Beware the Massive Platform of the Under-Informed Celebrity

There’s a very good reason Democrats are trying to siphon off the magic of their newest freshman rep from New York by asking her to train them on social media.


Because she can go before a panel of people, experts in their fields, and question them on subjects she couldn’t possibly know even a percentage point as much about. And, with massive quantities of unearned confidence, borderline berate these experts and end up having her “thoughts” shared an unbelievable number of times on social media.

Of course she has a lot of help in getting the mangled message out. NowThis, the account that shared her clip on a confusing mishmash of calls for campaign finance reform and ethics regulation in government (but really it was just an elaborate way of saying Donald Trump is a “bad guy”) has a couple million followers.

And then, as night follows day, celebrities, believing they’ve heard something profound, push it out as if it’s something profound.

Except that it’s not sensational. It’s basically garbage. On the issue of campaign finance, specifically, there are already laws on the books that regulate how much individuals and entities can give in donations to candidates and how those donations are disclosed and accounted for. But I’ll let the experts explain:


1) You cannot use campaign funds for non-campaign related expenses. That includes “paying off folks.” Here, Ocasio-Cortez appears to be referencing the Stormy Daniels scandal and the “greenlight for hush money” she claims it represents. But she has the argument exactly backwards. Those who believe Trump committed a campaign violation think that the hush money needed to be paid with campaign expenses, and that Trump’s failure to do so was the problem. As IFS Chairman Bradley A. Smith previously argued, IFS believes the opposite is true. The crime would be if you did “pay off folks” with campaign money. The real “folks you need to pay off to get elected” are voters, and it turns out they cannot be bought. As we have written about over and overagain, money doesn’t buy elections. Ocasio-Cortez should know this better than most!

2) “Dark-money funded campaigns” are not a thing. The source of all donations to candidates over $200 are fully disclosed to the FEC, which then publishes that information online for the world to see. “Dark money” refers to spending from nonprofit groups making expenditures independently of any candidate to voice their support or opposition to candidates and their policies. These groups cannot give money to candidates, so it’s impossible for any candidate to run a “dark-money funded campaign.” These groups are limited in how much they can spend on such campaign speech. Additionally, many groups that Representative Ocasio-Cortez slanders with the “dark money” label are not nefarious or secretive organizations, but respected civic groups with a long history of involvement in public affairs. These groups include nonprofits like the ACLU, NAACP, and Planned Parenthood – hardly voices that should be silenced in debates surrounding elections.

3) “Special interest” money does not dominate campaign coffers, even of the candidates you don’t like. This ties in to Ocasio-Cortez’s earlier assertion that a campaign could be entirely funded by corporate PAC donations. That’s true in the abstract – there’s nothing in the law to stop a candidate from trying – but completely divorced from the reality of how campaigns are funded. Notably, Ocasio-Cortez did not name any examples of this sort of campaign, because there aren’t any. In reality, all congressional campaigns are predominantly funded by individual donors, not corporate PACs. This is one reason why anti-corporate PACpledges are widely seen by those who are familiar with the system as grandstanding. Even ignoring this reality, corporate PACs have a contribution limit of $5,000 to any campaign, so a candidate looking to fund their effort solely with PAC funds would have to find a remarkably broad coalition of so-called special interests to fund their campaign. Finally, corporate PACs are funded exclusively with donations from employees, executives, and board members of the company, whose contributions to the PAC are limited and publicly disclosed.


The Institute for Free Speech also has a handy little video that’s a useful primer should anyone want to avail themselves of the information.

And on the subject of those corporate interests having a hand in getting politicians elected, the Citizens United case began when a non-profit wanted to put out a video critical of Hillary Clinton before the 2008 election and the Supreme Court decided that they, in fact, could do that under the First Amendment right to free speech.

Something the freshman rep from New York may not actually wish to roll back. If she understood more about the issue, that is.


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