Speechless about reformEdit

by Dimitri Vassilaros, TRIBUNE-REVIEW, Monday, August 20, 2007 [1]

"Campaign Finance Reform" is an ironic title for the chilling premise that there can be too much free speech.

More chilling, that government -- politicians, political appointees, bureaucrats and lobbyists -- will determine how speech should be rationed. Still more chilling, limiting citizen involvement limits corruption in government or at least the appearance of it.

And arguably most chilling: that you cannot spend your hard-earned money as you wish to support a candidate who will speak for you.

People are the problem and government is the solution? This actually makes perfect sense to self-described reformers who genuinely want to clean up the system. Little wonder that politicians typically love the idea. ("Don't blame us for being corrupt. Blame the public for corrupting us!")

The weasel den better known as the Pennsylvania General Assembly is considering legislation limiting campaign contributions and allowing public financing of gubernatorial campaigns. It supposedly is to help clean up state government so people can have more faith in the politicians of the three branches of government and be less likely to view the commonwealth's corrupt government as corrupt.

You can decide -- right now -- if limiting free speech actually does that.

In Buckley v. Valeo, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 -- to its everlasting shame -- that limiting campaign contributions was constitutional, even though a candidate still could spend as much as he wanted out of his own pockets. Speech can be regulated, the court said, if the government has a "compelling interest." Preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption of elected officials is a compelling interest, the court decreed.

After three decades of federal campaign finance reform, does anyone believe Congress is less corrupt or appears less corrupt?

Given all the scandals, indictments or convictions in the last few years, a strong case could be made that campaign finance reform increases the likelihood of corruption and the appearance of corruption. Strictly limiting campaign contributions for federal office -- an individual now may not contribute more than $2,300 per candidate per race -- lessens the likelihood of challengers unseating entrenched incumbents who eventually feel they can get away with anything.

The Commonwealth Foundation is a public-policy think tank based in Harrisburg. Please go online and click Campaign Finance Limits & Public Funding to read other commonsense arguments against this so-called reform.

Still not convinced?

Remember the public's anger in July 2005 about the stealth pay-raise bill covering the three branches of government passed by the state Legislature in the dead of night -- with no debate or public input -- and quickly signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell. The statewide outrage was so intense that the bill finally was repealed. Many of the pay-jackers decided to "retire" while other looters lost to political unknowns.

How many would have lost their seats if the ringleaders of the pay-jacking would have forbidden potential challengers from raising sufficient funds?

Money is not the root of all evil. A campaign donation is an inanimate object. Morally bankrupt politicians are the ones who can be corrupted.

Dimitri Vassilaros is a Trib editorial page columnist. His column appears Sundays, Mondays and Fridays. Call him at 412-380-5637. E-mail him at


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