Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Money talks

"They say money talks. I thought that was the problem."
Prof. Paul Freund, commenting on Buckley v. Valeo,1976.

Buckley v. Valeo was the case in which the Supreme Court first decided that the wealthy can spend their own money to further their political campaigns without let or hindrance. The central idea underlying that case--that money equals speech--has led to the political situation today, where wealth dominates our politics.

But does the First Amendment really empower the wealthy or organized pressure groups by protecting their right to spend money? The Amendment says that speech shall be free; it does not say that some people have the right to drown out others, nor does it hold that some speech is more valuable than others.

Would it violate the First Amendment if reasonable limits applied to all individuals, whether they are contributing to someone else's campaign or supporting their own? As long as the limits were the same for all, how would freedom of speech be impeded?

"Conservative" jurists like to concentrate on the text of the constitutional or statutory provision at issue. It's time to look at the First Amendment that way--at what it says, and at what it doesn't.


ravenshrike said...

Ah, reasonable limits. Y'know, there's an old post WWII poem that's in the end about reasonable limits, or rather about what one considers "reasonable" is only reasonable if you're not the one on the sharp end of the stick.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

I assume you know it, if not in that form than one of its many others. Ironically in a way this ties in to your post on guns in that if people want something, they will almost always find a way. Look up George Soros. He's got his fingers in so many pies and because of the many, many loopholes in McCain-Feingold that are much easier for the big people to jump through than the smaller people, his agenda will continue being pushed. The need is not for censorship, the need is for transparency.

The Old New Englander said...

That poem is actually a version of a famous quotation by Pastor Martin Niemoller, the anti-Nazi minister.

But what is your solution? To simply allow money unfettered sway over public debate?

ravenshrike said...

Simple, force transparency. Make NGO's entirely transparent and their donors known. In a public database if necessary. Make it a class 4 felony to violate this for any value over $1000. Of course, this would still require people to take interest in the matter at hand, but that's a seperate issue which has been a problem with any system which requires user input from day 1.

The Old New Englander said...

Transparency is not enough. We already have a lot of transparency in campaign finance, but most people--understandably, because they are not political junkies--watch the ads, not the campaign finance reports. Besides, the reports come out after the election.

No, we need real regulation.

Leanderthal, Lighthouse Keeper said...

George Will will not let up on this. Glad to some some sensible, or reasonable discussion. I've had a hard time equating the freedom to spend money with the first amendment.

We have the best government money can buy right now, and it's so corrupt I call it our elected Mafia. Ben Franklin tried to look for solutions a reasonable person would understand.

I'm not sanguine about prospects for legislating morality though. And buying politicians is immoral.

Lighthouse Keeper