February 17, 2010
Greenwald manages here to pack tightly several assertions, which are better considered separately. His first point is that
organizations are created to further the interests of people, and should thus be given powers appropriate to the task.
This point is valid. The cavalier derivation of the next point, however, as a supposed consequence is completely false:
one of those powers must be the possibility to broadcast ideas, unrestricted by the government
February 9, 2010
This is, on the face of it, the most specific of Greenwald’s points, although as it turns out, it does have some wide ranging implications. He begins:
What is overlooked [...] is how ineffective these campaign finance laws are. Large corporations employ teams of lawyers and lobbyists and easily circumvent these restrictions; wealthy individuals and well-funded unincorporated organizations are unlimited in what they can spend. It’s the smaller non-profit advocacy groups whose political speech tends to be most burdened by these laws. Campaign finance laws are a bit like gun control statutes: actual criminals continue to possess large stockpiles of weapons, but law-abiding citizens are disarmed.
There is very little question in my mind that Greenwald is completely correct in saying that campaign finance laws are ineffectual. In a society that is built around the concept of ownership, it would be quite difficult to insulate political discourse from the effects of this institution, and the government has no interest in spending the effort in doing so, since it is populated by people who got there by being backed by wealthy organizations and people.
The rest of the argument, however, is without merit for several reasons:
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February 1, 2010
In point #4 of my list of Glenn Greenwald’s arguments regarding “free speech”, I quote Greenwald’s argument regarding what may be called the “money is speech” doctrine. I cannot find a concise explicit statement of this doctrine online, but I think it is fair to say that it says that
money can be used to help disseminate ideas and therefore its use in this way must be “unrestricted” in the same sense that “speech” (dissemination of ideas) is.
Greenwald’s argument at point #4 shows that indeed money can be used (or maybe to some extent must be used) to disseminate ideas. Therefore an outright ban on the use of money in disseminating a certain idea would be a very powerful way to hinder the dissemination of that idea. This is definitely true – indeed, it is a truism. The notion that money is a useful tool for disseminating ideas can be stretched much further to produce another truism: money is such a useful tool for disseminating ideas that a wealthy person or organization is at an inherent advantage in disseminating their ideas over a person or organization without access to large amounts of money. (A contradictory idea – that ideas gain support based solely on their values irrespective of the resources that are used to back them and thus ideas that are widely believed must be valuable – is also sometimes voiced by interested parties, but this idea can be safely, and usually is, dismissed.)
None of this would come as a surprise to those who argue that “money is not speech”. Indeed it is the latter, stronger statement that is the reason for their objection to the “money is speech” doctrine. The “money is not speech” claim is not the negation of the claim of usefulness of money in disseminating ideas, but to the claim that use of money should be “unrestricted”, in the same way that the mere act of speaking or writing should be “unrestricted”.