Column: Campaign Finance Reform A Restriction On Free Speech

This story was written by Jim Allard, Badger Herald

The First Amendment of the Constitution reads: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. And yet every year new legislation is introduced specifically designed to control who can speak, how much people can speak and what people can say.

Legislation like the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act sought to prohibit issue advertising by corporations and unions directly prior to an election and place limits on soft-money. Last year the Fair Elections Now Act was introduced with the goal of using taxpayer money to fully fund Senate candidates. Currently the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board is pressing to further regulate issue ads.

The intent of such legislation is to place limits on the ability of individuals and groups to express their views. The McCain-Feingold act would prevent certain entities from advertising when and where they want and limit the sources and amount of money that could be raised. This is a direct violation of citizens rights.

Freedom of speech means the right to express oneself as much or as little as ones means allow. This encompasses all forms of expression, including advertizing, teaching and supporting an issue or candidate. Limiting the amount of money that can be spent on these activities directly abridges ones ability to express ones views and thus violates freedom of speech.

Furthermore, the right to express ones views does not vanish when an individual joins a group. When a corporation spends money to express its views, the owners of that company are exercising their freedoms. It is the partners and shareholders who are speaking through the corporation. Individuals who buy stock in a company, join a union or work for a political action committee are the ones exercising their free speech rights. When these entities speak, they are speaking on behalf of the individuals involved. Restricting what corporations, unions and individuals may spend expressing their views thus abridges the freedom of individual owners and members.

The push for public funding of candidates is likewise a violation of free speech. Such laws take money from taxpayers and give it to qualified candidates with the goal of placing them on par with candidates who raise their own money. Proponents believe that some voices are being heard too much and others not enough, and so taxpayers should be forced to support candidates and causes whether they agree or not.

But the right to free speech is not a right to a podium or microphone. It is not a right to broadcast time or someone elses money. Candidates have a right to be heard as far as their means will allow and no more. They do not have the right to expropriate the means from taxpayers. Depriving taxpayers of their means of expression (their own money) in the name of funding someone elses expression violates the basic tenets of free speech.

Advocates of campaign finance regulation claim that such limits on speech are required to clean up politics by removing corruption, influence peddling and special interests. But the blame is misplaced. The corrupting force is not money or special interests, but unrestrained government power.

Whereas John Adams helped establish, in his words, a government of laws and not of men, what we see today is a government of favoritism and pressure group warfare. Whichever group screams the loudest, rallies the most votes or buys the most influence, has their whims enacted. (Witness the package of special favors written into the recent bailout bill in order to bribe voters who objected to the bailout.)

We have strayed far from the constitutionally limited government this country was founded on. Today it is men be it a minority or majority who wield the forc of government rather than laws protecting men from force. Government should not have the power to confiscate wealth from one group and give it to another, regardless of whether one billionaire lobbies for this legislation or the majority do. This is the corruption.

If placing unlimited power in the hands of men is the problem, the solution is not extending that power and further controlling how citizens may spend their money and express their views. The solution is to return to a government of laws laws that strictly limit the power of government and restrict it to its proper role.

The ability to vote a persons life, liberty and property away from him is corrupt. The freedom to use ones mind, express ones views and spend every last penny of ones earnings doing so, is central to living ones life and pursuing ones happiness. The Founders understood this when they wrote, Congress shall make no law As to our current leaders, what part of no dont they understand?