Campaign finance divides ACLU panel – Arkansas Online

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FAYETTEVILLE — Ensuring both sides of an issue can get their messages out is more effective, safer for democracy and much more practical as campaign finance reform than restricting campaign donations, argued a defender of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Not when large-scale corporate donations convince the public decision-making institutions are corrupt, said opposing panelists at a 1 p.m. forum in Fayetteville.

The forum, attended by at least 30 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, was hosted by the Northwest Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law in 2010, in the “Citizens United vs. FEC” ruling. That finance law had prohibited corporations from running television commercials for or against presidential candidates for 30 days before primaries. The decision cleared the way for greater corporate spending to support or oppose candidates.

The decision has been a source of contention within the ACLU ever since. The official position of the advocacy group is it supports the decision, but both present board members and past board members have openly disagreed in published accounts. Saturday’s forum brought panelists Jay Barth, John L. Burnett and Carol Goforth. Barth is a member of the ACLU’s national board of directors. He is also a professor of political science at Hendrix College in Conway. Burnett is a labor and civil rights lawyer based in Little Rock. Goforth is a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law.

“This is one of the most complicated and difficult issues within the ACLU family,” Barth told the audience.

Although the Citizens United decision is the latest specific issue to receive the most attention, the greater issue of campaign finance has always been a matter of contention within the ACLU, Barth and Burnett said.

“The floor is more important than the ceiling,” Burnett said of campaign finance. Candidates and issues need a minimum amount of media access, varying with the circumstances, to make their case. Beyond that, more resources confers an advantage but at some point you have to “trust the people to make the decision and apply filters,” he said.

Attaining an effective minimum of messaging can be addressed with, for instance, measures like equal time requirements for television advertising, Burnett said. That would be more effective, and much safer for liberties, that giving the government the power to police political discourse and “criminalizing” certain types of speech. “You don’t have to debase the First Amendment,” he argued.

But the sheer volume of resources for-profit corporations put into campaigns undermines public confidence, Barth said. “There’s a perception the system’s rigged,” he said. The ACLU position on Citizens United is in transition largely because of “a fear of quid pro quo corruption.” This is particularly true in judicial elections, he said. “Faith in the whole judicial system could be out the window,” he said.

Whatever the relative merits of any approach to campaign finance, the majority opinion in Citizens United was wrong, Goforth argued. “Now that’s the opinion of a law school professor at the University of Arkansas, so let me point out that I believe that it was five U.S. Supreme Court justices who got it wrong but four of them got it right,” she said.

NW News on 02/21/2016

Campaign finance divides ACLU panel – Arkansas Online}