A recent exchange between a news anchor and analyst on Fox News perfectly frames the argument for money in politics: In late July, Fox’s Bret Baier and Brit Hume were discussing President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” statement.
Hume’s take: “It will play very badly with small business people and entrepreneurs and business people in general, but the question really is—how many people will ever hear about it? We’ve played it here on Fox News and reported on it and discussed it. A few other media outlets have, but only a few. This may just disappear.”
“Unless,” responded Baier, “it’s used in an ad.”
Do news media outlets have the sole right to determine what people see and hear? Should they?
The answer is of course not. Only the free flow of money into political messaging ensures that the voting public hears all pertinent political dialogue. Only the free flow of money allows for the dissemination of all points of view.
In 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act passed Congress. It selectively restricted campaign messages 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election—in electronic media only. In 2010, much of McCain-Feingold was found to be unconstitutional and corporations and individuals were allowed to spend freely on political speech.
News media have uniformly called this a negative decision that will allow special interests to impact politics, but the motivation to impact the political landscape has always been bipartisan. Farm interests have always wanted candidates elected who understand their concerns.
Environmentalists have always wanted candidates elected who support their initiatives to force new standards on how industry operates. Organizations, groups and individuals with a stake in how elections turn out are left, right and center.
It is estimated that an unprecedented $10 billion could be spent in the 2012 election cycle, but over three times that amount will be spent on headache remedies. Almost six times as much will be spent on lottery tickets. Over ten times as much will be spent on fast food.
Serious obesity issues aside, Americans have become fat and happy and their attention to who wins what election has become pretty thin. Only 25 percent of Americans can name their U.S. Senators. Less than half can name their direct representative in Congress.
The stakes are too high for interested parties not to try and influence the outcome of elections. Regulations, restrictions and taxation have an enormous influence on individuals and small businesses. Money is the only way that they can put their concerns in front of the broader voting public and balance the monopoly of corporations that own news media outlets.
Contributions to candidates by individuals are dramatically restricted in many states, but a recent report in the Wall Street Journal noted that spending by organized labor on politics and lobbying is four-times higher than previously thought. The amount invested by news media to draw political distinctions and to attack or defend candidates is literally unlimited. Money in politics provides a counterbalance to this messaging monopoly.
The rate of reelection for incumbent members of Congress has dropped as money in politics has increased, but the numbers are staggering. In 2004, 98 percent of all incumbents were reelected. In 2010, that number dropped to 85 percent, but it’s still staggering.
Free speech isn’t free. It takes money for opinions to be expressed, information to be disseminated and candidates to be held accountable. Here’s something everyone in the political industry should be able to agree on: More money in the political process makes our Republic better.
Arthur Hackney heads Hackney & Hackney, a Republican media firm.