Stamping Out Freedom of Speech

Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream has a new project he’s been working on. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with ice cream but involves repealing or amending the first amendment to end our free speech protections. This might seem like a stretch and certainly Ben doesn’t believe that he is doing any such thing, but he may not have thought through what his efforts to get the money out of our politics might actually entail.

Hi, fellow MoveOn member!
This is Ben Cohen, the “Ben” of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. For the past few years, I’ve run a national, grassroots campaign to get Big Money out of politics.
It’s called Stamp Stampede. And the way it works is simple: activists around the country stamp—and then spend—dollar bills with a simple message, such as “Amend the Constitution—Stamp Money Out Of Politics.” Want a stamp?

Just click here, donate $10 or more to help MoveOn’s campaigns to stamp money out of politics, and I’ll send you a stamp!

Stamping dollar bills is one of the most fun—and subversive—ways you can demand a revolution in the way we fund campaigns. (And yes, it’s totally legal. Our lawyers have confirmed it.)

It’s also like a petition on steroids. The math is pretty incredible. Here’s how ordinary people can give billionaires a run for their money:

  • Every bill we stamp is seen by over 875 people.1
  • If just 5,000 MoveOn members (out of 8 million of us) get a stamp—and stamp one bill every day for one year—our message will be seen 1.6 billion times.
  • Each dollar bill that’s stamped directs people to a website where they can join the fight to overturn Citizens United.

Together, we can get our message in front of millions of Americans and bring in droves of new money-in-politics activists each year—which is what it’ll take to win this long-term fight.

Click here to get your stamp for a donation of $10 or more—and help build the movement.

Once you start stamping money, you’ll find it’s pretty addictive. You can spend your stamped money with pride. And let people know that this dollar is not to be used for bribing politicians (you’ll be surprised by how many new friends you’ll make!)

Thanks for all you do.

–Ben Cohen, Stamper-In-Chief

What does money have to do with free speech and why would getting the money out of politics threaten it? Well, to start with, it costs money to run for public office. Either an aspiring candidate may spend his own money to fund his campaign or he may solicit others to donate money. There are not many people wealthy enough to spend their own money to fund a political campaign on the national or even the state level and most people would consider a government made up of only the very wealthy to be undesirable, therefore there will always be a need for politicians to request donations from those who for various reasons are willing to give them money. No campaign finance legislation can change that simple reality. In fact, most proposals for getting the money out of politics seem to be aimed at getting the other side’s money out of politics. We are funded by small donations from ordinary people who wanted to make this country a better place. They are funded by millionaires and billionaires who want to protect their own greedy interests. Somehow, for all the fuss the progressives make about the nefarious Koch Brothers, they never seem to be bothered by the money George Soros spends on politics.

o-STAMP-STAMPEDE-facebook

 

The first amendment guarantees our freedom of speech. It does not require anyone to provide us a forum for our speech. If an individual or a group wishes to have some impact on the political process by speaking for or against a given policy, law, or candidate for office, they must spend money to get their message out. They must purchase advertisements in printed periodicals or on broadcast media. They must print pamphlets, create audio visual media, etc. They may have a staff of volunteers, but at some point, they may find it desirable to have people working full time on the cause. These people have to be compensated for their time and efforts. More recently the rise of the Internet and digital broadcasting and published has made the process of getting a message out cheaper and more democratic. You do not need to own a newspaper or television station to influence events anymore. Still, if you want to be really effective, you still need to spend some money.

Free speech is not free.
Yes it is. Free speech is not free.

 

Like the politician seeking office, an individual or group seeking to get a political message out can spend their own money or solicit donations from people who support the individual or group’s goals. If the government can control and limit the funding of any political advocacy organization, it can effectively control and limit its speech. It does little good to guarantee freedom of speech if you prevent people from using that freedom in any sort of really effective manner. Indeed, this is a far more effective method of controlling dissent than the gulag. What good does it do to have the freedom to speak out if the only audience you are permitted to reach is a small circle of acquaintances? A dissident in a gulag may still be somewhat dangerous since he gets some attention and can even be regarded as a hero. A dissident who no one ever hears of is no danger to anyone.

Ben is probably sincere in  his desire to limit the influence in our politics but there will be money in politics as long as their is politics simply because politics requires money. Attempting to control the flow of money in politics will always tend to benefit some factions and parties at the expense of others. Controlling the money used to publish speech can be used to control the speech. This is not to say that we should have no campaign finance laws, but, as in everything else good intentions do not justify bad results and you must be on the lookout for unintended (or intended) consequences. Ben should stick to making ice cream.

Denouncing the Koch Brothers

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich emailed me to let me know that he has started a petition at Moveon.org denouncing the Koch Brothers for corrupting our democracy.

We, citizens of the United States, denounce you, Charles and David Koch, for using your vast wealth—more than the combined wealth of the bottom 40 percent of Americans—to corrupt our democracy. You are thereby undermining the most precious gift we possess, our democratic system of government. You deserve to be shamed and condemned by all Americans.

We do not denounce the Koch brothers because their wealth of more than $50 billion exceeds the combined wealth of the bottom 40 percent of all the citizens of the United States, or because they run and own one of the largest petrochemical businesses in the world, or because of their right-wing views.

The Koch brothers are entitled to their wealth and to their opinions, but when they use their vast wealth to overpower the voices of average Americans, that is unfair and they should be held accountable.

They’ve established a political front group, Americans for Prosperity, and are building their own permanent political machine, including hundreds of full-time staff in at least 32 states. They are pouring money into federal and state races—including more than $30 million already to help Republicans win the Senate this year. 

The Koch brothers are thereby using their vast wealth to undermine and corrupt our democracy—a shameful betrayal of our nation for which they deserve to be widely denounced. It’s time we join our voices together to publicly denounce the Koch brothers and their dangerous, corrupting influence. They may not be swayed by our voices, but when enough of us condemn what they’re doing, taking their money will become a political liability.

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends.

Thanks!

–Robert Reich

I keep wondering why the Democrats are so obsessed with the Koch Brothers. What crimes have these men committed? Don’t they have the right to spend their money however they wish? How exactly are they undermining democracy or overpowering the voices of average Americans? Are they preventing anyone else from speaking or from supporting political candidates?

Robert Reich acts as if the Koch Brothers were doing something uniquely evil by spending large amounts of money to influence politics. Yet, if you look at Open Secrets’ list of top political donors, Koch Industries is all the down to 59th place with a total of $18,283,448 in contributions from 1989 to 2014. This does not include their efforts with Americans for Prosperity and other fundraising, but it is a starting point for comparisons. The top political donor from 1989 to 2014 is ActBlue, a Democratic leaning political action committee. They contributed a total of $100,887,828. Second and third are the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees and the National Education Association with contributions totaling $61,339,129 and $61,339,129 respectively. Both these organizations contribute almost entirely to Democrats. In fact, the top sixteen donors either support the Democrats or are on the fence. Of these sixteen, eleven are labor unions. Say what you will about the Kochs, at least they are spending their own money, not money taken from members’ dues. The ones who contributed to both parties seem to be some of the largest corporations in America, like AT&T, Goldman Sachs, J. P. Morgan, and others. The top Republican donor is United Parcel Service with contributions totaling $32,565,382. 

Why doesn’t Robert Reich denounce any large donors, except for the Kochs? Why doesn’t he denounce the actions of the labor unions who not only contribute large amounts of money to Democrats but also provide many of the foot soldiers for their political campaigns? What about Hollywood? Even a mediocre actor can get a lot a attention for any political cause he may want to support, and most actors are liberal. Aren’t these examples of overpowering the voices of ordinary Americans. He also has nothing to say about large corporate donors who contribute to both parties. Why not? If a corporation is contributing to both the Republicans and the Democrat, chances are it is not promoting any particular ideology but is trying to buy favors or protection. At least the Kochs can credibly claim to promote a conservative/libertarian ideology beyond their business agenda.

 He states that he does not condemn the Kochs because of their wealth or their right wing views, but does he really expect anyone to believe him? I think it is precisely because of their right wing views that the Democrats single out the Koch Brothers for condemnation. Corporations buying concessions and favors from legislatures doesn’t seem to bother them. Trying to promote the libertarian viewpoint of a smaller, less powerful government seems to bother them quite a lot. Demonizing and denouncing some of the most prominent supporters of that viewpoint may help others to reconsider donating to conservative causes. Like so much else on the left, denouncing the Koch Brothers is all about power and bullying.

Enhanced by Zemanta