The FEC’s War on Free Speech and the Coming Battle for the Web

“Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the
people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress
of grievances.”
������-First Amendment, Constitution of
the United States

�������Both the current scheme and
alternatives proposed by candidates this election cycle to “reform”
campaign finance violate the rights spelled out in the First Amendment.
The Federal Elections Commission should be abolished and political freedom
restored to U.S. elections.

�������Unfortunately, the FEC appears
to be headed toward regulating the web with its brand of censorship.

Campaign Finance Myths

�������Much of the hype surrounding
campaign finance reform rests on ignorance of how much is spent on political
campaigns and how campaign finance regulations effect such spending.

�������The first myth is that obscenely
large sums are spent on elections. In fact total political campaign spending
during elections works out to a mere $10 per voter every two years. If
anything, that’s a steeply discounted sum considering the economic, political
and military might of the United States; a vote for a U.S. politician
has much more worldwide impact than a vote in, say, Italy’s elections.

�������The second myth is that campaign
finance reform keeps big money donors such as corporations, unions and
other special interest groups from influencing elections, while “empowering”
the average voter.

�������In fact, donation limits do
just the opposite. Because of the massive amount of paper work required
by the FEC, lots of small donations can nickel and dime a campaign to
death. It becomes much more cost effective to seek large donations from
big donors than bother with the little people who might only be able to
give $20 or $50 at a pop.

�������In addition, because the Supreme
Court has ruled restrictions on spending independent of campaign organizations
violates Constitutional guarantees of free speech, large donors can and
do bankroll independent organizations to get their views across. Groups
such as labor unions and the Christian Coalition have done this most visibly
this year, garnering the wrath of those opposed to their respective political

Real Effect of Campaign Finance Laws

�������The main effect, then, of the
FEC has not been to freeze out large corporations or special interests
groups such as unions, but instead to lower competition from challengers
and third parties and punish genuinely grassroots organizations.

�������Passed in 1971 and revised
several times since, the Federal Election Campaign Act has clearly been
used to prevent third party challenges to the Republican/Democrat hegemony.
When the FEC was established in 1974, Representative David R. Obey (D-Wis.),
put it bluntly when he testified, “We should not be in the business
of encouraging minority parties. The two-party system has been the basic
strength of American democracy.”

�������Historically, new and innovative
political ideas have benefited from wealthy benefactors willing to underwrite
various causes. One can easily imagine a wealthy individual concerned
about the environment donating millions of dollars to give a party advocating
pro-environmental ideas a competitive shot in elections. Current FEC guidelines
outlaw such donations, ensuring the Democrats and Republicans have no
real challengers.

�������FEC regulations and investigations
also hurt grassroots campaigns tremendously, chilling free speech. It
is currently legal for groups to independently distribute information
about their views, but it is illegal for them to do so in coordinate with
a political campaign.

�������Unfortunately, the line distinguishing
between what is and is not a campaign effort is a hard one to draw. The
current complaints against the Christian Coalition and various unions
is that they illegally coordinated their publications with the Republican
and Democrat parties respectively.

�������Large organizations such as
these can generally afford the risk of retaining lawyers for yet another
FEC inquisition, but small groups cannot. So rather than risk the wrath
of the FEC, many of these instead simply curtail what they say and how
they say it around election time. The cost for those who don’t can be

FEC’s Inquistions

�������The October issue of Reason
magazine highlighted the vindictive investigation by the FEC into two
ACT-UP chapter which spent more than $5,000 organizing a 1990 boycott
of Phillip Morris for its support of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina).
Helmes claimed the boycott was an illegal contribution to his opponent’s

�������According to Reason, the FEC
spent more than two years investigating the ACT-UP chapters, finally pulling
the plug in 1994 after the groups had already went out of business.

�������The Cato Institute documented
similar instances of investigations and fines of grassroots organizations
involved in politically unpopular causes in the early and mid-1980s.

Today the Nation, Tomorrow the Web

�������Now thee first rumbles are
being heard of extending the FEC’s war on free speech to the web. Both
the San Jose Mercury News and Mother Jones recently published articles
raising the specter of FEC regulation of the net.

�������The current debate centers
around California’s Proposition 211, a ballot initiative which would make
it easier for investors to sue companies for securities fraud. The Mercury
news wonders whether or not it is legal for popular web sites such as
Netscape and Yahoo! to refuse to run ads in favor of Proposition 211,
which both companies oppose.

�������Yahoo! finally agreed to run
a pro-211 ad, while Netscape claims it was never asked to run such an

�������Kevin Lee Thomason, who created
the pro-211 Internet site, seems to believe that popular web sites might
eventually face the same regulations that television stations do. Thomason
told the Mercury News, “When certain companies have a large market
share, they create an obligation to exhibit fairness when it comes to
political issues.”

�������Mother Jones writer Eric Umansky
outlines the more important, and potentially more volatile, issue of whether
or not the small icons on Microsoft, Netscape and other sites which link
to anti-211 sites aren’t actually contributions which must be reported
as such.

�������There is some precedent for
thinking they might be. Earlier this year Compuserve offered to give free
web space to political candidates, but was forced to withdraw the offer
after the FEC ruled it constituted an in-kind donation which is illegal.

�������This incident clearly illustrates
just how much FEC actions can diminish rather than enhance the level and
quality of political discourse. Although much of the concern about censorship
on the net has been reserved for the most blatant attempt at censorship,
such as the Communications Decency Act, little activity has focused on
how agencies such as the FEC might impact free speech on the net. Unlike
the CDA, the Supreme Court has upheld the FEC’s right to tinker with free
speech, and if it decides to start going after political speech on the
net it is much more likely to be successful than laws like the CDA.

�������Any political site which mentions
candidates, positively or negatively, could face a series of increasingly
stringent regulations, restrictions and filing requirements to meet the
FEC’s Byzantine rules.

Time to Get Rid of the FEC

�������After a series of investigations
of both parties in the early and mid-1980s, the Republican platform in
1984 included a plank to get rid of the FEC. Now it is imperative that
the FEC either be abolished or restrained before it starts limiting political
discourse on the web. The problem with the FEC is it fundamentally limits
the range and extent of political discussion, favoring entrenched political
interests at the expense of outsiders and challengers.

Minimum Wage Increase: False Boost For Economy

       Beginning in July, the House
of Representatives wants to force businesses to discriminate against low-skilled

       By raising the minimum
wage, the government only puts the most economically vulnerable Americans
out of work.

       Politicians tend to believe
government possesses some sort of mystical power to alter economic reality.
With a wave of the magic government wand, wages simply increase with no
adverse effect anywhere in the economy.

       In a free labor market,
wages are based on the demand for certain skills. A restaurant owner might
decided to boost profits by hiring another person to take orders, and
decides it is worth $4.25 per hour to hire someone to do that job.

       What happens when the minimum
wage is set at $5 per hour? The restaurant owner decides not to create
the position because it’s no longer profitable to do so, and a low-skill
job is lost. In this way, the minimum wage shrinks job opportunities for
individuals who possess few marketable skills and condemns many of them
to perpetual unemployment.

       This effectively forces
the business owner to discriminate against low-skilled workers. By preventing
the business owners from offering jobs below the minimum wage, the government
says to low skilled workers, “No matter how hard you try, we’re not going
to let anyone employ you.”

       In fact decades of minimum
wage laws produce permanent unemployment in the United States. No matter
how good the economy is doing there is always a level of 5 or 6 percent
of people who never seem to find work. One large component of this group
of permanently unemployed are people employable at blow the minimum age
who have largely abandoned hope of escaping poverty. Raising the minimum
wage simply increases this level of permanent unemployment.

       Some supporters of the
minimum wage wonder why anyone should have to work for less than the minimum
wage. Certainly a person cannot make much of a living working at the minimum
wage, much less below it.

       In their attempt to display
their overwhelming and single-minded compassion, however, such people
miss the point. No one suggests low-skilled people should work their entire
lives in low paying jobs. Instead, those jobs are the best place for low
skilled workers to gain the necessary skills to get higher paying jobs.

       Someone working in a restaurant
at $4 per hour will acquire the skills necessary to work up to a higher
wage level. This is the only way to promote long term economic mobility
at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

       Instead of allowing this
to happen, minimum wage supporters relegate low skilled workers to welfare
and other forms of government assistance. This sort of “help” has proved
a resounding failure over the last 30 years. Welfare and other programs
have been little more than black holes for the poor, permanently trapping
many of them in the cycle of poverty.

       Other supporters of minimum
wages cite the example of New Jersey and other areas which raised their
minimum wage yet saw employment rates increase. This claim is little more
than sophistry.

       New Jersey experienced tremendous
economic growth which raised the general wage rate above the level of
the minimum wage. If the minimum wage is $5 per hour but competition for
labor raises the going wage rage for unskilled labor to $6 per hour, of
course minimum wage laws do no harm, largely because they also do no good.
No minimum wage law is necessary when low skilled workers can already
command more than the minimum on the labor market.

       The bottom line is there
is no quick fix to raising wage rates. Over the long term the only way
to do so is by increasing the productivity of labor through capital accumulation,
increased efficiency and technological innovation. Instead of putting
people out of work with a minimum wage increase, government should be
encouraging capital accumulation, such as the purchase of new and better
machinery, by eliminating obstacles to investment such as the capital
gains tax.

       That would help unskilled workers
a lot more than permanently relegating them to the wasteland of unemployment
and welfare.

This article originally appeared in the Western Herald.

Rape By Book Review

When Carlin Romano, literary critic
for The Philadelphia Inquirer agreed to review University of
Michigan law professor Catharine MacKinnon’s latest book, Only Words,
for The Nation magazine, he probably knew his slamming of her
views would create some controversy. But he probably didn’t expect to
be accused of raping MacKinnon.

That’s right, Romano has the distinction
of being the first person in history to be accused of rape via book review
— but his accusers are dead serious.

To understand how MacKinnon and
her supporters arrive at this conclusion, you need to know a bit about
MacKinnon and her assault on free speech.

MacKinnon is currently on the cutting
edge of an assault on so-called “pornographic” works. What makes
MacKinnon different than previous anti-porn crusaders is that she advances
and defends the proposition that imagining some acts is equivalent to
actually going out and doing them.

In Only Words, she notes
the countless areas in our legal system in which individuals who utter
certain words or express certain ideas are treated as if they had actually
committed an act.

MacKinnon writes, “Saying
‘kill’ to a trained attack dog is only words. Yet it is not seen as expressing
the viewpoint ‘I want you dead’ — which it usually does, in fact, express.
It is seen as performing an act tantamount to someone’s destruction, like
saying ‘read, aim, fire’ to a firing squad.”

For MacKinnon, pornography is then
analogous to saying “kill” to a trained attack dog. Pornography
doesn’t just express an idea, it commits an act that is harmful to women.
As Romano pointed out in his review, to MacKinnon pornography says “rape”
and thus does not warrant constitutional protections.

From his review of Only Words
it’s readily apparent that Romano disagrees rather vehemently with MacKinnon’s
thesis, and he opens his review with an analogy that attempts to illustrate
the difference between imagining an act and committing an act. It’s this
analogy that has gotten him into trouble.

Romano writes, “Suppose I
decide to rape Catharine MacKinnon before reviewing her book … I plot
and strategize, but at the last moment, I chicken out.”

But then, he adds, imagine other
book reviewer, who he calls Dworkin Hentoff — who comes up with the same
idea and does act on it, raping MacKinnon.

The police are called and both
Hentoff and Romano are arrested. But, Romano pleads, he hasn’t actually
raped anyone — he’s only imagined it. Under MacKinnon’s view of speech,
however, he has raped her and is culpable legally as Hentoff.

Romano thought this was a clever
way to point out some of the difficulties inherent in MacKinnon’s views.

MacKinnon and her supporters think
the review itself constitutes rape.

“He [Romano] had me where
he wanted me,” MacKinnon told Time magazine. “He wants
me as a violated woman with her legs spread. He needed me there before
he could address my work.”

And don’t think this is just empty
rhetoric. MacKinnon told the Washington Post that “Carlin
Romano should be held accountable for what he did. There are a lot of
people out there, and a lot of ways that an be done.”

Romano for his part, isn’t backing
down. “She’s claiming a book review equals rape. That’s quite a stretch.”

Thankfully in the United States
the First Amendment will prevent MacKinnon from pursuing rape charges
against Romano; but if this had occurred in Canada it might be a different

Along with feminist thinker Andrea
Dworkin, MacKinnon has had a substantial part of her ideas accepted by
the Supreme Court of Canada. That court has banned pornography and Holocaust
revisionism on precisely the grounds that MacKinnon has laid out for harmful

In Only Words MacKinnon
describes the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1992 ruling against pornography
this way: “The evidence on the harm of pornography was sufficient
for a law against it … Harm in this context was defined as ‘predispos(ing)
persons to act in an anti-social manner.”

In the final paragraph of his review,
Romano provides probably the best evaluation of MacKinnon’s efforts to

“The first settlers in America
came here to get away from people like Catharine MacKinnon. Thousands
of immigrants still come here to flee people like Catharine MacKinnon.
She is an authoritarian in the guise of a progressive … and God help
the First Amendment if her ideas ever win the day.”

Legalize Drugs

“Prohibition…goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts
to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things
that are not crimes…A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles
upon which our government was founded.”
       -Abraham Lincoln

       Legalize drugs.

       Two words strong enough to send
most conservatives into hallucinations of the crumbling of Western civilization
as we know it. The pin-striped prohibitionists dedicate their days to
telling you and I what we can and cannot put into our bodies.

       This particular group of conservatives
is trapped by their own ideological inconsistencies. Mention gun control
and they go off about the danger of government encroachment into private
lives. Argue in favor of protecting wetlands, and you receive a lecture
on the glories of the marketplace. But drugs? All of a sudden the answer
is more government, more government, more government. The war on drugs
is nothing but a welfare program for police and government bureaucrats.

       At the heart of the arguments
against drug legalization lies a paralyzing paternalism. Drugs are allegedly
bad for people, so the government will just take them away from the little
children citizens and put them on a shelf where they can’t reach them.
And if they do manage to get them, send ’em to their room for life.

       Drugs are dangerous. So what!!!

       A lot of things in life are
dangerous; the most intimate decisions individuals make are about acceptable
risks. Two of the most dangerous drugs known to humankind, tobacco and
alcohol, are permitted to compete in the marketplace even though the number
of documented deaths from the two puts crack and heroin into the minor

       Society also permits individuals
to participate in a wide range of rather risky behaviors. People are allowed
to drive, own guns, eat high cholesterol foods, and listen to Michael
Bolton albums. In fact there is an inherent risk in just about every human

       One major distinguishing feature
of a democracy is that individuals are allowed to decide for themselves
the amount of risk they are willing to accept. I consider hang gliding
a very high risk sport, for example, but realize that other people consider
it low-risk or are willing to put up with the high risk because of the
potential outcomes (when it comes down to it, we bet our lives against
positive outcomes all of the time).

       The point is it’s your life
and your decision. If you are willing to accept the risks and consequences
of snorting cocaine, go for it.

       It is not the government’s
role to act as surrogate parents protecting rational adults from the risks
of living.

       A few caveats to the above
scenario are necessary.

       First, the right of an individual
to determine acceptable risks ends at the point where another individual’s
rights begin. Snorting cocaine and then driving, for example, would not
be a morally defensible action. Unfortunately in the anti-drug hysteria
an attempt has been made to expand what it means to infringe upon the
rights of other individuals.

       Harm here must be construed
narrowly. If someone gets high and then assaults another person, that
is a direct, tangible harm. If someone starts to ignore or even leaves
a spouse because of drug abuse, however, that is not a direct harm. An
intrinsic part of our social relations is that they are contingent and
subject to a variety of risks. The same individual might ignore his or
her spouse, for example, by becoming a compulsive overworker. Yet we don’t
have any laws which prevent someone from spending too many hours at the

       And though this is a decidedly
non-consequentialist analysis of drug use, it is most certainly not evident
that drug use and/or crime would increase with legalization. As Doug Bandow,
senior fellow at the Cato Institute, notes, drugs were legal in the United
States until 1914. At that time the United States had fewer drug users
per capita than it does now, and the crime rate was significantly lower.

       As Bandow wrote in the New
York Times
, “The Government should focus its enforcement efforts
on protecting minors, while restricting only adult drug use that directly
endangers others. We should rely on education and social pressure to discourage
drug use. Indeed, they are bringing down alcohol and tobacco use without
a war, and it is education and social pressure that have done the most
to reduce illicit drug use.”

       This column original appeared
in the Western Herald.

Civil Liberties, Freedom, First Casualties of Drug War

Drugs are becoming an increasingly
large national threat

And not just because of the
social costs of addiction. Alcohol and tobacco leave other drugs far behind
in their destructiveness. It isn’t because of increased drug-related crime.
Much of this crime occurs between rival drug dealers, and could be reduced
by legalization.

No, the biggest danger that
drugs pose is that some people are using the current public hysteria over
the problem to launch an assault on civil liberties.

The most manifest example
of this is the widespread use of so-called “drug-courier profiles”
and stop and frisk measures.

A drug courier profile is
a list of individual acts which by themselves are legal, but taken together
indicate that a person maybe transporting illegal drugs. People who fly
to cities like Miami and stay only a night or two, or who pay for their
plane tickets in cash can be stopped, detained and strip-searched, even
though the only crime they may have committed was looking suspicious.

A major element of such profiles
is race. Minority persons are much more likely to be considered suspects
than whites. The implicit assumption behind this seems to be that blacks,
Hispanics and others are more likely to be involved in drug trafficking.

Aside from the fact that in
a sense this makes having the wrong skin color a crime, the logic behind
it is absurd. If it is assumed that minority persons are more likely to
be transporting drugs, then more minority persons will be stopped and
arrested. This increase in arrests then “proves” the original
hypothesis to be true.

Various Supreme Court decisions
have also given police broad powers to stop and frisk just about anyone.
In cities like Boston and Los Angeles, police regularly conduct large
sweeps of certain areas. They warm down on a neighborhood and search anyone
who happens to be in the area. Usually, poverty-ridden minority areas
are subject to this sort of harassment rather than middle or upper class

In Los Angeles, city officials
tried to carry this one step further. They wanted people in certain areas
to carry identification proving they lived there. They also wanted to
make it illegal for people to gather in groups of more than two. Is this
the United States or South Africa?

These measures were ruled
unconstitutional, but that has not seemed to deter those who want to limit
civil liberties in order to fight drugs.

In a speech just a few weeks
ago, drug czar William Bennett suggested that the government should go
to drug-infested areas and remove all of the children. He suggested that
orphanages would be much better places for them than such neighborhoods.

In effect, Bennett would like
to penalize low income people who are forced to live in America’s ghettos
by taking away their children. If he has his way, in the future we may
see signs that say “Child Free Drug Zone.” Perhaps instead,
Bennett might consider financing drug treatment centers in such areas.

Some conservative writers
like Cal Thomas have gone even further arguing that the government needs
broad censorship powers to control the drug problem. Thomas thinks that
music groups like 2 Live Crew and N.W.A. are polluting our moral standards,
and they(along with movies and other media) should be forced to present
wholesome, decent values.

Before Thomas’ vision of America
comes to pass, we need to ask ourselves if the sacrifices we’re being
asked to make aren’t even more dangerous that the drug problem they are
designed to combat?

This column original appeared
in the Western Herald.

IRS Politically Motivated, Abuses Its Power, Privileges

       Internal Revenue Service.

       Those three words are enough
to strike fear into the hearts of even the most honest taxpayer. With
its web of obscure and incomprehensible regulations and more power than
the FBI and CIA combined, the IRS is not an organization to be taken lightly.

       The IRS, like its counterparts
in the intelligence community, is aware of its immense power and has consistently
abused its privileges. Horror stories abound of IRS abuses.

       In one case, the IRS claimed
that a businessman owed back taxes and it threatened to seize the iron
lung which kept his polio-stricken wife alive unless the money was forthcoming.

        After Kansas City police
officer Paul Campbell gave a ticket to an IRS agent, he was “randomly”
selected for an audit. After nothing could be found wrong with his taxes
the IRS continued to spy on and harass Campbell for four months before
finally admitting that he owed them nothing.

       Books could be filled with
individual incidents like this. What is more alarming, however, is how
the IRS has used its power to harass people and organizations for their
political views and activities.

       James Luce knows about this
from firsthand experience. Luce is cofounder (with Richard Yao) of Fundamentalists
Anonymous, a watchdog group that monitors the actions of right-wing religious
groups. FA publicly criticizes powerful members of the religious right
like Jerry Falwell and helped start an investigation that led to the downfall
of television evangelist Jim Baker.

       During the presidential campaign
of 1988, the group exposed Dan Quayle’s ties to right-wing fundamentalists.
Since then the IRS hasn’t left the group alone. For over a year now, FA
has been subjected to unannounced visits from IRS agents and threatening
phone calls.

       Luce believes the IRS harassment
is politically motivated. “(Last July) senior IRS officials, led
by Robert Keller, explicitlytold (me) that the goal of the IRS was to
‘shut down’ Fundamentalists Anonymous and make it ‘grovel’ to the IRS,”
he said.

       The IRS later apologized for
those statements. Only ten days later, however, FA received a “random”
audit notice from the agency.

       Fundamentalists Anonymous is
by no means the first or last group to receive such attention from the
IRS. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson both tried to use the IRS for political
gain without much success. It was left up to Richard Nixon to fully exploit
the power of the IRS.

       In 1969, Nixon authorized the
creation of the Special Service Staff (SSS)– a branch of the IRS dedicated
to investigating political dissidents and helping out Nixon friends.

       The SSS accomplished several
things for Nixon. It gave him access to confidential tax records and investigations,
which he used to gain an advantage over his opponents.

       In 1972, for example, Nixon
was facing fierce competition from George Wallace in the Alabama Republican
primary. The Nixon campaign managed to garner an IRS file on some alleged
illegal dealings involving Wallace. They then leaked the file to the press
a few days before the primary.

       Nixon also sought to gain special
favors from the IRS for his friends. He intervened to make sure that supporters
such as the Rev. Billy Graham and John Wayne were not subjected to IRS
investigation. The Nixon administration also intervened to ensure that
the Committee to Re-Elect the President got special tax exemptions.

       The most appalling Nixon abuse
of the IRS was the so-called “Political Enemies Project.” Using
John Dean and Gordon Liddy as intermediaries Nixon drew up a plan which,
as Dean would later testify, was designed to “use the available machinery
to screw our political enemies.”

       The White House made lists
of opponents, and then applied pressure on the IRS (and FBI) to have these
people audited and harassed. The strategy seemed to work as those on the
list were audited at a much higher rate than the average taxpayer.

       By 1972, the SSS kept detailed
records on over 2,500 organizations and 7,000 individuals who held beliefs
contrary to Nixon’s.

       After Watergate testimony revealed
the Nixon abuses of the IRS, Congress passed a series of laws aimed at
protecting citizens. Unfortunately those laws proved ineffective in shielding
political activists, and have been easily sidestepped by subsequent presidents.

       When the North American Congress
on Latin America criticized President Reagan’s policies on Nicaragua,
the IRS tried to withdraw the group’s tax-exempt status at the urging
of the White House. Similarly, many activists who visited Nicaragua returned
home to find audit notifications waiting for them.

       In the best tradition of Senator
McCarthy, persecution of political dissidents continues.

This article originally appeared in the Western Herald.