News Personalities and Donations

Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's Countdown, generally seen as the leftist version of Bill O'Reilly, has been suspended indefinitely without pay by NBC management. Olbermann apparently donated the maximum individual donation permitted by law ($2,400) to three Democrat candidates.

Schadenfreude aside, comparisons with Fox News' more lax corporate policy aside, and statements about MSNBC's corporate right to police itself aside, the suspension highlights the incoherence of campaign finance laws.

What Olberman did on MSNBC on a daily basis far exceeded the paltry $7,200 he donated to liberal Congressional candidates. Every day his commentary was worth thousands if not millions of dollars in free advertising for his ideology. Yet campaign finance laws not only draw a meaningless distinction between "hard" and "soft" money, but fail to account for the fungible nature of money itself.

The result is that one form of value-- namely, "money"-- is seen as the sole target for regulation. The equal time rule is also predicated on "money" as expressed both in the formal requirement that the "candidate" alone triggers the provision, and as expressed in the favored-rate requirement.

In essence, the scheme seems designed with one goal in mind: privileging those with access to the apparatus of mass communication. If we believe in democracy, this is a grave threat.