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Free Speech for Big Money



Just about everyone now admits that money is the key to politics in this freedom-loving country. Put another way, our system of government has been sold to big-money interests.

That may be true on the national level, but Utah’s legislators sell out for a lot less. Waive a pair of Jazz basketball tickets at one of our fine lawmakers and you can have his vote. Those politicians will tell you that the gifts don’t impact how they vote. And they’ll say it with a straight face.

Of course, $1,000 in Jazz tickets here or there is small potatoes compared to the national scene. Even in little Utah, it could cost $1 million to get elected to Congress. In larger states, $50 million may be required to buy a seat in the Senate. And to run for president, you have to have hundreds of millions lined up and ready to spend. Is this a government of the people and for the people? Hardly.

Although polls say campaign finance reform is far down on the list of issues important to average Americans, some people do care. Right now, finance reform as outlined in the McCain-Feingold bill is being debated in Washington. It seeks to limit so-called “soft” money being donated by big-money interests for political parties to use as they see fit.

The Deseret News called the proposal a charade, using the old argument that money is speech. Limiting money is limiting free speech, they say. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has signed off on that flawed ethic, some see through the cynical veil that would cede free speech to the rich. One such person is billionaire Warren Buffett, who in an interview with Cokie Roberts described big political contributions as pure business deals. Big business wants something in return for its money.

“I’m not sure how the CEO goes to his board of directors and says, ‘I’m just doing this out of the goodness of my heart with your money.’ There’s a business purpose to it.”

It’s a system that lets out all except the biggest and richest enterprises. And corporate officers feel they have no choice but to ante up tens of millions in what Buffet calls “a shakedown of sorts.”

People like Utah Sen. Bob Bennett and conservative screeds like the Deseret News may support a status quo that has lost faith with most Americans and severely erodes the underpinnings of our democracy. But some people, Republican and Democrat alike, would put up their own hold on power for the good of country. Unfortunately, few Utahns are among them.