When they penned “Money Talks,” Angus and Malcolm probably didn’t know how close they were to the First Amendment, but on Wednesday the Supremes agreed: money is speech, and under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Congress cannot pass any law which restrains speech.
For a lot of people, Senator John McCain among the exceptions, the law was seen as a restraint on the exercise of free speech. The arguments against the law, which limited corporations and unions fromdirectly donating to campaigns or running advertisements for or against candidates or issues (readers: correct me if I’m getting this wrong), stated that corporations were comprised of individuals and have the same rights under the Constitution as others. Those who supported campaign finance restrictions feel that corporations can exercise an undue level of influence on the political process by virtue of their ability to magnify their voice with more money. At the root of both of their arguments, however, is the assumption that money really does talk…and those with more money can talk louder.
Ironically, the result was that those who most opposed the campaign finance restrictions–generally, conservatives, federalists, libertarians, and Republicans–ended up receiving the most benefit, while those who supported the restrictions–bleeding hearts, liberals, living constitutionalists, and Democrats–were the most hurt. A major part of the liberal base is found in unions, but under the federal law, these groups would be restricted in supporting their candidates, a restriction that would not hurt Republicans, whose base was elsewhere. A great example of the hurt was the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks on John Kerry in 2004.
Fast forward to this week…
Wednesday saw the Supreme Court handing down its decision knocking down many of the campaign finance limitations by Congress over the last several decades, especially the much ballyhoo-ed McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform. Corporations may spend freely to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, the opinion said.
Personally, this sounded like a great win for the First Amendment. People, even if they are acting on behalf of their company, can now speak their mind and support the candidates they want. You can imagine my surprise at the exchange I saw cross the local law school’s open forum, then.
“just thought I’d bring everyone’s attention to this ruling which overturned campaign finance limits on corporations and unions . It would be great to get everyone’s thoughts on this. My initial reaction: Seriously?!? Money is not speech. Voters’ voices are speech.”
Rational minds can disagree, but I was surprised at the almost summary dismissal by an up and coming attorney of the role that money has in making one’s voice heard. The kind of person who does not believe money is relevant is just a step away from limiting all campaign contributions.
As if that wasn’t enough, the exchange continued:
“I hope that Congress heeds Pres. Obama’s call for “forceful response” to SCOTUS’s decision today.”
Fortunately, I think the rose-colored glasses through which these students view the world is limited to their age or, perhaps, experience. Certainly, the professors over at Volokh have been “all a twitter” with excitement discussing the decision. Among other discussions there, their analysis is covering how the decision will affect the main stream media (and here), “people organized in corporations are people, too,” and the dissent. I recommend you check it out for a more thorough treatment of this weeks decision.
Until next time, remember: “Money talks, money talk, talk, talk/Hear it talk”