaigns."

    And no one ever seems to wonder whether the amount of money spent (and hence the amount of money _raised_) might have a causal relationship to the popularity of the candidate and/or his ideas? Or at least to the _perceived_ popularity (as in a "buy influence with the guy we think is going to win, whether _we_ like him or not" strategy)? If there were such a relationship, would it not naturally and inevitably cause the statistical correlation you speak of?

    If lots of people like you, and lots of people who are indifferent to you nevertheless think you have a high probability of winning, you're very likely to get more and larger donations, and also very likely to win. But that doesn't mean that having all that money to spend caused you to win.

  5. Zoran Lazarevic:

    New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and New Jersey Senator John Corzine won their elections while using $$$ millions of their own money.

    If that was allowed for corporations, I could easily imagine Coca Cola forking out $100 million to put their politicians in power and legislate that every school must have a Coca Cola vending machine, at the expense of tax payers.

    Is it OK to have the richest person/company in charge?

    Ideal popularity-based campaign finance law would require every citizen to donate exactly $100 to the candidate they like. In that manner, amount of money raised would be proportional to the percieved popularity.

    If we had no campaign finance restrictions, the voting results would be proportional to the richness-weighted-popularity - i.e. a rich donor would influence outcome of the election much more than you or I would.

    Libertarians argue that rich persons are much more capable of making wise decisions. Socialists argue that without restrictions, rich industrialists would exploit us to starvation. I myself lean towards the Libertarian thinking, but I do understand the counter arguments. I would not bet $100 that I am right.

  6. Steve:

    Listen. Whether we admit it or not, or even know it or not, we are influenced by the messages and media that saturate our everyday lives in the United States. My wife is a doctor and did some research regarding the influence of drug representatives on what docs recommend and prescribe. Most doctors claim to be above the pressure of representatives, but the research showed that there was significant influence regardless. When talking about political advertising and influence, I don't think most people would admit to, or even realize just how much of their opinions become shaped by the messages bombarding them over a period of weeks, months, even years (remember the 2004 campaigns?). Ultimately, we need to become skeptical of everything we see and read. Critical thinking and questioning is not valued in our society; those in power prefer obedience and blind faith. Democracy in the true sense of the word depends on us taking responsibility for the state of affairs in our country and taking an active role in shaping these affairs. Reading different sources of media (preferably independent or non-corporate owned media) and talking to others about these issues is the best way to support democratic ideals. True critical thinking implies a healthy doubt in any figure or institution of authority until that authority adequately justifies its existence. Ask yourself who is financially supporting a candidate, and what that support means in terms of repayment. Then decide whether finance reform is needed. Do you want your leaders to reflect the interests of the people? Or do you want them to make sure that profit is valued above all else? Wealth does not equal morality, it does not equal intelligence, and it does not equal integrity. It simply provides the means to influence others and deny access to those who do not share your views. Think critically. Accept nothing. And turn off your damn television for awhile.

  7. honestpartisan:

    There's another reason to have those restrictions on campaign expenditures aside from the persuasive powers of advertising. That's to stop legal bribery, which is my take on the private campaign finance system. Regardless of whether the money donated is what caused a politician to win an election, the politician is more likely to do the bidding of the contributor. Restrictions on issue advertising are an attempt to cut back on front groups designed to get around campaign finance laws.

  8. Red Stater:

    I lament that in a nation that touts free speach, there are rarely any conservative messages found on mass scale. You can find some nice conservative gems on the internet like . A very good conservative website by a guy who has a fine skill for writing.

    Our universities are anything but open minded. It is incumbent upon those of us with diverse views, conservative or otherwise, to speak and be heard by any means necessary.