Friday, September 18, 2009

Money Talks

An appeals court in Washington today overturned rules that limited campaign finance spending, this time in the case of non-profits like Emily's List. There has been a lot of talk about this recently, with the Supreme Court on the cusp of ruling that corporations and unions may spend as much as they like to support political candidates.

The claim by all of these judges is that free speech is protected by the First Amendment, and that Congress has no constitutional right to restrict money spent on that speech. In their opinion, money equals speech.

This is patently ridiculous. In a free society, money should play no role whatsoever in your right to express yourself, and the donation of that money (or in-kind services, etc.) is not the same as you stepping forward to share your opinion with the world. Money makes it easier for your voice to be heard, because it allows you to buy air time and print space and web access, but it should not be confused with speech itself.

Moreover, confusing money with speech only adds to the class problems at the root of so much that continues to plague America. The courts are saying that the wealthier you are (as an individual or an entity), the more right you have to free speech, an idea that goes against everything this country should stand for. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once defended the free speech rights of the "poor and puny anonymities," arguing that those at the lowest levels need the most protection, not those at the top.

Money should not preclude your right to speak your mind, but when spent in such a pervasive manner as to overwhelmingly control debate of serious issues, increasing the power of those whose agendas get the special access that comes with that spending, permitting lobbyists to write our nation's laws, and flooding the marketplace to influence the electorate, there must be reasonable boundaries in place.

After all, we have plenty of limits on free speech in this country. We have restrictions on the words I can say on the radio, the claims you can make about someone else, the things you can shout in a crowded theater, etc.

You don't have the right to say anything you want anywhere you want. If you think you do, try walking into your boss' office and calling him an a**hole next week. Then hand him ten bucks and tell him he can't fire you because it was political speech, and thus protected by the courts.