The Los Angeles Times writes today, “Even before Barack Obama was sworn in as president the first time, he touted his efforts to ‘change business as usual in Washington’ by setting strict rules for his inauguration: No corporate donations were allowed; individuals could give only $50,000. This time, Obama’s inaugural committee is seeking million-dollar contributions from corporations and offering perks in return, such as tickets to the official ball. The six companies that have given so far include AT&T, Microsoft and Financial Innovations, a marketing company that received $15.7 million to produce merchandise for Obama’s reelection campaign and is the official vendor for the inauguration. The committee has put no limit on how much individuals can give.”
President Obama has talked a lot about going after “money in politics,” which to Democrats means restricting or chilling political speech, whether pushing the partisan DISCLOSE Act, floating executive orders to track the contribution history of federal contactors, or even signaling his openness to an amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision, an actual proposal to amend the First Amendment.
But as the LA Times points out, President Obama hasn’t been very keen on practicing what he preaches when it comes to campaign finance. “[C]ampaign finance reform advocates say Obama has at times even embraced the system he decries. After railing against the political influence of outside groups funded by unlimited contributions, Obama gave his blessing to just such a group working on his behalf during his reelection. Priorities USA Action, a ‘super PAC’ set up by two former White House aides, spent nearly $75million. Organizers of last year’s Democratic National Convention vowed to produce it without corporate money, but ultimately used $5million from a committee financed by companies such as Bank of America and Duke Energy to rent an arena in Charlotte, N.C.”
As Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell explained in his speech about liberal threats to the First Amendment last summer, it’s critical to liberty to have an open marketplace of ideas rather than having politicians choose who can speak. “If you write the rules of the game, it’s easier to win the game — especially for incumbent politicians, I would add. And that’s what the so-called reform crowd has always had in mind. . . . [W]e all need to understand something: the minute we allow ourselves to be convinced that some people stand outside the protections of the First Amendment, we’re all in trouble. . . . Let people support whomever they want as much as they want to, and let the best man or woman win. Then government could finally get out of the business of divvying up speech rights that it has no authority to confer. That’s what the founders intended. In my view, no one who values our freedoms should accept anything less.”