Saturday, January 23, 2010

Free Speech? (There Is No Free Lunch)

From the Desk of Joe Rollins

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. Basically, the ruling overturned laws in place that the government must dictate the contributions of corporations and labor unions in political elections. The majority opinion was that these laws were unconstitutional in that they violated the most basic free speech principle under the First Amendment – that the government has no business regulating political speech. The dissenting justices said that allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace would corrupt democracy.

I found Justice M. Kennedy’s majority opinion rather insightful: “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”

The Supreme Court was created to decide these issues so that politicians could not violate constitutional requirements. If Congress wants to change the constitution, then it must follow the rules. The most recent Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overruled The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush. At the time that President Bush signed off on the Act, he had reservations about the constitutionality of the broad ban on issue advertising, but taken as a whole, he felt that the bill improved the current system of financing for federal campaigns. In my opinion, he was right to be skeptical on that issue.

I find President Obama’s response to the Supreme Court’s ruling to be particularly interesting: “The Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

The irony of that statement is overwhelming. First, the case at issue related to a documentary about Hillary Clinton (“Hillary: The Movie”), which was released in 2008 during the Democratic presidential primaries. The Supreme Court basically said that the constitution protected even people who wanted to produce negative campaign films with their own money. I really do not see how anyone could argue with that position.

The other interesting part of President Obama’s statement is that he didn’t mention the labor unions. The largest concentration of money spent in the 2008 Presidential election was expended by the labor unions and by a political action committee sponsored by George Soros, Ironically, the labor unions and only sponsored one candidate, President Barack Obama.

The only reason any sitting administration would want to resist free access to campaign contributions is because they want to control the media. The only way that Congress will ever be able to reform campaign contributions is by an amendment to the constitution. The ability to advertise gives all candidates the opportunity to be elected. Otherwise, the incumbent has an enormous advantage over any challengers. Thank goodness the U.S. Supreme Court has protected all of our interests rather than just the special interest groups which do all the campaign advertising now.

As always, the foregoing are my opinions, assumptions and forecasts. It is perfectly possible that I am wrong.

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