Sunday, February 05, 2012


I have read and heard numerous commentators and Democratic officials decry the 2010 Supreme Court's First Amendment decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which unleashed Super PAC's funded by large corporations and billionaires on electoral campaigns. They claim that we need a constitutional amendment to right this grievous wrong done to our democracy. They are wrong. Effective campaign reform can be accomplished without doing any damage to the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. First, define every private contribution to any candidate for federal office as a bribe and every request for funds, goods, or services from a candidate as a solicitation of a bribe. After all, a massive bribe is exactly what occurs when a trade group hosts a thousand dollar a plate fund raising event for a Senator or a Congressman. When a president can rent out the Lincoln bedroom for hundreds of thousand in campaign contributions, that's not democracy at work- it's bribe-ocracy. Public financing can and must replace every private contribution, freeing up those elected to do the public's business to actually do the public's business without fear of losing millions with a vote that might offend special interests like big oil, drug companies, banks, or insurance companies.

As for toxic television attack ads which the Citizens United decision supposedly has inflicted on an innocent public-- the First Amendment won't let us curtail them, but we can make them virtually useless to those who have paid for them. Any attack radio or tv ad submitted for broadcast by anybody- candidate or Politcal Action Committee-- will not be aired for at least two weeks, giving public interest groups and the attacked candidate a chance to preview them. The attackee will be permitted to record a response that will be twice as long, free of charge, which will air immediately following the first ad. Doing this does no damage to the First Amendment; it simply means that vicious lies-- like the attack ads in Georgia's 2002 Senate race that compared incumbent Democrat Max Cleland to Saddam Hussein-- could be immediately followed by an outraged response in which the the smeared candidate would be given the opportunity to set the record straight. In effect, every million dollars of air time paid for by the superwealthy will be a donation of two million dollars worth of free air time to the person being smeared. I doubt that unfair attack ads would survive in this environment.


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