Free Speech, Especially for Harry

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can say whatever he wants about the Koch brothers – literally.

The Nevada Democrat is protected by the Constitution’s speech or debate clause as long as he speaks during a legislative session. He is constrained by neither fairness, nor facts nor, should it come to that, even the minimal constraints that the courts apply to defamatory statements about public officials and figures.

That’s OK. Sort of. The Koch brothers have chosen to participate, very actively and often quite cogently, in the public debate about the direction of this country’s policies and the role and scope of its government. Regardless of how much money they have, they enjoy the same right to do so as any of us. It’s just that, as leaders of a sprawling business enterprise that provides jobs and security for tens of thousands of people, their opinions count for somewhat more than those of other people, including me. Or, one might argue, Harry Reid. The Kochs are big boys. They can stick up for themselves.

But it is still repulsive to see Reid, who is fighting to retain his influential post as majority leader after this year’s election, resort to vilifying private citizens for exercising their free-speech rights from his immunized perch on Capitol Hill. In a floor speech last week, Reid accused the Koch brothers of being one of the main causes of climate change and, in a follow-up statement from his spokesman Adam Jentleson, claimed they “want free rein to pollute as much as they want.” This is the latest in a long series of such claims Reid has lobbed their way.

We have seen this sort of bullying by elected representatives many times before. It never makes us feel good about the people we send to Congress. They pick their target of convenience – bankers, or purported communists, or auto executives, or athletes accused of using performance enhancers, or industrialists who support their political opposition – and take their shots, knowing they cannot be called to account except at the polls.

Reid seldom feels constrained by the facts, whether it is in his false claims in 2012 that Mitt Romney had paid no federal income taxes in some years (Romney subsequently released information showing that he had), or in his recent assertions that the Koch companies are the “champions” of emissions linked to climate change. The Washington Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, gave the claim three Pinocchios on a scale of four. In Kessler’s view, Reid’s claim did not quite reach the “whopper” status needed for that last Pinocchio, but qualified as having “significant factual error and/or obvious contradiction.”

The Kochs can defend themselves, and they do. Charles Koch wrote an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal in April, addressing some of the common accusations leveled at him, his brother and their business, and disputing the basic facts underpinning the allegations. Reid’s vitriol reflects most poorly on himself.

Maybe Reid is just so worried about climate change that he can’t help getting overexcited when he talks about the Kochs. That would be easier to believe, though, if Reid were not the person primarily responsible for getting President Obama to cancel the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal facility five years ago. With no place to dispose of waste, it is hard to support the increased use of nuclear power, which would be a major step toward reducing carbon emissions from generating plants. Five years later, the administration – and Reid – still have not identified anywhere else to put the waste. Harry Reid could talk about that on the Senate floor, if he wanted.

I wouldn’t hold my breath. The Constitution permits Reid to say anything he likes about anyone he doesn’t, and right now, Harry Reid really doesn’t like the Kochs.

About Larry M. Elkin 551 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

Visit: Palisades Hudson

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