Media Access Project Closure: Tacit Admission That $ = Speech in the Political Arena

by Mike Wendy on April 6, 2012

Money is not speech when it comes to politics and elections – so the liberal rant goes.

As media reform activists, Free Press, like to put it:

Indeed, the more money one has to give, the more power and influence one can exert over elections and public policy.

Of course, if you’re a liberal / progressive, using money to get the policy or laws you think are “right” and “fair,” then the progressive-oriented, campaign-finance-reform admonitions do not apply to you.

A case in point.  It was announced this week that Media Access Project (MAP) will go out of business on May 1 after nearly 40 years of media reform advocacy. Why?  Well, according to the Hill, MAP’s leader, Andy Schwartzman, said:

…MAP was forced to close because it simply ran out of money. (Emphasis added)

The printing press stopped spinning, because, as this story reports:

Many foundations that fund organizations including MAP were hit hard in the recent recession. In addition one funder, the JEHT Foundation, folded in 2009 after losing much of its endowment to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

MAP’s closure statement further elucidates the need for funding, noting:

…The Board reached its decision after evaluating the difficult funding environment facing MAP and other progressive public interest groups. The MAP Board expressed its deep appreciation and gratitude to all current and former foundation and Forum funders, individual donors, and staff for their support and dedication to the cause of MAP. (Emphasis added)

Quite simply, MAP can’t speak to influence public policy anymore because it lacks the dinero, greenbacks, Benjamins, bucks, hard-cold-cash, coin, etc., to do so. 

Interestingly, the MAP statement also alludes to the fact that other progressive public interest groups face the same funding environment.  In other words, they have the same need for money…

…To speak.  To affect public policy.  To change laws.  To participate in political fora.

It takes millions in corporate and foundation funding to do this.  Groups like MAP, and Free Press, and Public Knowledge have been on the receiving-end of this teat for years.  They have engorged their operations as a result.  That said, as much as it pains me to admit this, they are a force to be reckoned with in the politics that shape public policy and laws.

Now, I don’t have a problem with these groups using money to speak in the political arena.  I think on the whole it’s good that the First Amendment allows us to do this, ensuring one doesn’t get tossed in the pokey for using money to express oneself.  What I do have a problem with, however, is the fact that groups like MAP – which have used over a $100 million of funding over this past decade alone to affect, shape and change public policy – seemingly get a free pass on the issue of money in politics.  I mean, that’s their gig.

Yep, hardcore, capitalist lobbyists, those guys.

While I’m all for them being able to speak as much as they want, they are not so forgiving when it comes to my market-based interests.  You see, they want the market (a.k.a. corporations) to stop using its money to speak because it’s speech MAP and the others don’t agree with.  Thus, when corporations like AT&T, Verizon, Microsoft or Apple use money for speech activities, it can never be in the public interest.  All the “crummy” things they do – like build nationwide networks, boost productivity and create jobs, develop new IT and software, and produce gadgets like iPhones – and how they express their concerns about the public policy environment which affects those offerings, well, that kind of money = speech is somehow immoral.

So, when a market-based organization like mine takes foundation money to speak, I’m the devil.  When “public interest” groups like MAP, or Free Press or Public Knowledge do it, they’re on the side of angels.

Bulldookey!

The public interest groups are thick as thieves with their corporate overlords.  Their message is virtually indistinguishable from the corporations / foundations who fund them.   Quite frankly, the “public interest” they claim to prosecute is more likely to serve private, profit-oriented interests than those of the public.

Does that make their truths any less truthful.  No.   It just makes them hypocrites.

Bottom line here: MAP went out of business.  It didn’t have the money to speak anymore.  Lacking this, MAP decided it could no longer work to affect public policy or laws.

Stated more plainly: Money equals speech in the political arena.

Thanks, Andy, for that decidedly unorthodox (from a progressive’s point of view) statement against interest.  Unlike so much of your public policy advocacy, not only does it serve the First Amendment, it makes our self-governance better, too.

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