Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Comment So Good It Deserves a Post

I got a really interesting comment / question on my post about the German election, Colors:
Would it be accurate to assume that the German election has not held your TV hostage (i.e., like the non-stop campaigning advertisements in the U.S.)?
NO IT HAS NOT. And there is a very good reason why. In Germany political parties are only allowed to campaign in the six week period preceding the election. That's right, BY LAW, no ads, no campaign posters, no events that are campaign related are allowed until six weeks before the election. Certainly German parties get around that by holding "general events" or "topical, issue speeches," which we saw a lot of this past summer. However, even these are pretty limited. These are not federal laws, but rather regulations set by the states and which all parties generally abide by.

In regards to TV, political parties cannot buy up a ton of time like US parties. It is illegal. Each political party is allotted an equal share of air time to show ads. That is all the time they get. Although the party must pay to produce its advertisements, the TV time space is free. The US Library of Congress writes:

The length of election campaigns is not defined by federal law. State and local laws limit campaign billboards to a few weeks before the election. State laws limit campaign advertising in radio and television to a few spots that are allotted in the month preceding the election. By an agreement among the states, the political parties may not purchase any advertising time on radio or television, and are thereby limited to the few officially granted campaign spots.
These two rules have important consequences. First, my TV is not clogged up with stupid ads, like you see in the US. I will never forget a commercial that I saw while living in South Bend. "Candidate X. Bad for fish. Bad for Indiana." All I could think was, "Wait, are fish allowed to vote now?" The second consequence is that political parties do not spend nearly the same amount of money on advertising as US parties do.

"Oh, Claire, that sounds great! Let's enact that here in the US!"

Yeah, wouldn't that be nice? It will never happen.

The Supreme Court in the case Buckley vs. Velo (1976), argued that "money is speech." That is, you cannot limit a person's ability to spend money to influence elections as that would be an impediment to free speech. This case is the ruling precedent on party and campaign finance. Given how both the Left and Right in the US would rather fall on their swords than limit "free speech," I do not see that rule being changed any time soon. How do you like them apples?


Sands | കരിങ്കല്ല് said...

that was informative. :)

headbang8 said...

I think that the US freedom of speech provisions originally concerned content of speech, not its prevalence.

And frankly, the content of speech in the USA is limited--by laws concerning blasphemy, for one thing.

There are laws concerning lies, too. You can't spread lies about someone else. But the legal system which enforces the law focuses on redress rather than prevention--and that means it moves far too slow for politics.

I loved Barney Frank's preface to his "argue with a dining room table" insult: "It is a tribute to the first ammendment that this...nonsense is so freely propagated".


P.S. Logging on from Germany, the blogger word verification sometimes throws up English words by accident. Today's, tellingly, was "worse".

Anonymous said...

I must have a really dull life but I am excited that you created a post from my comment!

Anyway, thank you for such a thorough response. I have been your faithful student since I discovered your blog. Don't worry I'm not crazy - I swear! :)

I made a vow this year to be more politically informed because I am sick of hearing people tell lies and not being able to state my views with confidence. So, thank you for your thoughtful and thorough explanations - I have benefited from your good education. If you ever need to know anything about clinical trials and FDA regulations, I'm your gal! he he...

Anonymous said...

P.S. "Oh, Claire, that sounds great! Let's enact that here in the US!"

Imagine all the money that would be saved? Wouldn't it be nice if most (if not all) leftover campaign money was 'donated' towards our nation's deficit? I know I'm dreaming but I can't help but think that all that money they spend to annoy the crap out of people who just want to relax and watch TV could be put to better use.

Claire said...

Sands: That is what I am here for :)

Headbang: Free speech is a double edge sword. Your (and my!) interpretation of the first amendment would be construed as "legislating from the bench."

Anonymous 1: Glad to make a reader happy! I also feel the same way when someone comments on my Facebook status! LOL.

Anonymous 2: I know! The savings would be ENORMOUS. Television is one of the largest components of party spending. We can dream, can't we?

Martin said...

Hi Claire,

one big advantage here is that all parties get the same amount of air-time. Ragardless of their financial power. Richer parties can not (easily) overwhelm smaller parties in the media.

And I completely understand why you can not comment on any content of the election: There is none!

Merkel doesn't do any campaigning. Steinmeier is bland.

I (German, 41, m) have never ever seen such a boring election.

Your blog is really great!


PS: The word-verification for this post is 'aphole' - doesn't sound to good!