Paws Off the Internet, Ann Revel and FEC!

Closeup of Ann Ravel of the FEC

We’re starting to hear the usual complaints that “politicians spend too much money on campaigns and something has to be done.”

Most of the complaints come from the Democratic Party. Interestingly, candidates for the Democratic nomination for president routinely get millions in donations from wealthy supporters in Hollywood and elsewhere in business.

Their objection does not seem to be against money and donations as such; it appears to be directed at people with lots of money who support candidates with policies different from those of Democratic politicians.

The rationalization for such hypocrisy is not difficult to decipher. “We’re compassionate and trying to do all we can to spread the wealth around. Our donors are doing good. But donors like the Koch Brothers and other billionaires who support Republican, conservative or Tea Party type candidates are undermining our efforts to expand social programs and social spending. They’re bad.”

The problem is deeper than hypocrisy, however, and the stakes are higher than partisan politics.

At stake here is nothing less than freedom of speech. Because the ability to spend what you see fit on campaigns is nothing more than freedom of speech. Government has no right to regulate the content of ideas people express; and people’s individual rights do not disappear because they have what the government considers “too much” money, especially when “too much” money is applied selectively.

What makes the regulation of election campaigns possible is the false idea that money is equivalent to coercive power. It’s not. Nothing earned in a private or free marketplace involves coercion. Only government subsidies and favors (made possible by regulations selectively applied) involve coercion; trade itself does not.

In other words, if I make $100 billion dollars tomorrow because I develop a product or service that a heck of a lot of people really, really like, then — according to this false idea — I have acquired “power.”

But power would imply the ability to coerce people. If I ended up with billions of dollars in profits, there would never have been any coercion involved. It would simply be the result of large numbers of people wanting the product I have to offer on the market — at least for now.

People could always change their minds. Or competitors could always design a similar product for less money (assuming no trademark or other private property violations were involved), and I could subsequently lose profits or go out of business, any time.

None of this would be force. All of the profit and loss in a free market is due to the voluntary decisions of thousands (or in mass markets, millions) of people willingly and voluntarily deciding what they wish to do.

Somehow, when an individual or company is successful, and starts to make millions or billions in profits for this reason, many of us start to look at that individual as having “power.” But power implies force, and as I just stated, there is no force involved.

It seems that whenever someone is successful and subsequently makes a lot of money, and chooses to donate that money to Republicans, conservatives, Tea Party types or libertarians, that millionaire is automatically considered a bad and evil person, unjustly using his “power” against the masses, and requiring the restraint of government to stop him.

Yet whenever someone is successful and subsequently makes a lot of money, and chooses to donate that money to candidates like Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama or Joe Biden — well, that’s just an instance of pursuing the “common good,” and it should not be overly regulated or criticized.

Last winter, The Federal Election Commission (FEC) held a hearing to receive public feedback on whether it should create new rules regulating political speech, including political speech on the Internet that one commissioner warned could affect blogs, YouTube videos and even websites like the Drudge Report.

Ann Ravel, Obama’s FEC chairperson, complained, “Some of my colleagues seem to believe that the same political message that would require disclosure if run on television should be categorically exempt from the same requirements when placed on the Internet alone. As a matter of policy, this simply does not make sense.”

Actually, Ravel has half a point. It doesn’t make sense to regulate radio and television, while leaving the Internet relatively regulation-free. However, the solution is the exact opposite of what she and others like her propose. The solution is to deregulate elections completely, lifting any and all restrictions on both the content and expenditure of campaigns. This should be closely followed up by repealing and ending all subsidies and regulations on private enterprise, or at least as many as possible as quickly as possible. This will remove the incentive of private businesses to bribe or otherwise influence politics, because government would no longer have a role in the economy, aside from upholding contracts and prosecuting fraud.

I recognize this is too radical and “simplistic” a solution for most people to accept. However, what’s the alternative? Thus far, Ravel’s proposal to start controlling the content of speech on website blogs and everywhere else on the Internet is not generating a huge amount of support. But her logic is unassailable. If the content and spending amounts of political campaigns are ultimately for the government to determine, then by what right do we uphold freedom of elections with respect to the Internet while denying freedom of elections with respect to television and radio?

Right now Republicans are fighting among themselves over Trump versus any of the 15 or so non-Trump alternatives. This is one of the many substantive issues lost in the clamor over personality and the single issue of immigration.

A decent Republican candidate for president would propose eliminating the FEC altogether, as an initial step to restoring freedom in the electoral process. Putting people like Ann Ravel out of a job will not resolve everything, but it would be a symbolic and substantive start to keeping government paws off the Internet.


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