Ruling avoids the underlying sickness
By Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

There have recently been a number of letters in this paper decrying the Supreme Court decision to overturn parts of existing campaign-finance laws. Many people fear that loosening regulations will lead to more control of politics by corporations and unions.

Those critics are certainly right that corporate and union – particularly public union – control of politics is a grave affliction of our democracy, and may eventually be the downfall of it.

But this affliction is merely the symptom, not the actual disease itself. The real sickness is that government has too much power to redistribute our income, to others' advantage.

If we reduce that power, the incentive for rent-seeking groups to profit from favorable laws or tax breaks will be lessened.

Likewise, if we continue to allow government power to grow, all the laws in the world will not be able to prevent powerful groups from attempting to control Congress. They will simply find sneaky ways around the laws, as they always have, while the rest of citizens suffer the loss of our freedom of speech.

Everyone claims to be "for free speech," but to control the ability of people to pay for advertisements or publications is to restrict their freedom of speech. And corporations and unions are simply groups of individuals pooling their efforts and money. If individual citizens cannot afford to publish a book or make a movie, they should have every right to band together legally in order to do so, without restrictions on their right to determine the content of the book or movie.

The answer is not to restrict free speech or the right to give money freely to the causes we value.

The answer is to reduce the incentive for groups to control our lawmakers, by restricting the power of politicians to grant favors.

Imagine for a moment a world in which government – especially federal government – does not have the power to give tax money to businesses. This less powerful government is constrained from making regulations that force us to buy more expensive products, regulations that benefit government bureaucrats and corporations at our expense.

In this world, one very low tax rate applies to all, without breaks for any special classes, industries, entities or people. And in this world, nowhere near a sixth of workers are employed by government, enjoying far superior pay and benefits and using union power to further increase their benefits, to the burden of present and future taxpayers.

In this world, corporations, unions and other groups have little reason to donate large sums to influence politicians, because there is little pay-off to be gained.

But that is not the world we live in. In our world, we allow government to bury our children beneath unrepayable mountains of debt from corporate bailouts and public employee benefits. In our world, over-regulation and high taxes make our cost of living unaffordable.

Our world is the result of our corrupt politicians, who sell corporate and union favors in return for political donations so that they may get or stay in office.

And now we are told that because politicians are corrupt and government has so much power over our lives, in order to prevent abuses of that power, we citizens should accept limits on our free speech?

It sounds like a bad joke. Free speech is protected by the Constitution specifically in order to prevent government from becoming too powerful and abusive.

If anyone should have to accept limits on speech and money – on power, essentially – it should rightfully be government, not citizens, as individuals or groups.

This Supreme Court ruling restored a bit of our right to free speech, but the underlying sickness continues to grow worse. Campaign finance laws are not the answer to preventing political corruption. As usual, less government – not more laws – is the answer.