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Sun., April 6, 2014

Smart Bombs: All the speech you can afford

It’s become the received wisdom of the Supreme Court that whipping out a checkbook is a form of speech that mustn’t be infringed. One imagines a political debate, where financiers swap paper rather than ideas. First one to be overdrawn loses.

In recent years, the court’s majority has redrawn First Amendment boundaries to make room for chatty check writers. It’s accomplished this by treating anti-corruption laws as infringements to free speech.

The latest unraveling of campaign finance laws began when Alabama businessman Shawn McCutcheon complained that he wasn’t allowed to have his say in an unlimited number of races because of contribution limits. The limit, which the court struck down, was $123,200 in aggregate donations to candidates in a two-year election cycle.

Apparently, once he reached this limit, McCutcheon was rendered speechless. This is a man who is obviously wealthy and immune to writer’s cramp. Of course, he could’ve written smaller checks to each candidate in order to address more of them, but size matters.

To me, this is the crux of the issue. It’s not the right to free speech; it’s guaranteeing you’ll be heard when you get around to clearing your throat.

Savings and loan scandal figure Charlie Keating was once asked if his campaign contributions to members of Congress ever influenced them. He replied, “I want to say in the most forceful way I can: I certainly hope so!”

But Chief Justice John Roberts can’t seem to comprehend such corruption. In his majority opinion he said the law’s limits “intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to express the most fundamental First Amendment activities.”

So there you have it. If you’re not writing checks, you’re not getting the full First Amendment experience. And now the court has added overdraft protection.

Burden lifted. In the 2012 election cycle, a total of 591 check writers nationwide maxed out their contributions to candidates, according to If they wanted to “speak” more, they had to do it like the rest of us.

This is the “problem” the Supreme Court solved.

Bans Boost CRIME. Before Initiative 502 passed, marijuana sales occurred in every community. This will still be the case; it’s just a matter of where you’d like to see the money go.

Black marketers exchange high-fives every time a city council bans legal sales. Yakima did this, but council members say they still want a cut of the tax revenue raised in other cities. They contend they need the money to cover the costs of pot-related crimes. But such crimes were already occurring, and the rate might drop if they legalized sales.

Many Colorado cities have also banned pot sales, and they’re still experiencing the crimes associated with the underground market. An Associated Press article sheds light:

“Mark Kleiman, a public policy professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is helping Washington set up its legal marijuana industry, said the black market’s survival has less to do with taxes than with a shortage of legal stores. Colorado has more than 160 state-licensed stores, but they remain concentrated in the Denver area. Many towns don’t have any.”

And counting. The debate about the precise number of Affordable Care Act enrollments seems vitally important to some people. As if the verdict is written by this data point. But this bit of melodrama misses the larger point: It’s only just begun.

A three-month enrollment period in the insurance exchanges begins again in November. For 2015, the Congressional Budget Office projects enrollments to double and then reach 24 million by 2017. That’s the first year Barack Obama won’t be around to issue vetoes.

CBO offered no projections on when Republicans will stop pretending the law will be repealed.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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