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Wednesday, March 20, 2002
Having a tantrum
In yet another campaign finance rant, the New York Times explains that Campaign Reform's Time Has Come. The Times' vision of campaign finance "reform," of course, is that nobody should be allowed to have any say in elections, including candidates themselves. (Except, of course, for newspapers. More on that below.)
The bill aims at shutting down unlimited "soft money" donations to political parties from corporations, unions and rich individuals, and greatly curbing such donations for state and local parties.
It also bans donations from poor and middle-class individuals as well as rich, but it's harder to practice class-warfare unless you throw in gratituitous comments about the rich.
It would also ban corporate and union funds to independent groups for sham issue ads running just before elections, and require disclosure for individual donors to such groups.
As Ira Stoll of Smartertimes has repeatedly pointed out, while the bill may ban "sham issue ads," it also bans "nonsham issue ads," and any other issue ads. The bill simply bans most broadcast ads, just to be sure nobody is corrupted by learning anything about the candidates. Perhaps that's why groups from the ACLU to the National Right to Life Committee to the NRA all agree that this proposal is unconstitutional.

While the Times wants to prevent groups from advertising on television or radio in the months before an election -- on the theory that (gasp) rich people might tell you what they think, and us commoners (definition: everyone who doesn't work for the New York Times editorial staff) are just too darn stupid to see through these ads -- they don't propose limiting the rights of newspapers to accept ads or to editorialize in favor of candidates. While we can't put a precise monetary value on a New York Times endorsement, we can get a general idea. The New York Times accepts advertisements for the bottom right corner of the opinion page. They charge $30-40 thousand for one of these ads. In short, an editorial endorsement by the New York Times is essentially a $30,000 campaign contribution from the corporation which publishes the New York Times. (Yes, newspapers are corporations.) But that doesn't count as a "sham issue ad," in the mind of the Times' editors. Wonder why.

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