Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Core of the Issue

Just north of Dallas, where I now reside, the morning paper is full of Tom DeLay. When a leading congress-critter gets indicted, it is going to be big partisan news. When he’s a local, the news takes on an entirely new dimension. It’s huge! It’s evil! It’s a whitewash! It’s a witch-hunt! It’s something or other, but it ain’t good for democracy.

Here’s just one example of reporting on the issue, from a “fair and balanced” source: Spinning Wheel Keeps Turning

Even the most objective of readers will find it difficult to avoid some sort of visceral reaction to the reportage. Why how could a respected member of Congress flout the law like that? Or, maybe, how could a district attorney stoop so low as to attempt to bring down a high-level member of the administration? Or, possibly, how corrupt are the Republicans? Or even, how scurrilous are the Democrats?

Yet, we seem to be missing the essence of the argument. What is going on here? The charge is that DeLay solicited corporate contributions for candidates for local office. That doesn’t seem either evil or unusual for a political leader. But, he “laundered” the money, by taking it for a PAC (Political Action Committee) which then contributed to the Republican National Committee. OK, that still doesn’t seem bad. The RNC then contributed to the Texas Republican committee. Of course, that seems reasonable. The Texas folks gave money to local candidates for office. And the rest, as they say is history. Texas Republicans took control of the State Legislature. Good for Republicans, bad news for Democrats. Violation of Texas campaign contributions restrictions.

The essence of money laundering is that you put dollars in one pocket, and then engage in a series of transactions at the conclusion of which money shows up somewhere else. Along the way the routing is so circuitous that it is difficult to recognize if the same dollars show up or they are entirely different dollars.

Did DeLay raise money? Surely he must have. Did Republican candidates win? Yep. Ergo, Q.E.D., therefore, and to wit, there must be a violation of the campaign finance reform laws.

Ahh, did you now get the core of the issue? Yep, the core of the issue is whether or not it is reasonable and proper for an involved citizenry to express their political will in support of a candidate or an issue.

But, you point out, money is the root of all evil and giving large sums of money to a candidate must be stopped at all costs. Yet isn’t support of candidates who espouse your own ideology the very essence of political participation? Should you not be able to speak your mind (think 1st Amendment here,) and associate with like minded folks (think 1st Amendment here,) and write your political opinions for publication (think 1st Amendment yet again.) The best way I can think of to express your political preference is NOT a vote for the candidate or issue of your choice! Sounds heretical, I know. The best way to express your political will is with your checkbook. Vote, of course, but contribute.

If someone passes laws (they have and will do so again) that prohibit you from expressing your political will, they are violating the first amendment. If they pass a law that says you cannot express as much support as you want for a candidate—from whisper, to spoken word to exuberant shout, they are violating the first amendment. If political support is equivalent to contributions then limiting the dollar amount of your participation is muzzling in violation of the 1st Amendment. C’mon, how can we say $5 is OK, and $500 is still acceptable, but $1500 is too much? Setting arbitrary numbers is a feel good solution to a perceived, but generally non-existent principle that large contributions result in a corruption of government.

It isn’t whether DeLay solicited contributions. No doubt he did. It isn’t whether those contributions came from someone seeking to aid a candidate. Clearly they must have. It isn’t whether those contributions went to candidates. That was exactly the point. The core issue is the unconstitutional restriction of our freedom of political expression that the campaign finance reform acts represent.

Maybe the DeLay indictment will bring attention to this disenfranchisement of the electorate, but somehow I doubt it. I was na├»ve enough to believe that McCain-Feingold would be overturned by the Supreme Court a while back. Maybe next year…