Is free speech on life support?
December 21, 2003
Recently, to the dismay of many on both the right and the left, the Supreme Court of the United States, in its infinite wisdom, held that the newly passed campaign finance laws were constitutional. Apparently, stating one's political views prior to an election are no longer deemed to be a constitutionally protected right.
Supporters of this new legislation argue that such measures are necessary in order to prevent "powerful interest groups" from controlling politicians. This must imply that our elected officials are easily bought and sold, just as stocks are on Wall Street. If this previous statement is accurate, and I am not suggesting that there is no truth to it, why would we trust those politicians who are so easily corruptible with enacting legislation to prevent this very problem? The irony here seems to be the equivalent of allowing the wolves to watch the hen house.
Is this truly what the proponents of campaign finance reform are looking to cure, the corruptible politician? Who exactly makes up these influential political groups? Many would like you to think that these groups are comprised of nothing more than wealthy business men set out to control government in a manner that will only benefit themselves and hurt everyone else. Certainly there are businesses that contribute in order to receive more favorable treatment and still others that contribute solely with the hope of being left alone. The latter I like to refer to as pay-off money; contributing to a political campaign in hopes that the politician will not enact legislation that will hurt you. But I digress. Many organizations, such as Gun Owners of America or the Sierra Club, are made up of average "Joes" that get together for a common cause. The First Amendment to the Constitution not only protects free speech, but also protects the right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of their grievances. While their speech may not be specifically directed at the government, they are attempting to have politicians address their grievances through their contributions and advertisements.
Perhaps some are fearful that these ads will "mislead" the voters, especially since many voters do not follow politics until just a few weeks prior to the elections. This seems to be more of a problem of an uninformed electorate than a "burden" of free speech. Besides, who stands to benefit from these ads not reaching the vast majority of voters? Yep, you guessed it, the incumbent politicians. It seems we have come full circle; the politicians who could not be trusted with the previous campaign finance laws have apparently devised a "fairer" method that just "coincidentally" strengthens their already high re-election rates. It is so reassuring to know that they are looking out for our well-being.
Even faced with the previous arguments, some will continue to insist that money does not equal free speech. Is this what the Founding Fathers had intended, that paying to express one's political views would not be protected? If my memory serves me correctly, and I am certain that it does, the Framers used their mass media of the day, newspapers, to express their viewpoints, and no one cried out about heir right to do so. The only exception was the short-lived Aliens and Sedition Act, which even John Adams must have eventually regretted. Granted they could not have foreseen the development of television, but could they have actually dismissed television as unprotected? Hardly. The Framers' notions of free speech did not concern items such as pornography; these were men that above all else chose to protect political free speech.
Now that the Supreme Court, the same court that insists we look to international law, has willingly abdicated some of our liberties, what comes next? Well, there has been talk of further modifications to include complete government control over the financing of elections. Then, the electorate will have absolutely no control over the amount of money a candidate receives, regardless of whether they like or despise him. And what about third party candidates? Will they be excluded because the government has determined that their "voice" is so small that it does not merit consideration? Or will they only receive only a percentage of funding based on their previous election performance? Using this method, a sweeping victory by any one of the two major political parties could have dangerous consequences on future elections.
This raises another question. Does sheer money alone equate to votes? If that were the case, today we would refer to the 1990's as the Perot Years, or perhaps we would have had a President Forbes. In either instance, their victories never came to fruition because in the end, ideas and unfortunately, charisma prevailed.
It is absolutely ridiculous to assume that restraining speech during election campaigns will somehow result in citizens of the Untied States obtaining more influence over their representatives. The only sensible alternative is to completely remove all barriers to campaign finance, with the exception of foreign contributions for obvious reasons, and require a full disclosure of all contributors and the amount they gave to be made public and be easily accessible. One method to achieve this would be to require the information to be posted on a website. Additionally, severe criminal consequences must be mandated for those that refuse to comply. Using the current system, not only does it deprive the American people of their liberties, but there will always be some politician who will find a loophole where there is "no legal controlling authority," and thus circumvent the law.
Tony DiPasquale is 32 years old and lives in Orlando, Florida, where he is attending Barry Law School. Self-employed in the construction industry, he recently earned a BS degree in political science from SUNY Brockport, where he graduated with a 3.75 GPA and was a member of both Alpha Chi and Pi Sigma Alpha. Presently, Tony's goals for political activity center in grassroots and lobbying. Readers can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Copyright 2003 by Tony DiPasquale
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