Money Doesn't Buy Politicians?

Even the worst judges ought to know better than that

Here's a shocker: Money talks.
In fact, money is in such good voice that the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has decided that money is speech -- that when you spend your money on, say, a politician's election campaign, you're exercising free speech.

Even if your lips aren't moving, even if the tiniest little sounds aren't coming out of your mouth, you are engaging in free speech when you hand over that campaign contribution. It's as if your money is speaking for itself, that it is exercising its own free-speech rights, and you're just along for the ride.

We can only imagine what that money is saying.
"Hey, Mr. Politician, here's a little help for your campaign. Now you vote like the guy holding me in his hand says you'll vote, or at least give him 'access' to you, so he and I can come back next election and do it all over again. Meanwhile, go out there and help us make more of me."

In a 2-1 decision Monday, the appellate judges threw out limits on campaign contributions that were enacted by Missouri voters in November 1994 with the passage of Proposition A. Attorney General Jay Nixon says he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, where money's inalienable rights may further be defined.

Personally, I never cared for Proposition A and actually opposed it four years ago on the grounds that it didn't address "runaway campaign spending, the real culprit in American politics," and that it failed to provide for public campaign financing, the best available solution.

It made no sense to tie politicians' hands on raising money without some spending-side rules -- first, because it would be an invitation for the super-rich to buy themselves elective office and, second, because it would create the false impression that the issue of campaign-finance reform had been laid to rest by the voters.

But as is so often the case when I oppose an initiative, it passed (albeit with the 74 percent plurality setting a personal record of futility). And though I'm still sticking (sort of) to my 26 percent guns that it was a lukewarm idea -- and that reform energy should have been directed toward limiting big spenders, not big receivers -- there is no denying that the state was at least a little better off by having some modest limits in place.

Until this week. Now we're back to square one, worse off than we were before Proposition A, with no reforms in place on either the fundraising or the spending side of election financing.

Gone, for now at least, are the state limits ranging from $275-$1,075 for various state and local offices. Back are the free-for-all days when contributors' money can scream as loudly as it wants.

Not to worry, say Judges Donald Ross and Pasco Bowman -- because no one has proven that here in Missouri we have such a thing as politicians being corrupted by large campaign contributions.

Say what?
Yes, folks, that's really what this money-is-free-speech finding seems to have hinged on. Don't take my word for it: Here's what the judges had to say in their opinion:

"In (two previous cases), we were not satisfied with the mere contention that the states have an interest (an indisputedly compelling interest) in maintaining the integrity of their elections," the ruling states. "We required some demonstrable evidence that there were genuine problems that resulted from contributions in amounts greater than the limits in place.

"The state must prove that Missouri has a real problem with corruption or a perception thereof as a direct result of large campaign contributions."

What amazing arrogance. It seems pretty clear that the state's voters had a "perception thereof" when they overwhelmingly enacted campaign-contribution limits. Do we really need two guys in robes to overrule that collective wisdom based on the stunning assertion that there's no evidence of a "real problem" here?

And what about the U.S. Supreme Court's 1976 Buckley vs. Valeo case -- in which the present $1,000-per-election-cycle contribution limits for all federal offices were upheld -- where Watergate-era abuses were cited to justify some level of limits on campaign giving?

"We will not infer that state candidates for public office are corrupt or that they appear corrupt from the problems that resulted from undeniably large contributions made to federal campaigns over 25 years ago," say the judges.

Even more amazing. "We Missourah folk aren't about to be tarred with that thar brush they used on them slick Washington politicians 25 years ago."

Terrific.
In his dissent, Judge John R. Gibson rightfully pointed to the similarities between the federal $1,000 limits and the $1,075 provided for by Proposition A for statewide races. He also restated the obvious:

"It is hardly counterintuitive that large campaign contributions might corrupt politics and invite public cynicism," Gibson wrote. "The state has imposed only modest restrictions upon political speech, and it need not justify them with scientific precision."

Unfortunately, the judge with the grasp of the obvious was outvoted by two fellows who can't seem to find proof of "genuine problems" with a political system in which big money -- from all parts of the political spectrum -- makes or breaks the electoral future of the people known as "public servants."

Proof? It would be far harder and more expensive to prove that politicians weren't corrupted by huge campaign contributions in a no-limit system than it would be to prove they are.

Any moron can see that.
Oh, sorry, your honors. I didn't mean you any offense.
That was just my money talking.

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