As I mentioned the other day, standup comedians employ what they call “runners,” which are themes and punch lines they set up for recurrent laughs. Think of Jerry Seinfeld’s “did you ever notice. . .” or “not that there’s anything wrong with that” schtick.
Only days after the New York Times pranked us with their endorsement of John Kasich for the GOP nomination, they have returned with another of their comedy “runners,” in which they offer up “the conservative case” for a liberal idea, as though the Times really thinks we’ll fall for their good wishes for conservatism to prosper. They’ve done this repeatedly with bad ideas for climate change, criminal justice reform, tax increases, etc. The shorter version of all of these articles can be rendered “Why Conservatives Should Change Their Mind and Agree with Us.”
The Times’ latest comedy runner is an article yesterday entitled “The Conservative Case for Campaign Finance Reform,” by Richard W. Painter of the University of Minnesota Law School. To be sure, Prof. Painter worked in the George W. Bush White House counsel’s office, but I can’t make out that he’s much of a conservative. Here’s the lede:
All Americans should be alarmed about the effects of money in politics. But it is conservatives who should be leading the fight for campaign-finance reform. . .
Why should conservative voters care? First, big money in politics encourages big government. Campaign contributions drive spending on earmarks and other wasteful programs — bridges to nowhere, contracts for equipment the military does not need, solar energy companies that go bankrupt on the government’s dime and for-profit educational institutions that don’t educate. When politicians are dependent on campaign money from contractors and lobbyists, they’re incapable of holding spending programs to account.
True enough, but here’s a simpler solution than empowering the government to regulate political speech even more: the way to get rid of corruption in high places is to get rid of high places. There, that was easy. Could have saved the Times a bunch of pixels.
The growth of campaign spending has followed the growth of government. And it’s not as though conservatives haven’t had some reform ideas. One was the idea of full and instant disclosure of all contributions. In the old days you had to go through paper filings of campaign contribution reports at the state or federal level to find out how much money a politician had taken from which interest group or lobby, but in the age of the internet this can be reported instantly.
The trouble now, of course, is that the left started using disclosed contribution information to intimidate individual campaign contributors much more than interest groups. Just go back and look at what happened to Brendan Eich, who was cashiered from Mozilla for the sin of having the same view of gay marriage as Barack Obama in 2008, or other small contributors to California’s Proposition 208. Now I’ve swung the other way, thinking we should go back to allowing confidential campaign contributions for individuals so that they aren’t subject to harassment and intimidation by the left.
The ultimate in government regulation is empowering the government to regulate the process by which it is constituted by the people. The government is itself today the largest interest group in the nation—a fact that would horrify the founders. Giving the government more power to regulate political speech is to cement in place forever the primacy of the administrative state. Who thinks the government would regulate political speech against its own interest? Show of hands??
Let’s regulate the New York Times and other major media instead—how about truly equal time for conservatives on their op-ed page?—and see how they like that. Or how about mandating that the TV broadcasters give deeply discounted ad rates for political campaigns, since so much of the money raised goes to TV ads that are always more expensive during campaign season? That would reduce the amount of money campaigns have to raise and spend to get their message out. Funny how none of the media cheerleaders for reform never think of that.