Louis C.K. is doing a show to help Bill de Blasio, New York City’s incompetent Sandinista mayor, raise money for his reelection bid.
I like Louis C. K., but shouldn’t we arrest him?
I am a First Amendment absolutist and a free-speech absolutist. I think Louis C. K. should be able to say what he likes, where he likes, how he likes, on behalf of whatever candidate he likes. But I also think the same thing about Charles and David Koch, Exxon, and Charles C. W. Cooke.
On the other hand, I also believe in striving as mightily as we can toward the rule of law, which means consistently applying the law to all citizens in all contexts. The editors of the New York Times have First Amendment rights, Louis C. K. has First Amendment rights, and David Koch has First Amendment rights.
“Money isn’t speech,” the anti-First Amendment gang insists in lamenting Citizens United. But of course it is. Louis C. K. talks for a living, and he does not do that for free.
Campaign-finance law, at the federal and state level, recognizes in-kind contributions as a form of campaign donation. So, for instance, if I donate $100 worth of business services to Candidate X, I’ve given him a $100 donation. If I donate $2,000 worth of pizza to a phone-banking party for Candidate X, I’ve made a $2,000 contribution, generally treated the same as if I’d written him a check.
It is impossible to see how Louis C. K.’s donating his only major asset — his celebrity — to the cause of Bill de Blasio is anything other than an in-kind contribution. And, given that Louis C. K.’s ordinary rate (between $500,000 and $1 million minimum for U.S. appearances) far exceeds the legal limit on contributions to mayoral campaigns, it is difficult to see why this should be legal while other in-kind contributions valued at the same level are forbidden. Why should $1 million worth of photocopying be verboten while $1 million worth of high-value celebrity fund-raising is hunky-dory?
Why shouldn’t a celebrity’s endorsement be valued the same way as a corporate jet or use of a printing facility? Why should one form of capital be valued over another when it comes to furthering political campaigns?
If the de Blasio campaign were paying Louis C. K. his market rate, this would be moot; but, so far as I can tell, that is not the case. I’m sure we have a very clever lawyer somewhere who can explain this to me, and that that explanation will be entirely plausible.