Monday, February 27, 2012

Citizens United and the Legitimate Question of Campaign Finance

Bill Maher is in the headlines for announcing that he will make a $1 million gift to the pro-Obama SuperPAC Priorities USA Action. The Daily Beast's Llyod Grove has a piece on Maher, who expands on what motivated his decision:
No, I think it’s practical,” the comedian told me Friday afternoon when I accused him of being a political romantic. “The difference between a country governed by Obama and one governed by Rick Santorum is worth a million dollars to me. Not just because I think the country would be better, but because I think it would actually better protect the money I have left.” (emphasis mine - JMG)
One of my biggest frustrations with liberals is the habit of ignoring the complexity of issues out of hand, simply because conservatives hold an opposing view. Campaign finance and the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision is, in my opinion, an acute example of this.

The issue of money and speech is complex, and there are a number of valid viewpoints depending what conditions you value. Simply stating "corporations aren't people" is not an actual argument, and does not really approach the problem that I think Mr. Maher has raised here. Yes, he has a lot of income and yes, I am very concerned about the issue of moneyed interests dominating our political economy. But if Mr. Maher (or any individual) has the means, and feels it is worth the investment, I am not sure what principle one would call upon to deny a person from making whatever donation he or she would like to make to his or her preferred candidate.

Just to be clear; I am very concerned about the issue of certain (rich) people's speech being worth more than others, simply because they donate a lot of money. But that does not immediately imply that we should deny people the freedom to make the same choice that Mr. Maher has made.

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