Campaign Contributions as Free Speech
A recent Gallup poll shows that the American public agrees with the Supreme Court that campaign contributions are free speech but that most nonetheless want to limit said speech.
Fifty-seven percent of Americans consider campaign donations to be a protected form of free speech, and 55% say corporate and union donations should be treated the same way under the law as donations from individuals are. At the same time, the majority think it is more important to limit campaign donations than to protect this free-speech right.
Interestingly, Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly agree that money = speech; it’s Independents who are bringing the numbers down.
Apparently, however, Americans don’t really value free speech all that highly.
More specifically, 61% of Americans think the government should be able to limit the amount of money individuals can contribute to candidates and 76% think it should be able to limit the amount corporations or unions can give.
Again, this polling was conducted at the time that the arguments were being heard before the Court. The debate since the ruling may have changed people’s minds on an issue that many have doubtless not seriously considered. Still, Gallup’s Lydia Saad (a family friend) is likely right:
Thus, it would appear that, regardless of Americans’ support for the principle that campaign donations are a form of political speech, and that corporations and unions should get the same treatment as individuals, they are likely to have significant concerns about the practical effect of the court’s ruling, that is, more corporate and union money being poured into elections.
Which, really, isn’t surprising. After all, Congress passed the law that was overturned quite recently.
Still, it’s a shame that people are willing to sacrifice what they correctly identify as “free speech” in order to level the playing field. As Will Wilkinson observes,
I have to say I was taken aback by the vehemence with which people I like and admire have insisted that the state must selectively silence political speech. I didn’t realize that this was such a profound point of disagreement. As I see it, these regulations have accomplished very little other than to protect the interests of powerful, entrenched incumbent politicians against public criticism.
I see this ruling as vindicating the importance of equality of voice by protecting the rights of individuals and associations to speak out on behalf of their interests and values. Progressives clearly see the ruling primarily as some kind of corporate-empowerment initiative. But you can’t really take on Big Agra or Wall Street unless you can organize to speak out against the Chuck Grassleys and Chuck Schumers when it really counts.
Exactly right. Aside from the sheer freedom issue, the practical effect of limiting money in politics is to further increase the power of incumbency. Without massive amounts of money for organizing and advertising, it’s virtually impossible for a non-celebrity candidate to oust an established Representative or Senator.
Tim Lee also makes several salient points in a post well worth reading in full. This is especially key:
Even if you think it’s appropriate for Congress to regulate the speech of Exxon-Mobil and Pfizer, I think it’s awfully hard to square the First Amendment with a law that limits the ability of NARAL or the NRA to advocate for its members’ views.
So I’m not thrilled at the idea of Fortune 500 companies spending more money on bogus “issue ads.” But I think the dangers of such ads are frequently exaggerated. I’m far more worried about preserving the right of organizations like the ACLU to spread their message. And I don’t see any plausible way to stop the former without seriously restricting the latter. So I’m glad to see the Supreme Court take the words of the First Amendment—”Congress shall make no law”—literally.
Indeed. The ruling will no doubt lead to more speech that I find annoying. But that’s precisely the kind of speech that most needs protection.