Advertising is not speech

26 Feb

Matt Yglesias is skeptical that solving campaign financing will cure our politics or even much alleviate the corrupting influence of money. I share this skepticism, and my own take is that we should instead focus on the specific problem of advertising. After all, political donations buy all sorts of things other than television air time or web banners—mainly, organization staff and media production—and I’m not so sure these activities shouldn’t fall under First Amendment protection, even if the rich have a disproportionate ability to partake in such “speech”. More importantly, I think staffing and production are beside the point, as the actual ad buys are where the real money goes. I’d go so far as to say political ad buys are entirely illegitimate: rather than curtailing political ad buys, we should outlaw them outright. The crux is finding a workable definition of “advertisement” that distinguishes ads from non-advertisement speech and then also distinguishes the political from the non-political. This is tricky but I think well doable were it not for the inevitable Supreme Court rollback. I won’t go into the weeds here but just say that any defense of advertisements as a valid form of communication in democratic discourse is laughable.

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