Jon Ossoff, a novice Democratic candidate who ran for election in Georgia’s 6th District on Tuesday, earned the dubious distinction of presiding over the most expensive failure in congressional election history.
His campaign burned through $22.5 million, most of it from outside Georgia, which is more than the combined amount spent by both major-party candidates in any previous House race. Ossoff’s victorious opponent, Republican Karen Handel, spent a modest $3.2 million.
This greater than 6-to-1 advantage for Ossoff was narrowed considerably by spending by outside groups. In all, spending for Ossoff amounted to $30.5 million, as compared with $21.4 million for Handel.
Perhaps this narrower gap was on Ossoff’s mind when, as he sank to a humiliating defeat, he denounced the proliferation of money in politics.
Either way, it takes gall for the biggest congressional spender ever to try to take the high ground on this issue. Ossoff said, “The role of money in politics is a major problem and particularly the role of unchecked anonymous money.” In an election day interview on NPR, he added, “There have been super PACs in Washington who have been putting up tens of millions of dollars of attack ads in air for months now.”
The money in question wasn’t anonymous, for parties PACs and super PACs must report their donors, but set that aside. Let’s also set aside the fact that Ossoff led outside spending during the runoff, between the April 18 jungle primary and the June 20 finale. Let us charitably also set aside the fact that the Democrat’s opinion is self-serving hypocrisy.
Instead, let’s focus on the more important fact that Americans have a constitutional right to express themselves on political issues and that in the modern world this expression takes the form of mass media campaigns. Democrats seem unanimously to disagree with this right.
Ever since they were toppled from power in Washington in the early 1990s after nearly two generations of near hegemony, Democrats have been trying to limit free political speech by regulating the tools of its delivery.
In response to the Supreme Court’s repeatedly vindicating this treasured First Amendment right, not just with Citizens United but also by striking down key parts of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law in earlier decisions, Senate Democrats voted in 2014 to weaken the First Amendment guarantee of free political speech. The constitutional amendment that every single Democrat present on the floor voted to pass would have explicitly empowered both Congress and state legislatures to pass laws abridging the freedom of political speech for the first time in this nation’s history.
Last year, Democratic Federal Election Commissioners went even further in their war on the First Amendment by attacking the freedom of the press, again in the name of campaign finance regulation. They tried unsuccessfully to prevent newspapers with more than 5 percent foreign ownership (this would include The New York Times) to endorse candidates.
They also tried to punish Fox News for its editorial decision about how to stage a summer 2015 GOP primary debate. At issue was the network’s last-minute choice to hold a separate “undercard” debate for minor candidates, in order to avoid an unwatchable forum that included 16 or 17 candidates on the same stage. FEC Democrats tried to construe this editorial decision as an illegal in-kind corporate campaign contribution to the candidates who participated.
These efforts show that the party of the Left represents a clear and present danger to the First Amendment. It is the equivalent in government, but an even greater threat than the hecklers’ veto over conservative speakers now being exercised by radical leftists at college campuses around the country.
The increasing hostility of leftists and their party toward the First Amendment may not have played a large role in the Democrats’ several recent losses. But it is misplaced in any event. As various and ideologically diverse large-dollar donors have learned the hard way — everyone from Sheldon Adelson to Tom Steyer — one cannot just buy elections, hard as one tries.
More importantly, the loss of an election is no excuse for limiting others’ constitutional rights, no matter how worthy of office the deluded young Ossoff believes himself to be.