The Philadelphia Inquirerand its on-line site, Philly.com, have been covering a story that features law makers taking large amounts of money, making promises for votes, a potential cover-up and a politician contemplating suing the newspaper that broke the story.
The story seems to have it all, from a campaign finance reformer’s standpoint. Politicians stuffing money into their pockets from a shady character, undercover recordings, promises of changing votes for money and the suggestion of a lawsuit against the news organization by the elected official at the center of the story. It was precisely this kind of scandal that led to Arizona’s “Clean Elections” system and the Federal Election Campaign Act. Normally, this would lead to reformers calling for new laws to “clean up” Pennsylvania politics (putting aside the fact that taking bribes is already illegal under Pennsylvania law).
Oddly, however, there has been little coverage of this story by the most strident organizations in favor of campaign finance laws. For instance, on the date that Philly.com covered the threat by the elected official at the center of this story to sue Philly.com for defamation, the New York Times featured twostories about the Koch brothers engaging in legal political activities. As of the date of this blog, searches on the Times, Common Cause and Public Citizen websites do not reveal any stories covering the facts uncovered by Philly.com, but dozens of entries about the Kochs.
It appears to be a mystery as to why some campaign finance reformers would ignore such a relatively rare opportunity to promote their view of American politics as being awash in a sea of bribery, until one realizes that the elected official in question, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, is an up-and-coming Democratic politician with an eye on federal office. On the other hand, the Koch brothers are most associated with (legal) financial support for Republican officials and policies.
Unwittingly, the selective outrage of some campaign finance reformers betrays one of the dirty secrets of attempts to regulate political speech, namely, that it is human nature for people to treat those with whom they agree better than those with whom they disagree. Played out in the context of law enforcement, giving the government power to prosecute people for participating in peaceful political activity means that, often, the government will reserve its zeal for those who oppose whomever is in power—Democrat or Republican. If the New York Times will engage in selective outrage, why wouldn’t the Federal Election Commission or the Justice Department? And, if that is the case, why would people in a politically diverse nation want to give the government power to prosecute political disagreements?