Free Speech, Corruption and MoveOn.org - August 24, 2010
I received 6 calls from MoveOn.org members in one day. Why are they calling? To urge me to sign the “Fight Washington Corruption” (http://www.moveon.org/team/campaigns/congresspledgeletter1.pdf) pledge.
I absolutely pledge to fight corruption in our Federal government. However, I cannot sign MoveOn.org’s pledge. Why? Because the specifics of the pledge, just like all the attempts to reform campaign finances, will make matters worse. Here is what is wrong with each plank of the pledge.
1. Overturn Citizens United
Regardless of the legalistic contortions about corporations being persons, the result of the ruling is consistent with the 1st amendment of the Constitution which states: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” The 1st amendment contains no exceptions. It is an absolute statement. Corporations existed at the time the Constitution was written. The Founding Fathers would have written an exception if one was desired. Campaign finance laws restrict the freedom of speech.
I am a proud supporter of the 1st amendment. Freedom of speech is the foundation of civil society. It ensures that we can peacefully advocate the veracity of our ideas. I will never tolerate, nor support any infringement of our 1st amendment rights.
2. Fair Elections Now
Regardless of the short title, this plank has nothing to do with fair elections. This is public financing of all campaigns. If MoveOn.org truly believes Washington DC is corrupt, as the title of their pledge indicates, then why in the world would we put them in charge of financing campaigns? If you think the 2-party system discriminates against minor parties, wait until DC controls who gets funding for campaigns! What’s worse than a 2-party system? A 1-party system!
It is immoral to expropriate money from someone and then give that money to another person who is advocating positions diametrically opposed to the person who’s money was taken by force! I’m running against an incumbent worth over $150M and who spent over $1M to buy election to the State Board of Education (an unpaid position) and over $6M to buy election to Congress in 2008. However, I fully support his right to spend his money in any way he chooses including to buy elections. (Obviously, “buy” in this context does not indicate illegal activity. It only indicates that if voters only pay attention to what they hear on radio, see on TV or read in mailers from one candidate who can dominate the media, then they get the representation they deserve.) The ability of a candidate to raise money, especially for a diverse group of people, is an indicator of his ability to attract and win votes. In other words, fund raising is earned.
Since my opponent, Jared Polis, has already signed this pledge and is on record supporting the horribly named “Fair Elections Now Act,” I call on him to voluntarily pledge to not spend a single dollar more than my campaign can raise or spend for this election. This includes no further spending of taxpayer money to send out “feel good” printed or email newsletters until after November 2nd.
I understand the concerns of corruption. I will address them at the end.
3. Lobbyist Reform Act
This is a multi-headed hydra consisting of: prohibiting individuals from switching between corporate lobbying and government service (and vice versa), disallow gift giving from corporate lobbyists, including free travel, and posting names of attendees and contents of all meetings between lobbyists and government officials.
It is interesting to note that the first two restrictions under this plank apply only to corporate lobbyists. Presumably, lobbyists from non-profits such as MoveOn.org, the Sierra Club, ProgressNow, NRA, American Conservative Union, etc. would not be subject to these restrictions.
The third requirement of the plank is unworkable in practice. Is a “chance” encounter between a lobbyist and a member of Congress walking from the Capitol to the Metro station a meeting which must be disclosed? By whose definition would it be a “chance” meeting?
These restrictions are proposed because past restrictions on lobbying haven’t stopped the corruption. So, why should these restrictions work? They won’t. The reason they won’t is because they do not address the fundamentals enabling corruption.
How is Stephen Bailey Anti-Corruption?
The source of corruption is power. Our Founders recognized that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” As a result, they created one of the greatest achievements of mankind: the Constitution of the United States, which established a disciplined framework within which to achieve order, justice, and freedom. The discipline applies to the government as the people delegated a very limited set of powers to the federal government and numerous checks and balances constructed to retard efforts to expand federal powers at the cost of individual rights. Unfortunately, the tight constraints the Constitution placed on Congress, the Judiciary and the Executive office were soon under attack. These attacks quickened in the 1st half of the 20th century and have recently blitzed ahead at a blinding pace.
Our Congress is out of control. It has usurped powers so far beyond those delegated to it by ‘We the People’ in the Constitution that we now have an Imperial Congress that exerts power in ways that are not authorized by the Constitution. A prime example is the way in which our Congress has usurped the power to pick winners and losers in our economy. When a vote in Congress can spell the difference between bankruptcy and a business’ survival, a multi-billion dollar tax saving or a tax liability, or the ability to sell a product or not, then you can bet your life that there will be people willing to spend millions of dollars to influence the outcome of that vote!
The Imperial Congress is corrupt because it treats different citizens and different businesses inequitably under the law. Tax laws are written to enable breaks for specific businesses, but not for others. The language is written in obtuse ways that are difficult to decipher, thereby ensuring that only the favored corporation can benefit. Similarly, we are witnessing the trend of giving specific classes of people special treatment under the law. This is unjust. We must instead demand that all laws apply equally to all persons (including corporations), no exceptions. This is the only way we will be a nation of laws, not men.
The MoveOn.org pledge will do nothing to end corruption because it does nothing to limit the power of government over our individual and professional lives. As long as government has the power to pick winners and losers, corruption will poison our nation. When government strays from the limits set forth in the Constitution, which we have allowed it to do, businesses are forced to play the extortion-bribery game politicians have created in order to survive. Indeed, in the zero-sum political environment of today, if you don’t have a seat at the table, you are the meal. But it doesn’t have to be that way. That power must be taken away from the politicians. Our lives are not fodder for their ambition.
As Thomas Jefferson warned us, eternal vigilance is the only way to prevent corruption. As long as government has monopoly use of force (which is necessary to prevent anarchy), then unscrupulous individuals, both in government and in business, will try to use that power for their benefit. However, we can significantly reduce corruption by bringing our Imperial Congress back within the constrained and limited powers delegated to it, by us, via the Constitution. We, the people, exercise the external control on Congress. We can fire representatives that usurp power and violate our rights. I would not be seeking your vote and your support if Jared Polis demonstrated any effort to control Congress and end corruption. In fact, Polis has sought and enabled ever greater usurpation of power by Congress over our daily lives.
If MoveOn.org were to write a pledge that would return our government to the legitimate use of power instead of further infringing the rights of the people, I would sign it. In its current state, MoveOn.org’s “Fight Washington Corruption” pledge will exacerbate that which it purportedly seeks to end. MoveOn.org’s pledge will have this result because it will not oblige Congress to control itself, but instead further enable Congress to assume powers never delegated to it by the US Constitution.