A Fresh Perspective on Campaign Finance Reform

These pieces from Wendy Kaminer shed a fresh perspective on the Citizens United Case — a bit argumentative, but definitely worth reading.

The Foolishness of Campaign Finance Reformers

What should we do now that campaign finance has failed?

The New York Times’ disingenuous campaign against Citizens United

The truth about Citizens United and outside campaign cash

The call for overturning Citizens United does appear to be misguided in my view, as I have previously suggested in this thread.

The perils of a constitutional amendment that determines that corporations have none of the protections afforded individuals by the Bill of Rights include greater ability of government to limit the activities of corporations like Planned Parenthood — consider the foundation of the rulings made in this case Planned Parenthood of Missouri v. Danforth which was decided after Roe v. Wade, and spoke to the rights of physicians to perform abortions. The court did not find it necessary to address the constitutionaliy of a restriction on activities of Planned Parenthood, because it struck down Missouri’s laws as invalid restrictions on the activities of individuals. But in post-amendment world in which corporations have no constitutional rights, nothing would stop a state from prohibiting Planned Parenthood from operating a facility to perform abortions (while allowing physicians the right to practice as individuals).

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

5 replies on “A Fresh Perspective on Campaign Finance Reform”

  1. Wouldn’t a solution be to a) restrict all political activity to appropriately formed and regulated 501c4’s, and b) apply the same restrictions on individual giving to c4s as we do to candidate donations (per-person limits, transparency, etc).

    So the Koch brothers and Exxon could set up a “Malefactors of Great Wealth Plunder the Planet SuperPAC” but they’d be limited to donating some amount like $5000. And the “good guys” could give up to that same amount to Planned Parenthood SuperPAC.

    What we really need is public funding, stop making candidates overly reliant on big donors and allow them freedom to vote their conscience…

  2. All those wordy pieces by Wendy Kaminer are terribly tedious, if not downright reactionary. It’s all about criticizing those she disagrees with, while all along she ignores the main issue — the destructive impact on our democracy of powerful corporate interests and the big money they bring to the table. Government by the corporations for the corporations doesn’t seem to bother her much — only the anti-Citizen United activists and the New York Times get her dander up.

    Having said that, this is a complicated, multifaceted issue, so it’s to be expected that different people will not see eye to eye on this.

    As I understand it, the First Amendment is supposed to protect citizens’ speech from governmental censorship/persecution. However, corporations are not citizens, are they? Can they vote? Can they be sentenced to prison?

    Still, one might argue that whatever is said/broadcast/published by a corporation is done by human beings (Romney: “Corporations are people too”), and therefore should not be censored either. On some level, I can accept this argument (especially since I agree with applying free speech protection to corporate media outlets).

    However, I don’t think that financing a project or activity, even if it can qualify as political speech, automatically equals free speech. For example, a person or a media outlet would be protected under the First Amendment if they were to SAY or WRITE that they support a criminal or terrorist organization — but actually financing such an organization would be illegal.

    People/organizations could also say that they support a politician, but making unlimited payments to finance that politician’s campaign(s) would be illegal — because we have limits on campaign contributions, personal and corporate (whether those laws are productive is irrelevant here — what matters is that they exist).

    But if according to Citizens United, financing political speech is free speech, then doesn’t that make any law that seeks to limit campaign contributions subject to being overthrown on the grounds that such a law violates free speech?

    If corporate financing of a piece of political propaganda is supposedly an expression of free speech, meaning that it cannot and should never be limited/regulated — then it follows that any law seeking to regulate political speech/finance could be deemed unconstitutional.

    Then how can we ever hope to have sane, effective laws regulating political campaigns? Things are really getting out of hand. The need to get huge amounts of money to get elected or re-elected clearly undermines our democracy, plus it distracts any president (or people in Congress) seeking re-election from focusing on governing.

    Citizens United will likely make it harder, or even impossible, to have a reasonable law (like they have in some European countries) that would limit the duration of the presidential campaign to a certain period preceding the election day (thus cutting down on election costs).

    If you cannot regulate corporate political speech and spending, how can you possibly regulate the duration of a presidential campaign? (Somehow other Western democracies have managed to figure out many of those things, but we always refuse to learn from others.)

    Even if you believe that funding political speech equals free speech, one needs to keep in mind that free speech in this country is NOT unlimited. There have always been some limits on it to preserve order in society and protect other rights (for example, one can get prosecuted for verbal harassment, threats, or slander; you cannot shout “fire” for fun in a crowded theater, or give false/misleading statements to law enforcement).

    Likewise, for the sake of common good, I think there should be strict limits on corporate financing of political speech. The argument that those limits would also have to apply to all kinds of non-profit, progressive, or benevolent entities leaves me cold. So be it! We must lessen/eliminate the power of big money in our political system, period. (The truth of the matter is that benevolent “special interests” can never compete with the malevolent ones as far “buying” politicians is concerned.)

  3. I reject the premise that handing a candidate a seven-figure check is to be thought of as “speech” rather than “action”, provided some polite fictions are maintained. Action can normally be regulated, without impinging on freedom of speech.

    1. Citizens United leaves standing the limitations on checks to candidates.

      But the more important point is that the first amendment certainly protects the dissemination of speech (freedom of the press, to use the ancient term), which is, indeed action.

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