[FoRK] Re: Aaron on campaign finance reform

jbone at place.org jbone at place.org
Wed Feb 11 17:06:22 PST 2004

On Feb 11, 2004, at 3:31 PM, Aaron Swartz wrote:

>> "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the 
>> propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful 
>> and tyrannical."  -Thomas Jefferson
> Jefferson was talking about religious freedom, not political 
> candidates! He also said (in that sentence) that mandatory payment 
> would remove an incentive to be earnest. Obviously he meant mandatory 
> payment of church leaders, it's hard to believe he thought the 
> government could not pay its own employees.

For the bonus points, please provide definitions of "religion" and 
"politics" that usefully and meaningfully disambiguate between the two.

(My point is twofold:  first, I believe that Jefferson's issue here was 
ideological, not spiritual.  Second, regardless of that, in today's 
context religion is much more political and politics is much more 
religious than, you might argue, it was in Jefferson's day.)

>> I beg to differ.  A system that uses my money to subsidize Bush, or 
>> Nader, or *anybody* against my will --- is NOT voluntary.
> I meant for the candidates -- it wouldn't restrict the speech or 
> association of candidates and their supporters like some claim our 
> current methods do.

The point remains.  The suggested system would force me to 
involuntarily support candidates that I would not otherwise support.

> Well, maybe your imaginary early-Constitution would prohibit it, but 
> I'm pretty sure it would be fine today. Tax money pays for the NEA,


> ads claiming that Bush's Medicare bill is good,


> ads saying terrorists are all around us and we need to Be Ready,

...bad except to the arguable extent that this might serve some useful 

> opinion reporting on PBS and NPR,


> the entire C-SPAN network giving voice to the opinions of various 
> congressmen,

...this might be legit;  gov't needs to communicate w/ the people...

> the publication of the Congressional Record and the various 
> resolutions passed ("Frederick Douglass was [...] influential", "Prime 
> Minister of Great Britain [has shown] stalwart leadership"),


> laws which express certain opinions (marriage is between a man and a 
> woman, violence against women has great economic costs for society),


> websites discussing how great President Bush is, and much more.


> Finally, since he supports campaign reform, JB claims that violating 
> the First Amendment would be better than being taxed. This seems a 
> little silly, but if he insists, then OK.

My point was that you can make a principled, reasonable argument to 
support the notion that theft-funded (ahem, I mean tax-funded) 
campaigns are, in general, a bad idea.  I'm *not* saying that I 
*believe* violating free speech rights is better than being taxed;  I'm 
saying that in this context you can make the case from first 
principles, and the reasoning is sound (assuming you buy into any 
contemporary theory of "rights" in the first place.)

> The system could easily be funded the same way it is now: a check-off 
> box on your income tax form that earmarks a portion of your tax 
> payment for the program. JB could just not check the box.

Okay, that overcomes my objection.

In general, I think ala carte opt-in spending is an interesting concept.


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