Back in the late 1990s and early part of this decade the left drove campaign finance reform by spreading fears that the superwealthy (read: rich Republicans and conservative corporations) were buying elections for their friends, thereby cutting average folks (the proletariat) out of the picture.
If only the government strictly limited how much money individuals could spend to influence elections, then the playing field would be leveled and the influence of the little guy would match that of the fat cat. They never counted on the fat cats being on their side.
Then came the 2004 presidential election. That year, a new entity called a 527, a tax-exempt non-profit dedicated to educating the public about political issues and named after its section of the tax code, became a force in national politics. The biggest of the 527s — groups like MoveOn.org, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and America Coming Together — raised and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to tell Americans what they thought about the issues of the day.
With Republicans in control of Congress and the White House, the GOP vastly outraised the Democrats that year. Republicans at the national level raised $898 million vs. $679 million for the Democrats, according to National Review‘s Byron York. However, what the left lacked in access to governmental power it made up in anger and access to its own fat cats. Left-wing billionaire George Soros donated on the order of $24 million to 527s in 2004. With backing like that, left-leaning 527s trounced right-leaning ones in fund-raising and spending by well over $100 million.
With access to unlimited funds from rich benefactors, the left was able to counter the right’s message on the airwaves, in print, and online. And, as one might have expected, that did not sit well with Republicans. Thanks to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law passed with the help of left-wing activists under the banner of giving the people a voice, Republicans had a weapon with which to silence their critics.
This week they took a step toward doing just that, passing a bill that limits the amount individuals can donate to 527s. They got away with constricting 527 funding by calling the bill an extension of McCain-Feingold. They weren’t silencing opponents, you see, they were just “closing the loophole” that allowed these nefarious 527s to raise unlimited amounts of cash to — gasp! — influence the outcome of an election.
If the bill passes the Senate, in this fall’s mid-term elections George Soros won’t be able to squander his fortune by using 527s to tell Americans of all the horrible things he thinks Republicans are doing. Left-wing activism will have been partially defunded by its own anti-fat cat rhetoric.
It would be funny if it weren’t so serious. The government is extending its control over political speech, and hardly anyone issues a peep of protest because the public has bought the idea that the real danger to our republic is rich people spending money to buy TV ads, rather than government slowly gaining more power over what we can say, and when, where, and how we can say it.
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