In fact, President Obama so badly wants Mitt Romney’s supporters’ money out of politics that he recently claimed to have been outspent in the 2008 cycle, in an effort to make “money in politics” an issue for the current election. Data, however, show that President Obama more than doubled Senator John McCain’s spending during the 2008 cycle. (Cue Rep. Joe Wilson …) A new paper out of Dartmouth College by Deborah Jordan Brooks and Michael Murov, too, finds that ads paid for by outside groups are more effective than ads sponsored by candidates themselves … so look forward to more temper tantrums about “money in politics” from our victim in chief and his allies in the coming months, especially if they maintain their current burn rate just to be virtually tied with Mitt Romney in swing states.
The great irony in all of this, too, is that campaign finance reformers have campaign finance reform to thank for 501(c)(pick a number, any number) groups spending money on First Amendment-protected political speech. This is a very basic lesson in prohibition economics. When Congress tried to decide who could manufacture, distribute, sell, and consume alcohol, organized crime surged as prohibition gave birth to a black market for bootlegged liquor. Would there have been organized crime in America had the 18th Amendment never passed? Maybe, but the effects of prohibition were both stark and predictable, particularly given the inelastic demand for temporarily checking out of reality when the stock market crashed nearly 11 years later, and Congress was forced to repeal the 18th Amendment with the 21st Amendment in 1933.
So too are the effects of prohibitions of political speech and participation both stark and predictable when the economy is in the toilet, a decade-long unpopular war rages on halfway around the globe, and you receive either a porno scan or complimentary fondle from a government thug whenever you want to visit your dear Aunt Sally in Muskogee. People will find a way to move their ideas, to try to persuade their fellow voters that the people in power haven’t measured up, no matter how difficult those people in power try to make communicating. There wouldn’t be a perception of “501(c) mischief” if “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech” really meant no law.