Saving free speech from fiscally engineered censorship

Posted on August 25, 2010
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Last week, the Goldwater Institute filed a formal appeal to the Supreme Court to strike down matching funds once and for all. The appeal follows the Court’s decision on June 8, 2010, to suspend temporarily the distribution of matching funds to taxpayer-funded “Clean Elections” candidates.

Matching funds seek to “level the playing field” between taxpayer-funded and privately-funded candidates by showering taxpayer-funded candidates with matching subsidies for every dollar that an opposing privately-funded opponent raises or spends above a specific spending limit.

Imagine if this concept were applied to the media in general, news websites that get “too many” visitors could trigger subsidies to bail out failing newspapers. To provide “balance,” talk shows with ratings that spike “too high” could spawn access to tax dollars for their struggling competition.

Sounds pretty far-fetched, right. The Federal Trade Commission recently published a report urging more funds to public broadcasting, creation of a government program to pay reporters and fund local news, and taxes on electronic devices and online news aggregators. Columbia University President Lee Bollinger wrote this summer in the Wall Street Journal that there is nothing to fear from government subsidizing the media – highlighting China’s CCTV and Xinhua news as examples of unbiased journalism.

If these ideas gain momentum, the government could easily shape the marketplace of ideas through triggered subsidies. Stopping the government from silencing candidates with the threat of massive subsidies to their political opponents is a necessary step to preventing the government’s wider expansion of fiscally-engineered censorship.

Nick Dranias holds the Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan Chair for Constitutional Government and is Director of the Joseph and Dorothy Donnelly Moller Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.

Learn More:

Goldwater Institute: McComish v. Bennett

New York Post: How not to save news: Bad gov't ideas for journalism

Wall Street Journal: Journalism Needs Government Help

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