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April 30th, 2017

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Ethics vs. ethics codes

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published March 21, 2016

Ronald Reagan always advised Trust but Verify, which brings up the latest ways to regulate campaign spending. But in a free country, there should be no regulation at all. Let people say what they want to say and take the consequences -- whether they're offending the all too readily offended or running afoul of the libel laws.

Call it a game of Truth or Consequences, only it's no game, as anyone who's ever been the target of a libel suit well knows. But all across these not always united states, politicians who call themselves reformers are busy drafting Codes of Ethics, Speech Codes, Busy Work and other rules and regulations abridging our freedom of speech. As if We the People needed any guide to campaign spending other than the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Naturally enough, scandals follow all these efforts to tell us how much we may give and to whom, whereupon more Codes of Ethics appear on the books, like warning signs that sprout up at the scene after every car wreck. They're too late to do much if any good, but they seem to make those who put them up feel better.

Happily, this whole dubious practice grows unpopular. ("Campaign-gifts rules fading...." -- Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Sunday, March 13.) Just let the voters know who's giving to whom, and that should be more than enough. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case was no threat to our freedom, whatever its critics said. On the contrary, it was but the latest charter of our liberties.

Those states that require nothing but that candidates reveal their contributors -- like Hawaii and Washington -- have done all that needs to be done to assure fair elections. Anything more would be wretched excess, the substitution of a nanny state for government of, by and for the people.

Leading the charge for more campaign-finance laws is the National Institute on Money in State Politics -- a nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) that itself isn't required to report its donors. And doesn't. If that strikes Gentle Reader as brazen hypocrisy, that's only because it is. And it is the hypocrisy of it all that most offends. The do-gooders seem out to reform everybody but themselves. Why not just let voters make up their own minds, as if this were a free country?

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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