… even so, Schultz might blame progressives like himself

As political aficionados have no doubt heard, North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan won’t challenge Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) for the title of longest serving U.S. Senator.  And it now appears that MSNBC’s Ed Schultz is considering a run to take Dorgan’s place.

The problem, according to a letter sent to MSNBC President Phil Griffin by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is that Schultz is using the Peacock’s corporate perch to weigh his decision over the public airwaves.  Federal campaign law prohibits individuals “testing the waters” of federal candidacy to do so with corporate funds, provided either directly or in-kind.

There is little question the media platform Schulz enjoys would count as an in-kind corporate contribution to any talk show host testing the waters of political office.  The only remaining question is whether Schultz is indeed testing the waters; a decision made by FEC officials, post hoc, on a balance of factors.

No doubt Schultz sees the NRSC letter as out of line, another example of politics as usual, and one filed baselessly by political opponents seeking to wound him.

But there is no denying that Ed Schultz fancies himself a progressive, and that the progressives consider the ban on corporate contributions to federal candidates a mainstay of their campaign finance policy positions.

It has long been difficult distinguishing progressive principles from progressive instrumentalism.  Even the “sober minded” Elihu Root could not have missed that corporations would fare poorly in the policy arena once they were shut out of elections.  And time has proven it.  The great railroads Root railed against in days of old were killed, most economists believe, by progressive regulation.

So, will Ed Schultz abide by progressive campaign-finance shibboleths as a matter of principle, and renounce all assistance from MSNBC?  Or, will he attempt to further his candidacy, subtlety, via his talk show on MSNBC?  There is no sure way to know.  But we’ll bet that Schultz will do what he perceives to be in his long-range interests, both at MSNBC and for any nascent campaign he may be planning.  And we’re betting that means protecting a hard-won reputation for having his personal, political, and professional decisions match his positions on policy and issues, whether he is brought to the decision by an opponent’s complaint letter or would have done so in any event.

This is a dynamic we wish progressives would recognize and remember when considering the regulation of political speech in general: So long as voters can really get to know you, and know the private entity paying the freight, there is little to fear from political participation by all—even if it means letting new candidates keep their long running talk shows on corporate MSNBC.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.