Regulating political speech

Liberals hate the idea of money influencing politics — unless, of course, the money is used to support causes they embrace.

Take the patron saint of liberal causes, billionaire George Soros, who has thrown around millions of dollars attempting to spread the agenda of the Democratic Party and to send Republicans — particularly George W. Bush — into retirement. For all the hyperventilating from the left about the corrupting influence of money in politics, you’ll hear nary a peep from “progressives” about Mr. Soros using his personal wealth to advance their shared political beliefs.

Of course, in a free country, Mr. Soros should be free to spend his money as he sees fit. The First Amendment and all that. So, too, should those with differing views.

Unfortunately, Democrats and their allies don’t feel the same way. Witness a bill now pending in the Senate that seeks to undermine the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision, in which the justices ruled 5-4 that the Bill of Rights trumped efforts to censor political speech in the name of campaign finance reform. The bulk of the restrictions in the pending measure — which will almost surely be ruled unconstitutional if the legislation passes — seek to silence entities more likely to support conservative causes.

And consider Wall Street financier Pete Peterson. Mr. Peterson was the target of an unflattering column a few weeks back by the Wall Street Journal’s token socialist, Thomas Frank. Mr. Peterson’s crime: He spends millions of his own dollars to found organizations that work toward achieving his political goals. Those goals primarily involve attacking the federal debt and the spending culture that dominates inside the beltway.

Mr. Frank worries, for instance, that the idea of fiscal “austerity” might be so alluring for so many Americans — especially in this time of record deficits and federal budget growth — that it could erode support for maintaining the status quo on Social Security and Medicare and other programs worshipped by the left.

“Austerity would be a dreadful choice at the moment,” Mr. Frank argues, “but the urge to blunder burns hotly among the policy priesthood these days. One reason for this is that deficit reduction is often a proxy for something else, some object of political desire that must remain obscure because it is too distasteful to discuss openly. Usually that object is ‘entitlement reform.’ ”

Mr. Frank warns us not to listen to Mr. Peterson’s message, but at least he doesn’t advocate shutting him up. Others on the left don’t sound so tolerant. “Everywhere you look, he’s trying to buy the debate,” Roger Hickey, co-director of the left-leaning Campaign for America’s Future, told Bloomberg Businessweek.

Mr. Peterson plans to spend $1 billion of his own fortune to sound the alarm about the nation’s $13 trillion debt. So far, he’s disbursed about $300 million, Bloomberg reports. With $700 million remaining, look for Mr. Peterson to gain more and more attention from the “progressive” crowd, which doesn’t mind our exploding massive national debt one bit.

And watch for the inevitable effort from the left to intimidate Mr. Peterson into shutting up.

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