Monday, February 17, 2014

Campaign Finance Limits Hurt The Little Guy

Recently, the issue of campaign spending limits arose at the New Jersey Libertarian Party, an organization of which I am an officer.  An advocacy group approached us regarding a point-of-view on this issue.  This essay is adapted from a response that I gave to a group called Voters First during my 2010 Congressional campaign in NJ District 4.

I oppose putting restrictions on campaign spending.

In recent elections my opponent, Congressman Chris Smith, spent over $1 million defending his seat while the Democrats invest about $400,000 in opposition.  I, on the other hand, did not even raise enough money to meet the minimum FEC reporting threshold of $5,000.

According to Cato Institute analysis, spending limitations and regulation “threatens to close off electoral politics to outsiders, hinder grassroots political involvement”

Although it may appear to be in the best interest of third parties and challenger candidates to support spending limits, I do not.  Here’s why:

First, any legislation that limits campaign or any advertising investment is a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.  Free people have the right to say not only what they please, they also have the right to speak to as many people as possible and to repeat their message as often as they wish.

 The First Amendment also protects the right of citizens peacefully gather for the purpose of political expression.  This includes PACs and corporations which are nothing more than peaceful and voluntary gatherings of individuals.

Secondly, putting limits on paid speed is disingenuous and deceptive.  Marketing and campaign professionals understand that there are three broad classes of marketing media:

  1. Paid media – paid for TV & radio commercials, print ads, billboards, web banners, etc.
    • This is the kind of marketing communication that is generated by advertising agencies
    • Paid advertising is limited in its effectiveness because of audience skepticism about ads combined with commercial avoidance via remote controls, etc.
  2. Unpaid / “Earned” media – favorable coverage of candidates or issues in news stories, feature articles, interviews, etc.
    • This type of exposure is typically generated through PR agencies, press agents and publicists
    • This type of communication is typically more effective as it holds the aura of “objectivity” and implied endorsement, especially when a story is delivered by a trusted media outlet or a favorite personality.
  3. Owned media – as it sounds, owned media is public facing media which the candidate or his agents control such as websites, books, newsletters, etc.   These platforms may serve considerable audiences though they involve no trackable exchange of payments as would paid advertising that is placed on a broadcast station or in a newspaper.
 It is obvious why it is the Progressives that are continually pressing for restrictions on campaign spending.  For years the Left has enjoyed a virtual monopoly of slanted exposure from the mainstream media.  By restricting paid media, the Left hopes to hold its edge on the stage of public discourse.  This is also why the Left threatens to regulate Talk Radio and the Internet which have become formidable outlets for dissenting voices.

One additional area that often favors left-leaning candidates is celebrity endorsements.  If a commercial brand marketer were to hire a Matt Damon or an Oprah Winfrey, etc as a pitchman, it would cost millions.  However, these endorsements, including personal appearances come at no charge to the campaigns and are not accounted for in any campaign finance reporting.  In addition, these endorsements generate millions of dollars in unpaid and unreported free media coverage (earned media).

In politics, owned media heavily favors incumbents.  Tax dollars provide office holders with high profile website.  What candidate would not like to own a highly trafficked website such as that shouts your praises?  Likewise each and every U.S. Senator and Congressman has his or her own taxpayer funded website to tout their virtues and achievements.  So do many governors and big city mayors.

All U.S. Congressman also have franking privileges.  This means that our elected representatives can mail their propaganda directly to your home at no expense to their political war chests.

Also, have you noticed how governors and big-city mayors often wind up starring in their state’s or city’s tourism and commerce campaigns?  They get millions of dollars of taxpayer funded TV exposure that portrays them as strong, visionary yet approachable leaders.  Can you say “stronger than the storm”?

One final owned media scam is the “campaign book”.  Perhaps you noticed that many presidential candidates often write a book, such as The Audacity of Hope, prior to launching their run.  What is to stop a well heed supported from giving a copy to his family, his friend, to 10,000 of his best buds?  Nothing.

Finally, and most important of all, limiting campaign expenditures addresses a symptom and not the disease.  Our problem is not that we have too much money in politics.  Our problem is that there is far too much money in government.

With all the trillions of dollars that government doles out, with its ability to lavishly reward favored constituents and hamstring those on the blacklist, is it no wonder that smart and ambitious people will invest millions to buy influence?

Therefore my solution is not to call for a cap on campaign spending but to call for a return to a limited federal government that operates within its Constitutional boundaries

p.s. My apologies for the franks and beans link.  I couldn't resist.

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