Campaign contributions are free speech?

It seems to be a recurring theme in any campaign finance discussion, and I have yet to see any justification for it, but I just don’t see how limiting campaign contributions can be seen as going against the first amendment. This applies equally to every candidate, so I’m not picking on a particular party. I’m pretty sure both Dems and Repubs alike love the money they get.

How does something, that certainly seems on its face to be a bribe, equate to free speech? I can tell a candidate exactly how I feel in a letter, e-mail, face to face, questions at a town hall, etc. I don’t have to spend a dime to do so. In fact, spending a dime would likely make me feel they were somehow in my debt. Does the first amendment guarantee that the person with the most money gets to speak the loudest? Does free speech cover returned favors? I’m betting Bill Gates could get the attention of a candidate with a quick and easy 500 million dollar donation. In fact, the candidate wouldn’t need another dime. Does this mean that Bill has more of a right to free speech than I do?

If we completely outlawed all campaign finance contributions tomorrow, exactly how would anyone’s free speech be repressed?

Campaign contributions should not be bribes (even if in practice they may be). They should be contributions towards the campaign of a candidate you support, and would (to large extent) be used by the candidate to pay for “speech” (TV ads, posters, etc.) So there’s a very close connection between making a campaign copntribution ands your taking part in political speech supporting a candidate. You may not be able to afford to pay for a TV ad all by yourself, but your $20 can go towards the cost of a TV ad with everyone else’s contribution. And in making a campaign contribution, you are not just speeaking to the candidate: you are trying to help the candidate speak to the voters.

Yeah, I don’t see campaign contributions as bribes at all. It’s me, using my labor (money=labor), to help elect the form of government that I agree with. The First Amendment is used to protect all kinds of free speech that fall in the penumbra, such as pornography, and here we have something that is squarely in the intended effect of the amendment, and people question whether it’s free speech.

The fact that something applies equally to all is not a test of its constitutionality. If Congress were to pass a law that forbade all candidates from speaking about the death peanlty, that would be uncostitutional, but it treats everyone the same.

For me, it simply starts with the phrase “Congress shall make no law…” It doesn’t say “Congress can make a few laws…” or “Congress shall make laws only if it affects everyone equally…” it says “NO law.”

Perhaps you are conflating the treatment of religion with speech in the 1st amendment. For religion, the 1st amemdment speaks of laws that “establish religion”. If it also spoke to free speech in terms of “establishing polticial parties”, you might be correct.

As it is, though it simply says:

With the non-free speech stuff edited out.

My sense has always been that if you want to change the wording of the 1st amendment to allow certain restrictions on (political) speech, then do so thru the agreed upon amendment procedure.

Should have added:

If the only speech protected by the 1st amendment was speech that didn’t cost anything, it would be a meaningless right. Everything costs something, even sending a letter. Suppose I don’t give Kerry any money, but I offer to drive him to a political rally. Does he have to reimburse me for gas money? Suppose I take an unpaid sabbatical from my job to work on his campaign. I’ve effectively donated my salary to him (assuming I’m worth what I get paid at my job :slight_smile: ).

There just is no way, in reality, to distinguish between a monetary contribution and a non-monetary contribution in any meaningful way.

Doing all of these things does take time. I work long hours. I live in a state (MA) that is not a battleground state, so the candidates aren’t going to spend any time here. I won’t have the opportunity to go to a town meeting or meet any candidates face to face. Even if I did, what am I supposed to do? Yell at them my laundry list of complaints/suggestions?

Writing letters and sending emails doesn’t do too much, IMHO. If I want to have an impact on the political process it is much more powerful for me to send a check. I want our second ammendment rights to bear arms to be protected. The most efficient way for me to do this is to support the NRA. Because millions of others feel this way, we all pool our money and then they can do the fighting for us. By preventing them from speaking for me, or preventing me from giving them money to use to speak for me, you have interfered with my right to free speech.

I probably should have left the “feels like a bribe” theme completely out of the OP.

I’ve read every post, and it still seems like a stretch to equate giving money with speech.

How exactly is giving money a form of speech any more than shooting someone is? Yes, if I shoot you, you’ll know I likely have some beef with you, but I could also just tell you that and accomplish the same thing. By inhibiting my right to shoot someone, my right to free speech is in no way impeded, so you don’t even need the “Your right to free speech is trumped by his right to live” argument.

The 1st Amendment covers more then just freedom of speech it also covers freedom of association.

What you call a bribe I might just call strong support for the candidate I believe in.


I don’t see how you can seperate the two. I want to speak out against certain policies (I’ll stick with the NRA example). The best way for me to do this is to give money to the NRA who will then use it to advertise against anti-gun politicians and advertise for pro-gun politicians.

This is “speech”. Not only is it an example of speech, but it is a perfect one. This is the most logical and effective way for me to “speak” to politicians.

CFR is telling groups like the NRA, the ACLU or the Sierra Club that they are forbidden from mentioning the name of a presidential candidate during certain time periods up to the election. How is this not a violation of free speech? If this is not a restriction of “speech” then what would be in your mind?

Your murder analogy doesn’t begin to make any sense, BTW.

I think I’m starting to see what you’re getting at. Consider these two scenarios:

Scenario #1: I give Nader $500 so that he can print up some flyers and have a campaign worker hand them out on a street corner.

Scenario #2: I print up the flyers myself, paying for them out of my own money, and then hand them out on the street corner myself.

Are you saying that 1st Amendment covers #2 but not #1? If you are saying it does not cover #2, then you’ve lost me completely…

Yes, John Mace nailed it.

I have zero, none, nada problems with scenario number 2, even though I do understand that even it has a potential for abuse (stopping the abuse is a separate issue for another thread).

I don’t care if John Mace, the NRA, or even the ACLU take out 20 page ads in a newspaper for their issues, candidates, etc. If you ask me, that’s a much more valid definition of speech than simply tossing money at a candidate. If you give Kerry money, are you telling him you agree with his stance on social issues, or do you just want him to be president because you think people will have fun comparing him to Leno? That’s the problem I have. Money is NOT speech in my world.

Admittedly, scenario 2 still doesn’t completey stop the potential for abuse or corruption, but as I said that’s a different issue and could be addressed as the loopholes show up. But given that scenario 2 allows you to speak out completely on whatever you wish, how is limiting (or even completely eliminating) the giving of money to a candidate equate to an inhibition of free speech?

And who said it was only those gymnasts who can stick a landing! :slight_smile:

OK, let’s look at scenario #3: You pay me (“unaffiliated” with Nader) to print up the flyers and to hand them out.

Got any problems with that? If not, all that has to be done is to “seperate” the candidate from his campaign. Kind of like the 527s today…

One might also argue, on an equal protection basis, why you are allowed to give **me ** money but you can’t give Nader money. Does Nader give up certain **constitutional ** rights by becoming a candidate?

Because the law may presume that your independent expenditure is a “de facto” contribution, and try to nail you on it.

This is exactly the argument the Kerry camp is making with reference to the so-called “Swift Boat For Truth” group. They claim to be excercising their First Amendment rights, the Kerry camp is claiming that they are making an illegal camplaign contribution to the Bush campaign. Earlier, the Bush camp tried to make the argument that Michael Moore’s advertisements for Farentheit 911 were illegal contributions to the Kerry campaign.

Even if this argument is shown to be totally specious in these cases, the mere fact that a person or interest group has to stop and consider whether or not their excercise of free speech rights is legal or not, is a classic ‘chilling effect’.

In years past, the Supreme Court held that even unintended chilling effects were unconstitutional in, for example, pornography cases. It is indeed disturbing that they now seems to be ready to offer political speech less protection than porno.

No, I’m fine with the concept of the 527s today. Implementation, of course, needs a LOT of work, but even John McCain acknowledged that his reforms were not an end to the problem, and that loopholes would be found and plugged as needed.

It’s just the overall “Money = Free Speech” argument that I have an issue with here. It just seems so obvious (just to me, apparently :slight_smile: ) that they are not equivalent, and yet it gets trotted out all the time as a sort of sound-bite rebuttal to CFR. If I give you money, you have no idea what the hell I’m saying other than “I want to give you money”, but if you actually use that money to send a message, whether for a stamp for your letter which outlines your stance, or for a full page ad in USA Today, then you’re actually saying something, which indeed should be protected.

Then we can start plugging the holes such as the 16 year old, umemployed son of a wealthy Democratic supporter giving $2,000 to Kerry, along with his dad, mom, and 3 brothers all giving the same amount, but that’s another debate also.

Then I would find the law, the Kerry camp and the Bush camp wrong. While I think they are disgusting lying vermin, I do think the Swift Boat Veterans have every right to show their ad, while Kerry has every right to point out that they are funded mostly by a rich Republican fat cat from Bush’s home state, and that points A, B, C, are outright lies because of this, this, and this. If they were actually paid for their appearances, it’s also fine for Kerry to point that out.

Now, if it turns out the Swift Boat Veterans and Bush are actually linked, either through him steering them, or them getting favors from Bush in return, you can lock them up for a REALLY long time without phasing me.

You lost me on this one, but it could just be that I have a high density level today.:slight_smile: I’m all for people spending whatever they want to promote Nader’s stance on issues, or Buchanan’s, or anyone else for that matter. I just don’t want them sending checks to Ralph and calling it free speech. If there is no 527 that backs Nader, start one up, for all I care. THAT’s free speech.

To be honest, I’m not completely convinced that we should disallow private persons sending whatever truckloads of money they want to the candidates, I’m just saying that it’s not free speech, and that I find that to be a cop-out argument, used mostly in sound-bite rebuttals.

It’s not so much a speech issue to me as it is an issue of preventing corruption. If rich people can contribute unlimited amounts of money to campaigns, then our politicians will essentially be commodities whose votes can be bought and sold.

I somewhat agree with you, although I haven’t completely made up my mind at this point, but I was trying to avoid that issue here, as there is another thread for it on the front page. I was just hoping to get a solid answer here as to why money=free speech, and I don’t think I’ve gotten one yet.

From the constitution, my bolding:

[qutoe]Amendment XIV

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Can Congress (or, per the exact wording, a State) enact a law which says person A can receive money from person B, but person C cannot receive money from person A? That’s unequal treatment.

But, IANAConstitutional lawyer and I may not be interpretting that clause correctly.

It’s not so much a speech issue to me as it is an issue of preventing corruption.

An extremely blunt instrument, at best. It’s a big leap to assume that giving money = corruption. Better to keep everything above board and let the people decide if they want to vote for a guy who gets $5M from Giganto Megacorp, Inc.

But then you just give a big advantage to someone who is already rich and who wants to run for office.