Friday, May 18, 2012

Joe Ricketts and the freest speech money can buy

Posted By on 05.18.12 at 03:19 PM

Holmes
  • Holmes
An editor at U.S. News & World Report spotted my Bleader post on Joe Ricketts and his "Ricketts Plan" to defeat Barack Obama this November, and sent me this story from one of his colleagues.

Writes reporter Seth Cline:

"Ending Spending Action Fund, the Super PAC funded entirely by Ricketts, has spent more than $1.3 million since 2010 influencing elections, all of it benefitting Republican candidates, according to federal election filings. Like a closer in baseball brought on in the ninth inning to seal a victory, the group's moves have come just days before voters head to the polls, and only once has it failed to ensure victory."

One Democratic victim was Congressman John Spratt of South Carolina, chairman of the House budget committee. "By Election Day," Cline tells us, "Ricketts would dump $187,000 into the race—a game-changing sum in a rural district with no major television markets or newspapers. Spratt lost the race to Republican Mick Mulvaney by 10 points. 'It was like a tidal wave,' Spratt says. 'Suddenly constituents were calling saying they were getting five pieces of mail a day towards the end, on all kinds of topics.'"

The Democrat who won despite Ricketts's money was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, "who spent $26 million on his re-election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a sum not available to most candidates."

Money is speech, says the current Supreme Court. But I'm not aware that the court contradicted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who in an opinion he wrote in 1917 made the famous observation that "the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent."

Is a last-minute influx of "speech" calculated to stampede the public against one candidate, "uttered" so late that there is no time for other "speech" to be raised to contradict it, analogous to a shout of fire? Not that there's anything wrong with a shout of fire if there is a fire. But if there isn't the shouter is in serious trouble. A "speechifier" like Joe Ricketts goes that fellow one better: he doesn't even require truth as a defense.

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