POV: Man’s Rights; The Nature of Government
by Ayn Rand | 1963
The Immigration Debate
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Charlie Hebdo Two Years Later: Will America Continue to Protect Free Speech?
by Steve Simpson | January 07, 2017
Free Speech Is a Right, Not a Political Weapon
by Steve Simpson | December 06, 2016
One Small Step for Dictatorship: The Significance of Donald Trump’s Election
by Onkar Ghate | November 17, 2016
Overturning Citizens United Would Be a Disaster for Free Speech
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New Book: Defending Free Speech
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Defending Free Speech
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How U.S. Attorneys General Are Like Chinese Censors
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Standing up for Free Speech
by The Editors | June 17, 2016
Is the First Amendment Enough?
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Free Speech Under Siege
by Steve Simpson | March 25, 2015
Freedom of Speech or Tyranny of Silence?
by The Editors | January 21, 2015
Free Speech and the Battle for Western Culture
by Yaron Brook | January 21, 2015
Freedom of Speech: We Will Not Cower
by Onkar Ghate | January 07, 2015
Gutting the First Amendment
by Steve Simpson | July 17, 2014
The Myth about Ayn Rand and Social Security
by Onkar Ghate | June 19, 2014
The Campaign Finance Monster That Refuses to Die
by Steve Simpson | June 11, 2014
The “End the Debt Draft” Campaign
by Don Watkins | March 18, 2014
End the debt draft
by Don Watkins | March 13, 2014
Abortion Rights Are Pro-life
by Leonard Peikoff | January 23, 2013
A Liberal Ayn Rand?
by Onkar Ghate | November 02, 2012
Ryan, Rand and Rights
by Don Watkins | August 17, 2012
Repairing Lochner’s Reputation: An Adventure In Historical Revisionism
by Tom Bowden | Fall 2011
Why Should Business Leaders Care about Intellectual Property? — Ayn Rand’s Radical Argument
by Adam Mossoff | November 30, 2010
Elena Kagan: Could She Defend the Constitution’s Purpose?
by Tom Bowden | July 20, 2010
Capitalism: Who Needs It — Ayn Rand and the American System
by Yaron Brook | June 09, 2010
Were the Founding Fathers Media Socialists?
by Don Watkins | March 01, 2010
Justice Holmes and the Empty Constitution
by Tom Bowden | Summer 2009
Nationalization Is Theft
by Tom Bowden | November 07, 2008
Supreme Disappointments
by Tom Bowden | November 03, 2008
Deep-Six the Law of the Sea
by Tom Bowden | November 20, 2007
After Ten Years, States Still Resist Assisted Suicide
by Tom Bowden | November 02, 2007
No Right to “Free” Health Care
by Onkar Ghate | June 11, 2007
The Rise and Fall of Property Rights in America
by Adam Mossoff | May 16, 2007
Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons, a Panel Discussion
by Yaron Brook | April 11, 2006
The Fear to Speak Comes to America’s Shores
by Onkar Ghate | April 04, 2006
The Twilight of Freedom of Speech
by Onkar Ghate | February 21, 2006
The Cartoon Jihad: Free Speech in the Balance
by Christian Beenfeldt | February 10, 2006
The Faith-Based Attack on Rational Government
by Tom Bowden | June 27, 2005
Supreme Court Should Uphold Rights, Not Majority Sentiment in Ten Commandments Cases
by Tom Bowden | February 23, 2005
Campaign Finance Reform Attacks Victims of Corruption
by Onkar Ghate | December 26, 2003
Thought Control
by Onkar Ghate | April 22, 2003
A Supreme Court Overview
by Tom Bowden | January 01, 2000
Blacklists Are Not Censorship
by Tom Bowden | March 23, 1999
Health Care Is Not a Right
by Leonard Peikoff | December 11, 1993
The Age of Mediocrity
by Ayn Rand | April 26, 1981
Censorship: Local and Express
by Ayn Rand | October 21, 1973
A Nation’s Unity
by Ayn Rand | October 22, 1972
Of Living Death
by Ayn Rand | December 08, 1968
The Wreckage of the Consensus
by Ayn Rand | April 16, 1967
by Ayn Rand | September 1963


Government And Business in Voice for Reason
Government & BusinessIndividual Rights

Campaign Finance Reform Attacks Victims of Corruption

by Onkar Ghate | December 26, 2003

In upholding the major provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, the Supreme Court has openly declared that it is legitimate to curtail freedom of speech “marginally” in order to fight government corruption. But the sad reality is that the new laws not only fail to confront the source of corruption in government, by violating free speech they heap even more injustices upon the victims of such corruption.

If stopping the selling of favors in Washington is the goal, why does no one demand that we simply enforce the laws that make such action illegal? After all, we combat police corruption by prosecuting officers who take kickbacks to overlook crimes. We combat judicial corruption by prosecuting judges who accept bribes in exchange for making unjust rulings. Why not similarly go after Congressmen who trade legislative decisions for campaign contributions?

Because the depressing fact is that most of the dispensing of favors, and punishments, is done within the law. Unlike the police or judges, Congressmen (and many other government officials) have legally acquired arbitrary power. They routinely make decisions that are governed, not by objective fact or principle, but by subjective preference.

Suppose that Congress is considering “The Pristine Nature Act,” which would close vast tracts of private land to logging and commercial development. A few timber companies argue that such restrictions on their property would be unfair and hurt their profits. The local homeowners association supports the bill, because it would allow residents to maintain their traditional, bucolic lifestyle. And environmentalists clamor that the trees must be protected from mankind.

What basis should a Congressman use in making his decision? The common answer is that he should do whatever furthers the “public interest.” But which parties count as the “public” and so gain the privilege of having their interests advanced? The timber companies? The neighboring residents? The environmentalists? The trees? The people who would have lived in the houses that would have been built with the timber that would have been harvested? Each is as plausible as the other.

In cases like this, which are endless, the non-objective standard of the “public interest” justifies any decision. Which really means: there is no guiding principle, there is only expediency. A Congressman simply latches on to whatever arguments he finds convenient. The presence or absence of campaign contributions from an affected party is thus as “convincing” a factor as anything else. In fact, this is the essence of lobbying — donating money to an official so that the giver can be granted the magical title of “the public.”

This kind of arbitrary power — not money — is the fundamental source of influence-peddling in Washington. And a true opponent of government corruption would seek to restore the system that was created precisely to eliminate such power: the American system of individual rights. He would advocate the principle that the rights of the individual, including property rights and freedom of speech, are inalienable, and that no invocation of the “public interest” can justify their abrogation. He would realize that the indefinable rule of the “public interest” is what gives government officials unlimited power. He would see that only a severely limited government — limited by the standard of individual rights — has no arbitrary powers to exercise, and to sell.

The proposed campaign-finance reforms, however, target not this power but its principal victims — the people who pay “protection money” to government officials.

Productive businesses today have a gun permanently pointed at their heads — by Washington. They live in constant fear that Congress will pass legislation, in the name of the “public interest,” that can cripple or destroy them. In self-defense, to retain some vestige of control over their fate, they make political contributions to keep the government at bay. They don’t want special favors — they simply want not to be regulated, not to have their property confiscated, not to be denied permission to exist. By permitting restricting on their contributions, the Supreme Court in effect declares: “You, the victim of arbitrary force, will now have virtually no say over your future. You, who want to reduce the power of the state and to fight the cause of government corruption, are to be silenced — in the name of fighting government corruption.” This is unjust and absurd.

True, there are those who make contributions, not to keep what they have earned, but to receive unearned benefits. But here too the solution is to stop the source of those favors, by eliminating the government’s capacity to do whatever it wishes in the name of the “public interest.”

The way to end government corruption is not by further penalizing its victims, but by removing from officials the arbitrary power that they regularly offer up for sale to the highest bidder.

About The Author

Onkar Ghate

Chief Philosophy Officer and Senior Fellow, Ayn Rand Institute