Campaign Finance Reform and Free Speech

I would like to examine the restriction of speech that might be involved in reforming the way politicians finance their campaigns. Freedom of speech is fundamental to our democracy and political speech in particular needs protection. You can’t have a say in our government if you aren’t allowed to express your opinion of it.

OTOH- If citizens with more money and power are allowed to use those resources to persuade politicians or other citizens then the rich will have unproportional influence on governmental action or inaction. I submit that this is unfair and that the free speech should be limited in those situations where governmental integrity comes into question.

Despite the opinions of a few robed men.

Restrictions upon campaign contributions do not restrict speech. Any individual or group is free to reserve air time, publish leaflets, rant on a webwite, etc. about their favored candidate, hot button issue of choice, political philosophy, or doomsday fetish.

Political contributions simply take advantage of governmentally imposed benefits designed to encourage the use of money in political campaigns: tax deductions, matching funds, cheap access to public airwaves, etc. Changing the particular rules under which the government chooses to favor political contributions is not a restriction on free speech, despite the success that PACs have had in framing the issue as a 1[sup]st[/sup] ammendment struggle.

Spiritus Mundi wrote

Making a statement does not make it so.

Ironically, each of the things you enumerated are examples of how money is speech. Air time (and production) costs money. Printing (and writing and distributing) leaflets costs money. Likewise for web-publishing.

There are many arguments about what free speech is. Is the “Piss-Christ” an example of free speech? Is shouting “fire” in a theatre? Is publishing your flavor of pornography? There are many iffy areas, but the core of the intent of the first amendment is clear: people should be able to express and deliver their political thoughts freely. And giving money to a candidate (or political entity) is that in it’s purest form.

Well, if there should be no restrictions on money in politics, why don’t we just have people get together and buy the candidate in some sort of auction?..Oh, wait, never mind…that’s what we essentially do now! :wink:

Spiritus Mundi:

There are campaign finance questions that clearly involve speech, the regulation of issue ads, for instance.
I am interested in where to draw the line, and why.

Bill H:

Even if giving money to a candidate is the purest form of expressing political thoughts do you see no need to balance this against achieving and maintaining equitable government?

Here’s a thought (which may also open up a whole can of worms… I’ll explain at the end):

Let politicians say whatever they want. However, hold them ESPECIALLY accountable for their actions (after all, if they’re speaking as authority figures, they have a greater duty to be responsible). Therefore, if Pol. A makes a speech which is erroneous and libelous, punish him by restricting his future speech (if someone abuses their rights, their rights are taken away). This would result in politicians being a lot more cautious while campaigning, and a lot less mud-slinging being thrown about.

Now, for that aforementioned can of worms… this would stir up its own troubles when one begins to argue “What is erroneous and libelous?” Shades of gray would begin to take effect…

I’m sure that some standards could be set and such squabbles could be minimized (in theory)… but what do y’all think? Good idea? Bad idea? Expansions on this premise?

Just so I am clear on your position: is it your claim that no campaign contribution regulation, either past, current, or proposed, restricts a candidates ability to solicit for, or citizens to contribute to, a fund devoted to enhancing the candidate’s chances of winning an election, as long as that fund does not “take advantage of governmentally imposed benefits designed to encourage the use of money in political campaigns”?

Who would decide on the gray areas?
Our nonpartisan courts?

:: rolleyes smiley omited for sake of brevity ::

I tried to adress this question before in this thread.

The problem is really a question of Property Rights. By crowing that CFR violates Freedom of Speech, you are falling into a trap.

What this is really about is: shouldn’t you be able to give as much money to whomever you want in a free country – assuming the person you are giving the money to is not a criminal and there is no criminal intent involved?

If your answer is no, then you might draw the line at giving money to parties. OK, so I support Mr. X who is pro-gun, and I just give a million dollars to Pro -Gun Citizens For X and they just spend the money instead of X’s political party.

Ultimately, you’d have to say you can’t give money to any group that is political in nature, so there wouldn’t be any.

Is that freedom?

There was a good article on this in The Nation a few months back that I might try to dig up. The author’s basic point was that there are various ways in which freedom of speech laws are suggested to be (and have been) interpretted. One is this idea that some here seem to have that the person with the most economic power gets to drown everyone else out. But, another view is that freedom of speech means that it is okay to have laws that guarantee a diversity of views are heard, as long as the government is not trying to actively favor one view over the other. (This becomes particularly relevant, for example, when one talks about the FCC and regulating the airwaves, but is also relevant in the context of political campaigns.)

And, by the way, the freedom of speech clause of the Constitution is not currently interpretted as absolutist as some people seem to believe here. For example, the government has differentiated between different types of speech worthy of different amounts of protection…ranging from inciteful or dangerous speech (“fire” in a crowded theatre) for which you basically have no rights through speech intended for commercial purposes (more freedom) through political speech (largest amount of freedom).

**jmullaney **:

First of all, I’m not “crowing that CFR violates Freedom of Speech”. I am alluding to the fact sometimes rights contradict each other. As others pointed out in the thread you linked ( much more eloquently than I will manage ) rights cannot be absolute because when this happens things need to be sorted out. Allowing a person to go on crying fire in the proverbial theater because they have a right denies their fellow moviegoers their right to life.

I’m going to take the liberty of replying to a couple of your quotes from the other thread.

This bland assertion neatly presupposes the argument.
If these contributions are merely gifts then there is no quid pro quo so there’s no problem.
I would beg to differ.

A point you seem to miss here is that the appearance of corruption is itself damaging to democracy, whether or not any actual corruption takes place. If citizens believe that their voice is being overridden by graft then they won’t support the government, weakening the democracy.
Appearances are important, remember Ronald Reagan?

And finally, a quote actually directed at me:

Certainly, as long as they pay their taxes on it.
I assert that bribing politicians should be considered criminal.

Thanks for the reply, **jmullaney **.
I take it your position is that we should not curb free speech even in circumstances where that speech might affect the integrity of our democracy?

2sense wrote

Hmmmm. Define “achieving equitable government”. Do you mean there is a need for fairness in the system? I certainly agree with that.

I do believe that a) all donations must be on public record, and b) no foreign donations be allowed.
The first part enables the voters to see where a candidate is getting funded from; whether it be tobacco companies, unions or cocaine dealers (all evil in my book). The second part makes sure the influence comes from within the system that will be governed by the election outcome.

Such a formulation is just asking for a circular argument. “You do not have the right to give money to candidates, because that is not a legal action”. “Giving money to candidates is illegal because it is not a right”.


Err… I think I said as much. I take it by your repetitions of my own words that you agree with me :smiley:

No, I was wondering if anybody had any thoughts about how to AVOID that sort of thing if my idea was put into effect. It IS just a general notion, after all, and would need lots of work.

Well I don’t agree. “Fairness”, to me, sounds an awful lot like “equality”, which is a bullsh*t philosophy: Is a pound of lead “equal” to a pound of gold? Some argue that CFR would help “equal out” the playing field, and I don’t like the sounds of that. I don’t want Handgun Control Inc. to have an equal field with the NRA. I don’t want Planned Parent Hood to be equal with Right to Life organizations.I don’t want some candidates to be on equal footing with others. I give contributions to certain groups and canidates so they have a foot up on the other guy!
It’s my money, and I’ll give it to who ever I want. Pass a law against that and you are, in fact, violating my 1st Amendment rights, no matter what you say! It appears to me that many of those who desperately want CFR are those who haven’t been able to get their agendas through any other means.


I’m strenuously attempting not to get involved in this thread, because frankly I’ve read so much on the subject that my posts would end up being encyclopedic and exacting, and I don’t have the energy for that right now.

Everyone should read the thread linked by jmullaney. Everyone should also read the actual text of the Buckley v. Valeo opinion.

Taking a dip into Thomas Emerson’s The System of Freedom of Expression would likely also be extremely enlightening.

(I don’t mean this post to sound snotty; I’ve been on the road all day today, and I’m irritable. It’s just that it helps so much for everyone to be on the same page with the social and historical underpinnings of an issue when arguing political theory.)

Then citizens have the right not to vote for candidates about whom they form such opinions.

And I assert that people are innocent until proven guilty. There is nothing inherently wrong with the “quid” unless there is a “pro quo.” Though such a quid pro quo might be difficult to prove in the courts, the people have the right not to elect a politician they feel is corrupt.

You are starting from the position that the voters are too dim to figure out not to vote for a politician who is corrupt. That may in fact weaken democracy, and I don’t see how you can pass a law to make people more wise in their choice of people to represent them.

Your solution, I take it, is to deny people the right to give money to any political organization, or to deny political organizations the right to endorse people running for office. I find that far more damaging to democracy.

As I see it, people have the right to contribute to the politcal campaigns in their own states, and to give as much as they please, but not in other states. A candidate for the US Senate in New York, say, should only be able to raise money for her campaign within New York, not in Los Angeles. Corporations, which do not have the right to vote, also should not have the right to contribute to political campaigns, or to spend for issue ads.

Hate to beat a dead horse here, but fer Chrissakes jmullaney, why are you trotting out the same damn arguments in this thread that Spiritus and I and others picked apart in the first thread??? Intellectual dishonesty much?

Bill H.:

“A need for fairness in the system” is exactly what I was speaking of. Fairness in a democracy means that everyone has an equal say in how they are governed. There are always inconsistancies in real world democracies, naturally, begining with those who are doing the governing but the principle remains.

I believe that allowing contributions gives more weight to the political positions of the wealthy; however, I asked for your opinion and you gave it and I thank you for it.

SPOOFE Bo Diddly:

Haw. Loved the “I take it by your repetitions of my own words…” line.
Sorry, I can’t help you.


I’d like to know what your metaphor of “a pound of lead and a pound of gold” has to do with people. Also, I await with baited breath any explanation you choose to share for the attitude that fairness, equality, and a level playing field are undesirable.


If a citizen feels that all candidates are corrupt then their right not to vote for corrupt candidates is simply a right to be disenfranchised.

I don’t have a problem with you repeating previous arguments. I didn’t notice you conceding any of these points in the last thread so feel free. But ignoring points from the current discussion is another matter.
I’m going to repeat part of my last post. Though you quoted it in your reply, you still seem to miss the point that the appearance of corruption is itself damaging to democracy. I posted this in originally in reply to your use of the “innocent until proven guilty” gambit. You conditionally conceded this point when commenting on it and then proceded to repeat the argument.
It doesn’t matter so much what your opinion or my opinion on quid pro quo is. What matters is that every person who does believe that something follows something weakens our nation. And no court ruling can change that.

I would find it helpful if you didn’t jump to conclusions about what you feel are positions’ of other posters. I don’t believe voters are dim. Far from it. I have more trust in The People’s ability to make political decisions than even Gaderene whom you also cast this aspersion against in the previous thread.
IMO- Voters aren’t too stupid to figure out which candidates aren’t taking political donations. All politicians are taking political donations. The only exception I know of was Perot. If a citizen felt, as I do, that these were essentially bribes then where is the incentive to become a voter?
The idea isn’t to make the voters better, it’s to make the candidates better.

I don’t actually have a solution. I sometimes lean toward publicly funded campaigns, though like you I wouldn’t want minor parties to continue to be shunted aside. Sometimes I feel that limiting contributions even more would be enough.
I certainly have no problem with adding your vote in with others to make your postition stronger. That function of political organizations I find valuable. What I dislike is the situation where the power of an organization is determined by the number of dollars it has rather than the number of members.