The Atlantic published an article by Reid Wilson last week discussing how independent groups like American Crossroads and Priorities USA are participating in the current political debate over the debt limit, and what a difference this is from past occasions.
With groups like American Crossroads spending millions to control the national debate, what’s a president to do?
… this month may prove to be the critical moment of Obama’s first term, when he and congressional Republicans negotiate an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling… Were Obama’s the only message Americans heard every day, it would have a powerful impact… But the new political reality is that Obama’s is not the only voice, even with his bully pulpit, that is delivering a single message to voters. Instead, outside groups are playing a bigger role than at any time in the last decade, complicating Obama’s ability to deliver an uninterrupted narrative…
The group [American Crossroads] is in the middle of a $5 million advertising campaign that backs up the Republican message. The goal, [American Crossroads president Steven] Law said, is to give Republicans something like the booming voice Obama’s office gives him.
“In these kinds of crisis confrontations, the power and value of the bully pulpit increases exponentially and gives the president asymmetric power to control perceptions of events as they unfold,” Law said. “We felt it was vitally important that outside groups try to balance that out…”
The sub-headline provocatively suggests that outside groups like American Crossroads and Priorities USA are able to ‘control the national debate,’ but reading the full article it’s clear that it is these very outside groups that ensure nobody is able to control the debate.
And that’s the way it is supposed to be, thanks to the First Amendment. The so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ community seek to limit independent voices and would seemingly prefer to have only a few ‘authorized’ voices heard by the American public (mostly after being filtered by the media). But the freedom of citizens to donate and spend money to support their political beliefs ensures that those with a “bully pulpit” are not the only ones that will be heard.
It’s the freedom to spend money in politics, not the restraint of money spent in politics, that helps to provide a more level playing field for competing ideas and candidates in our political system.