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Free Speech: The Freedom to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Our publisher ruminates on excessive campaign spending
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Publisher's Note

As votes were tallied on Nov. 2, a silent winner surfaced amidst the shuffle: the coffers of cable television networks. A staggering $3 billion was spent nationally on television ads this year, eclipsing both the $2.4 billion spent in the 2006 midterms and the $2.7 billion during the last presidential election. (Yes, I wonder about the industry Moonshine Ink chose as its medium.)

Here at home in the Golden State, the most expensive non-presidential race in history raged over airwaves and into our mailboxes as Republican candidate Meg Whitman spent $142 million of her own money in an unsuccessful bid to be California’s next governor. The former eBay CEO outspent her opponent 3 to 1.

Perhaps even more astounding, independent advocacy groups poured nearly half a trillion dollars into the 2010 midterm elections — much of it raised from undisclosed donors. This compares to $300 million spent by independent interests in 2006.

This full-blown cash windfall is mostly attributed to January’s landmark 5–4 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. A controversial decision, this divisive decree said that, in deference to our nation’s dedication to free speech for all, the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. Advocates argue that it is not the government’s role to decide who gets to say what in public debate. Opponents say the decision will further damage our political system, giving (more) unfair advantage to special interests with deep pockets. Many say the effects of the decision will be more apparent in 2012.

In response to the Court’s decision, Maryland-based Murray Hill Inc. announced in January its ballsy plan to run for a seat in the U.S. Congress. Although it was admittedly a tongue-in-cheek move, the company said, 'It’s our democracy. We bought it, we paid for it, and we’re going to keep it.'

Although it was tempting to dismiss Murray Hill’s campaign as a publicity stunt, a troubling question became obvious: Should corporations be given the same rights as the individual warm-blooded humans in our nation? I agree that it’s a slippery slope to allow government to decide where your hard-earned money is spent when elections come around. But when 1 percent of income earners in America have over 35 percent of our nation’s wealth, how does the average earner’s voice not get drowned out?

Experts stress that money alone won’t win a race. Yet I find it ironic that the Citizens United case was based on a decision to uphold free speech, when in fact, the real question may be how much money does it take for your speech to be heard?

As always,
Mayumi

 
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March 14, 2019