Media Watch: A Long Way to Go

Organizing for America’s creation reinforces two important lessons about politics.  First, politicians tend to do what is in their best interest at the moment, be it railing against money in politics for cheap political points or helping campaigns transition into advocacy non-profits.  Second, our system of government thrives because of our rights regarding political speech, and that opening the doors to increased advocacy is good for both politicians and the people they serve.
While the first point is most salient when examining specific political actions of certain groups or candidates, the second lesson is far more universal.  After years of fighting attempts to limit political speech, we at CCP are thrilled that politicians and advisors once hostile to our positions have re-examined the merits of increased advocacy.  In a  Huffington Post blog post (OFA and the Fundraising Thing), Mike Lux recognizes the impetus for change among pro-regulatory politicians:

“Just because I am for reforming the money-in-politics system in Washington doesn’t mean I believe progressives — including progressive politicians — should stop raising money, including money in big chunks if need be. It guarantees that progressives will lose almost all of the time, and these issues are too critically important to give up on any chance of winning the fight.”

While admitting the problem is the first step in the road to recovery, there’s still a long way to go.  Mr. Lux continues his article by writing:

Here’s the other point that I think is worth making: not all interest groups, and not all money raised in politics, are the same. I know this point will raise the hackles of the pox on all their houses crowd, but if you are raising money to, say, keep five-year-olds from being killed by semi-automatics, it is qualitatively different than, say, raising money to make sure your massively profitable Wall Street bank doesn’t have to worry about regulations or being taxed much. Groups like Wall Street trade associations that are specifically about helping their narrow industry to keep maximizing their profit have a fundamentally different purpose than non-profits who are trying to serve the broader public interest. To say that all money is the same, that all lobbying is the same, is deeply wrong — and Common Cause — a public interest group that raises millions of dollars per year, some of it in very large contributions, to promote the greater good — should know better.

But it isn’t qualitatively different.  Mr. Lux might be warming up to free speech, but only because it’s being harnessed to promote his interests.  While everyone is entitled to their own priorities, it’s no one’s place to judge which issues are in the public interest and which aren’t.  After all, what’s the difference between a Wall Street bank looking to influence lending regulation and one of Mr. Lux’s union clients trying to increase collective bargaining power?  Or the difference between a non-profit advocating for gun control and another advocating to get money out of politics?  Why, Mr. Lux, should Common Cause act as a partisan hack just because other issues facing our nation are taking more prominence in the public eye?

For some, there’s a long way to go in embracing free political speech.  Acknowledging that limiting speech isn’t in one’s best interest is a good first step, but rejecting the validity of certain debates is a half-step back.  Still, it is progress.

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