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Last week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered the last of the US diplomats out of Venezuela, saying their presence was a “constraint” on US policy toward the country. The wording seemed intended to convey the idea that the US is about to launch military action to place a Washington-backed, self-appointed politician to the presidency. Was it just bluster, designed to intimidate? Or is the Trump Administration really about to invade another country that has neither attacked nor threatened the United States?

While US Administrations engaged in “regime change” have generally tried to mask their real intentions, this US-backed coup is remarkable for how honest its backers are being. Not long ago the National Security Advisor to the president, John Bolton, openly admitted that getting US companies in control of Venezuelan oil was the Administration’s intent. Trump Administration officials have gone so far as mocking the suffering of Venezuelans when a suspiciously-timed nationwide power failure heightened citizens’ misery.

According to media reports, Vice President Mike Pence is angry with the Venezuela coup leader, Juan Guaido, because he promised the whole operation would be a cake walk – just like the neocons promised us about Iraq. Guaido said hundreds of thousands of protesters would follow him to the Colombian border to “liberate” US aid trucks just over the border, but no one showed up. So Pompeo and the neocons made up a lie that Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro’s thugs burned the aid trucks to prevent the people from getting relief from their suffering. Even the pro-war New York Times finally admitted that the Administration was lying: it was opposition protesters who burned the trucks.

Was the US behind the take-down of Venezuela’s power grid? It would not be the first time the CIA pulled such a move, and US officials are open about the US goal of making life as miserable as possible for average Venezuelans in hopes that they overthrow their government.

Congress has to this point been strongly in favor of President Trump’s “regime change” policy for Venezuela. Sadly, even though our neocon foreign policy of interventionism has proven disastrous – from Iraq to Libya to Syria and elsewhere – both parties in Congress continue to act as if somehow this time they will get it right. I have news for them, they won’t.

Even weak Congressional efforts to remind the president that Congress must approve military action overseas sound like war cries. In Rep. David N. Cicilline’s (D-RI) statement introducing his “Prohibiting Unauthorized Military Action in Venezuela Act” last week, he sounded more hawkish than John Bolton or Elliott Abrams! The statement makes all the arguments in favor of a US military attack on Venezuela and then – wink wink – reminds the president he needs authorization beforehand. As if that’s going to be a hard sell!

So is President Trump about to attack Venezuela? At a recent US House hearing, one of the expert witnesses testified that such an invasion would require between 100,000 and 150,000 US troops, going up against maybe three times that number of Venezuelan troops in a country twice the size of Iraq. With a lot of jungle. All for a “prize” that has nothing to do with US security. If the president makes such a foolish move he might find the current war cheerleaders in the Democrat Party changing their tune rather quickly. Let’s hope Trump changes his tune and returns to his promises of no more regime change wars.

 
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The House of Representatives recently passed legislation that would expand the national background check system to require almost everyone selling firearms, including private collectors who supplement their incomes by selling firearms at gun shows, to perform background checks on the potential buyers. The bill has a section purporting to bar creation of a national firearms registry. However, the expanded background check system will require the government to compile lists of those buying and selling guns. In other words, it creates a de facto national gun registry.

Similar to the experience with other types of prohibition, making it more difficult to legally buy a gun will enhance the firearms black market. Criminals, terrorist, and even deranged mass shooters will thus have no problem obtaining firearms.

It is no coincidence that the majority of mass shootings take place in “gun-free zones,” where shooters know their targets will be unarmed. This shows that any law making it more difficult for Americans to own and carry firearms makes us less safe. If Congress really wanted to reduce the incidence of gun violence, it would repeal the Gun-Free School Zones Act. This law leaves children easy prey for mass shooters by mandating that public schools be “gun-free zones.”

A nationwide system of gun registration could be a step toward national gun confiscation. However, antigun bureaucrats need not go that far to use the expanded background check system to abuse the rights of gun owners. Gun owners could find themselves subject to surveillance and even harassment, such as more intensive screening by the Transportation Security Administration, because they own “too many” firearms.

Republican control of the White House and the Senate does not mean our gun rights are safe. Republicans have a long history of supporting gun control. After the 1999 Columbine shooting, many Republicans, including many who campaigned as being pro-Second Amendment, eagerly cooperated with then-President Bill Clinton on gun control. Some supposedly pro-gun Republicans also tried to pass “compromise” gun control legislation after the Sandy Hook shooting.

Neoconservative Senator Marco Rubio has introduced legislation that uses tax dollars to bribe states to adopt red flag laws. Red flag laws allow government to violate an individual’s Second Amendment rights based on nothing more than a report that the individual could become violent. Red flag laws can allow an individual’s guns to be taken away without due process simply because an estranged spouse, angry neighbor, or disgruntled coworker tells police the individual threatened him or otherwise made him feel unsafe.

President Trump has joined Rubio in wanting the government to, in Trump’s words, “take the guns first, go through due process second.” During his confirmation hearing, President Trump’s new Attorney General William Barr expressed support for red flag laws. California Senator and leading gun control advocate Dianne Feinstein has expressed interest in working with Barr to deprive gun owners of due process. It would not be surprising to see left-wing authoritarians like Feinstein work with right-wing authoritarians like Barr and Rubio on “compromise” legislation containing both a national red flag law and expanded background checks.

My years in Congress taught me that few politicians can be counted on to protect our liberties. Most politicians must be pressured to stand up for freedom by informed and involved pro-liberty citizens That is why those of us who understand the benefits of liberty must remain vigilant against any attempt to erode respect for our rights, especially the right to defend ourselves against private crime and public tyranny.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, Gun Control 
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President Trump’s second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un last week was criticized by both parties in Washington long before Air Force One even touched down in Hanoi. Washington’s political class seemed terrified that the nearly 70 year state of “war” with North Korea might actually end. In the end the only positive thing they could say about the meeting was that Trump apparently walked away with nothing to show for it.

The location of the meeting – Hanoi, Vietnam – serves as a great example of what can be won in peace versus what is lost in war. After losing nearly 60,000 US service members in an unnecessary war that took a million Vietnamese lives, the US loss of the Vietnam war resulted not in a communist takeover of southeast Asia but something very different: the domino theory failed because communism was destined to fail. Now we are close trading partners with an increasingly pro-market Vietnam. The result of trade and exchange versus war is a better life for all.

Unfortunately for Washington, the real lesson of Vietnam has not been learned. That is why the Republicans, Democrats, and the entire mainstream media spoke as one against President Trump’s decision to take a bold step and actually meet again, one-on-one, with one of our “enemies” to see if we can avoid nuclear conflict.

One leading Democrat, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), attacked Trump for meeting with Kim because speaking to the North Korean “gives him legitimacy.” Does it make any sense that we should not even speak with our nuclear-armed adversaries because it gives them “legitimacy”? He’d rather have a nuclear war as long as Kim remains “illegitimate”? This is sadly the kind of thinking that prevails in Washington.

The media reported that Trump walked away from the meeting before the scheduled signing ceremony and closing press event. The talks broke down, it was reported, because Kim demanded an end to all sanctions before any reduction in North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Washington sighed with relief and said all together, “better no deal than a bad deal.”

Meanwhile the North Koreans held a rare press conference clarifying that they only asked for partial sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling one of their main nuclear facilities. Further, press reports began to surface that National Security Advisor John Bolton threw additional demands on the table which led Kim to draw the meeting to an early close.

Who’s telling the truth? We likely won’t know. But given Bolton’s strong opposition to any kind of peace agreement with North Korea it’s hard to doubt that he had something to do with the blow-up of the summit. As the New York Times reported over the weekend, while Trump’s advisors were shocked when he decided to meet Kim face-to-face the first time for negotiations, John Bolton wasn’t worried at all. As the Times writes, “Mr. Bolton told colleagues not to worry. The negotiations, he said, would collapse on their own.” And so they did.

Will Trump continue to allow his diplomatic efforts to be undermined by his own staff? Let’s hope the president will ignore Washington, ignore the neocons, and continue to work for peace with North Korea.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: John Bolton, Neocons, North Korea 
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After Congress rejected President Trump’s request for 5.7 billion dollars for the border wall, the president declared a national emergency at the southern border. Present Trump claims this “emergency” gives him the authority to divert funds appropriated for other purposes to building the border wall.

President Trump’s emergency declaration is not just an end run around Congress. It is an end run around the Constitution. Article One of the Constitution gives Congress sole authority to allocate federal funds.

While President Trump’s order may be a particularly blatant abuse of power, it is hardly unprecedented. Most modern presidents have routinely used so-called national emergencies to expand their power, often at the expense of liberty. For example, Present Franklin Delano Roosevelt used “emergency powers” to justify internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two.

President Trump, like other recent presidents, is relying on the 1976 National Emergencies Act for legal justification for his emergency declaration. This act gives the president broad powers to declare national emergencies for almost any reason. All the president need do is inform Congress he has declared an emergency. Once the emergency is declared, the president simply needs to renew the declaration once a year to maintain a state of emergency. Since this act passed, 59 emergency declarations have been issued, with 31 of those still in effect.

Another statute giving the president broad “emergency” powers is the Defense Production Act. Under this law, the president can force private businesses to produce goods for the military. The law also enables the president to impose wage and price controls and even make loans to private businesses. All a president need do to invoke these vast powers is submit “findings” to Congress that “national security” requires the president seize near-dictatorial control of certain industries or even the entire economy. According to the Congressional Research Service, some presidents have invoked the Defense Production Act without making the required findings to Congress, and the act has been used to justly federal interference in areas having little or nothing to do with national defense.

Section 606(c) of the Communications Act gives the president “emergency” power to seize control of every television network, radio station, smartphone, laptop, and other electronic devices.

Emergency powers are not the only means by which presidents violate the Constitution. The 2001 authorization for use of military force (AUMF), which only authorizes the president to use force against those responsible for the September 11 attacks, has been used to justify military interventions that have no relationship to those attacks. The 2001 AUMF has been used to justify mass surveillance, indefinite detention, and even “kill lists.” Fortunately, Representative John Garamendi has introduced the Walter B. Jones Restoring Power to Congress Act that would pay tribute to a true champion of peace by repealing the 2001 AUMF.

Many neoconservatives and progressives who defended prior presidents’ abuses of power are critical of President Trump’s emergency declaration. These “never-Trumpers” will no doubt resume their love affair with the imperial presidency when the Oval Office is again occupied by someone who shares their agenda.

This week, the House of Representatives will vote on a resolution terminating President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency. Hopefully, this precedent will be used against all future presidents who use spurious claims of national emergencies to expand their powers and shrink our liberties.

 
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In a fitting legacy for my friend Walter Jones, Jr. who passed away last week, the US House made history by voting in favor of H.J.Res. 37, a resolution “Directing the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.” As George O’Neill wrote in the American Conservative magazine this week, the historic 248-177 victory for a bill demanding the end of the US participation in the nearly five year Saudi war of aggression “reflects how many hearts and minds were influenced by the late Congressman’s tireless efforts.”

Walter Jones did not care who controlled Congress. He was happy to join forces with any Member to end the senseless US global military empire, which sends thousands of young men and women off to patrol foreign borders, overthrow foreign governments, and needlessly put themselves at risk in missions that have nothing to do with the safety and security of the United States.

US participation in the Saudi war on Yemen is a classic example of the abuse of the US military that made Walter Jones most angry. When the Saudis decided in 2015 that they wanted their puppet to be Yemen’s president, they launched a brutal and inhuman war that many call the worst humanitarian disaster of our time. Millions face starvation as Saudi bombs and US sanctions combine to create a hell on earth that is unrelated in any way to US national security.

Why this ongoing support for Saudi death and destruction in Yemen? Washington’s neocons have successfully promoted the lie that the Saudi attack on Yemen is all about preventing Iran from gaining more strength in the Middle East. Ironically it was the neocon-backed US attack on Iraq in 2003 that provided the biggest boost for Iranian influence in the region. Now, after Iraq’s “liberation,” Baghdad’s ties to Tehran are closer than ever.

Meanwhile, who exactly are we supporting in Yemen? Even CNN, normally a big backer of US military actions overseas, has noticed something funny about US participation in the Saudi war on Yemen. As a CNN investigation found this month, “Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have transferred American-made weapons to al Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, and other factions waging war in Yemen, in violation of their agreements with the United States.” Does that sound like we are on the side of the “good guys” in this battle? We are helping the Saudis arm al-Qaeda? Is this really a smart move?

So we should be encouraged that Walter Jones’ legacy is being honored in the House vote to end the US participation in the Yemen war. While US “humanitarian” aid is being used as a weapon for regime change in Venezuela, the warmongers in Washington have never lifted a finger to help those suffering from a real genocide in Yemen.

If the Yemen War Powers resolution passes the Senate, which is likely, Congress will have provoked the first veto from President Trump. Such a veto should not discourage us. Even the strongest army cannot stop an idea whose time has come. Ending senseless US wars is an idea whose time has come. We can thank Walter Jones for his role in making it so.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Saudi Arabia, Yemen 
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Last week’s bipartisan Senate vote to rebuke President Trump for his decision to remove troops from Syria and Afghanistan unfortunately tells us a lot about what is wrong with Washington, DC. While the two parties loudly bicker about minor issues, when it comes to matters like endless wars overseas they enthusiastically join together. With few exceptions, Republicans and Democrats lined up to admonish the president for even suggesting that it’s time for US troops to come home from Afghanistan and Syria.

The amendment, proposed by the Senate Majority Leader and passed overwhelmingly by both parties, warns that a “precipitous withdrawal of United States forces from the on-going fight…in Syria and Afghanistan, could allow terrorists to regroup.” As one opponent of the amendment correctly pointed out, a withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is hardly “precipitous” since they’ve been there for nearly 18 years! And with al-Qaeda and ISIS largely defeated in Syria a withdrawal from that country would hardly be “precipitous” after almost five years of unauthorized US military action.

Senators supporting the rebuke claim that US troops cannot leave until every last ISIS fighter is killed or captured. This is obviously a false argument. Al-Qaeda and ISIS did not emerge in Iraq because US troops left the country – they emerged because the US was in the country in the first place. Where was al-Qaeda in Iraq before the 2003 US invasion the neocons lied us into? There weren’t any.

US troops occupying Iraqi territory was, however, a huge incentive for Iraqis to join a resistance movement. Similarly, US intervention in Syria beginning under the Obama Administration contributed to the growth of terrorist groups in that country.

We know that US invasion and occupation provides the best recruiting tools for terrorists, including suicide terrorists. So how does it make sense that keeping troops in these countries in any way contributes to the elimination of terrorism? As to the “vacuum” created in Syria when US troops pull out, how about allowing the government of Syria to take care of the problem? After all, it’s their country and they’ve been fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda since the US helped launch the “regime change” in 2011. Despite what you might hear in the US mainstream media, it’s Syria along with its allies that has done most of the fighting against these groups and it makes no sense that they would allow them to return.

Congress has the Constitutional responsibility and obligation to declare war, but this has been ignored for decades. The president bombs far-off lands and even sends troops to fight in and occupy foreign territory and Congress doesn’t say a word. But if a president dares seek to end a war suddenly the sleeping Congressional giant awakens!

I’ve spent many years opposing Executive branch over-reach in matters where the president has no Constitutional authority, but when it comes to decisions on where to deploy or re-deploy troops once in battle it is clear that the Constitution grants that authority to the commander-in-chief. The real question we need to ask is why is Congress so quick to anger when the president finally seeks to end the longest war in US history?

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Donald Trump, Syria 
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Hard as it is to believe, airline travel recently became even more unpleasant. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees being required to work without pay for the duration of the government shutdown resulted in many TSA workers calling in sick. The outbreak of “shutdown flu” among TSA employees forced some large airports to restrict the number of places mandatory TSA screenings were performed, making going through screening even more time-consuming and providing one more reason to shut down the TSA.

Airline security should be provided by airlines and airports. Private businesses, such as airlines, have an incentive to ensure their customers’ safety without treating them like criminal suspects or worse. Security personnel hired by, and accountable to, airlines would not force a nursing mother to drink her own breast milk or steal a stuffed lamb from a wheelchair-using three-year-old and subject the child to such an intensive screening that she cries “I don’t want to go to Disneyworld.” Those who claim that the TSA is necessary to keep us safe should consider that the Department of Homeland Security’s own studies show that TSA’s screenings and even the intrusive pat-downs are ineffective at discovering hidden guns, explosives, and other weapons.

TSA employees have no incentives to please, or even care about the well-being of, airline passengers. Instead, their jobs depend on pleasing politicians and bureaucrats. If we have learned anything since 9/11, it is that most politicians are more concerned with appearing to be “doing something” about security than actually reducing the risk of terrorist attacks. That is why politicians’ response to 9/11 was a series of actions — such as creating the TSA, passing the PATRIOT Act, and invading Iraq — that trade our real liberties for phantom security. Sometimes, pro-TSA politicians will bemoan the TSA’s “excesses” and even call for “reforming” the agency in order to pretend they care about their constituents’ rights.

Restoring responsibility for providing security to private businesses will encourage the development of new and innovative ways to more effectively provide security. In a free market, airlines and airports could compete for business on the basis that their flights are safer or their screening is less unpleasant then that of their competitors. If airlines were able to set their own security policies, they would likely allow pilots to carry firearms.

Private companies also strive to be consistent in providing services. Therefore, a company providing private security would never inconvenience its customers because of a “temporary shutdown.”

Because government operations are funded by coercive taxation rather than voluntary choices of consumers, federal officials cannot rely on the price system to inform them of whether they need to increase or decrease spending on airline security. In the private sector, businesses that charge more for security — or any other good or service — than individuals are willing to pay lose customers. Also, if businesses do not spend enough on security, people concerned about safety will be unwilling to use their services. Privatizing airline security is the only way to ensure that the “correct” amount of resources is being spent on airline safety.

In the 18 years since Congress created the TSA, the agency has proven itself incapable of providing real security, but more than capable of harrying Americans and wasting taxpayer dollars on security theater. Congress should permanently close the TSA and return responsibility for security to private businesses.

 
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Last week President Trump announced that the United States would no longer recognize Nicholas Maduro as president of Venezuela and would recognize the head of its national assembly, Jose Guaido, as president instead. US thus openly backs regime change. But what has long been a dream of the neocons may well turn out to be a nightmare for President Trump.

Why did Trump declare that the Venezuelan president was no longer the president? According to the State Department, the Administration was acting to help enforce the Venezuelan constitution. If only they were so eager to enforce our own Constitution!

It’s ironic that a president who has spent the first two years in office fighting charges that a foreign country meddled in the US elections would turn around and not only meddle in foreign elections but actually demand the right to name a foreign country’s president! How would we react if the Chinese and Russians decided that President Trump was not upholding the US Constitution and recognized Speaker Nancy Pelosi as US president instead?

Even those who would like to see a change of government in Venezuela should reject any notion that the change must be “helped” by the United States. According to press reports, Vice President Mike Pence was so involved in internal Venezuelan affairs that he actually urged Guaido to name himself president and promised US support. This is not only foolish, it is very dangerous. A Venezuelan civil war would result in mass death and even more economic misery!

Regime change has long been US policy for Venezuela. The US has been conducting economic warfare practically since Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, was first elected in 1998. The goal of US sanctions and other economic measures against Venezuela (and other countries in Washington’s crosshairs) is to make life so miserable for average citizens that they rise up and overthrow their leaders. But of course once they do so they must replace those leaders with someone approved by Washington. Remember after the “Arab Spring” in Egypt when the people did rise up and overthrow their leader, but they then elected the “wrong” candidate. The army moved in and deposed the elected president and replaced him with a Washington-approved politician. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry called it “restoring democracy.”

It is tragically comical that President Trump has named convicted criminal Elliot Abrams as his point person to “restore democracy” in Venezuela. Abrams played a key role in the Iran-Contra affair and went on to be one of the chief architects of the disastrous US invasion of Iraq in 2003. His role in helping promote the horrible violence in Latin America in the 1980s should disqualify him from ever holding public office again.

Instead of this ham-fisted coup d’etat, a better policy for Venezuela these past 20 years would have been engagement and trade. If we truly believe in the superiority of a free market system we must also believe that we can only lead by example, not by forcing our system on others.

Just four months ago President Trump said at the UN: “I honor the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs, and traditions. The United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship. We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.” Sadly it seems that these were merely empty words. We know from Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc. that this will not end well for President Trump. Or for the United States. We must leave Venezuela alone!

 
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President Trump’s frustration with the Federal Reserve’s (minuscule) interest rate increases that he blames for the downturn in the stock market has reportedly led him to inquire if he has the authority to remove Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. Chairman Powell has stated that he would not comply with a presidential request for his resignation, meaning President Trump would have to fire Powell if Trump was serious about removing him.

The law creating the Federal Reserve gives the president power to remove members of the Federal Reserve Board — including the chairman — “for cause.” The law is silent on what does, and does not, constitute a justifiable cause for removal. So, President Trump may be able to fire Powell for not tailoring monetary policy to the president’s liking.

By firing Powell, President Trump would once and for all dispel the myth that the Federal Reserve is free from political interference. All modern presidents have tried to influence the Federal Reserve’s policies. Is Trump’s threatening to fire Powell worse than President Lyndon Johnson shoving a Fed chairman against a wall after the Federal Reserve increased interest rates? Or worse than President Carter “promoting” an uncooperative Fed chairman to Treasury secretary?

Yet, until President Trump began attacking the Fed on Twitter, the only individuals expressing concerns about political interference with the Federal Reserve in recent years were those claiming the Audit the Fed bill politicizes monetary policy. The truth is that the audit bill, which was recently reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and will soon be reintroduced in the Senate by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), does not in any way expand Congress’ authority over the Fed. The bill simply authorizes the General Accountability Office to perform a full audit of the Fed’s conduct of monetary policy, including the Fed’s dealings with Wall Street and foreign central banks and governments.

Many Audit he Fed supporters have no desire to give Congress or the president authority over any aspect of monetary policy, including the ability to set interest rates. Interest rates are the price of money. Like all prices, interest rates should be set by the market, not by central planners. It is amazing that even many economists who generally support free markets and oppose central planning support allowing a government-created central bank to influence something as fundamental as the price of money.

Those who claim that auditing the Fed will jeopardize the economy are implicitly saying that the current system is flawed. After all, how stable can a system be if it is threatened by transparency?

Auditing the Fed is supported by nearly 75 percent of Americans. In Congress, the bill has been supported not just by conservatives and libertarians, but by progressives in Congress like Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, and Peter DeFazio. President Trump championed auditing the Federal Reserve during his 2016 campaign. But, despite his recent criticism of the Fed, he has not promoted the legislation since his election.

As the US economy falls into another Federal Reserve-caused economic downturn, support for auditing the Fed will grow among Americans of all political ideologies. Congress and the president can and must come together to tear down the wall of secrecy around the central bank. Auditing the Fed is the first step in changing the monetary policy that has created a debt-and-bubble-based economy; facilitated the rise of the welfare-warfare state; and burdened Americans with a hidden, constantly increasing, and regressive inflation tax.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Federal Reserve 
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One of the new Democratic House majority’s top priorities is so-called campaign finance reform legislation. Contrary to the claims of its supporters, campaign finance reform legislation does not limit the influence of powerful special interests. Instead, it violates the First Amendment and burdens those seeking real change in government.
The First Amendment of the Constitution forbids Congress from interfering in any way with any citizen’s ability to influence government policies. Spending money to support candidates and causes is one way individuals influence government policies. Therefore, laws limiting and regulating donations to campaigns and organizations that work to change government policies violate the First Amendment.

One very troubling aspect of campaign finance reform laws is forcing organizations involved in “electioneering” to hand over the names of their top donors to the federal government. Electioneering is broadly defined to include informing the public of candidates’ positions and records, even if the group in question focuses solely on advancing issues and ideas. Burdening these types of organizations will make it harder for individuals to learn the truth about candidates’ positions.

America has a long and distinguished tradition of anonymous political speech. Both the Federalist and the Anti-Federalist papers where published anonymously. As Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote in NAACP v. Alabama, where the Supreme Court upheld the NAACP’s right to keep its membership list confidential, “Inviolability of privacy in group association may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.”

Supporters of groups with “dissident beliefs” have good reason to fear new disclosure laws. In 2014, the IRS had to pay 50,000 dollars to the National Organization for Marriage because an IRS employee leaked donors names to the organization’s opponents. Fortunately, the Trump administration has repealed the regulation forcing activist groups to disclose their donors to the IRS. Unfortunately, Congress seems poised to reinstate that rule.

In recent years, we have seen the rise of authoritarian political movements that think harassment and even violence against those with differing views are acceptable tactics. Can anyone doubt that activists in these movements would do all they could to obtain the lists of donors to groups that oppose their agenda? They may be able to obtain the lists either by hacking government databases or by having a sympathetic federal employee “accidentally” leak the names.

As long as businesses can profit by currying favor with politicians and bureaucrats who have the power to reward or punish them via subsidies and regulations, powerful interests will find a way to influence the political process. These special interests seek out and reward politicians who support policies favoring their interests. So foreign policy hawks can count on generous support from the military-industrial complex, supporters of corporatist health care systems like Obamacare can count on generous support from the health insurance-pharma complex, and apologists for the Federal Reserve can count on support from the big banks.

Special interests do not favor free-market capitalism. Instead, they favor a mixed economy where government protects the profits of large business interests. That is why big business is more likely to support a progressive or a “moderate” than a libertarian. Campaign finance and donor disclosure laws will make it harder for grassroots liberty activists to challenge the corporatist status quo. Those wishing to get big money out of politics should work to get politics out of all aspects of the economy.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Campaign Finance