In June The Supreme Court once again took up the issue of money and free speech in the context of their Arizona ruling. The ruling institutionalizes inherent contradictions. We must recognize the simple fact that as long as money floats the political boat the courageous, creative solutions so desperately required will continue to evaporate on the winds of influence.
The money as free speech argument is clear; however, consider it absent legal precedent; simply, logically with a dash of common sense. If the ability to contribute or direct money is interpreted as free speech does money equal the degree of free speech allowed? If I have 1,000 times more free speech (money to spend) than you, is your speech really free based on my ability to overwhelm you? Write a letter, call your representative, so what; I can fund a TV commercial or create an organization in support of my self interest. Is your free speech equivalent? If I have the ability to bundle “free speech” (AKA money), is my free speech more important than your free speech? Are we protecting free speech or the ability for some to have more of it?
Is money, as a vehicle for free speech, truly that or no more than a license to peddle undue influence? Are contributions to both sides of the political divide a representation of free speech or political protection money? The “money people” hedge their bets sending money in all directions, just in case. Should that be the basis for a definition of free speech and its relationship to money?
Are we to the point where a legal interpretation that contends money equates to free speech an interpretation that stands to overwhelm democratic process? Has it already? Can your $100 stand up to millions bundled by operatives with an agenda in pursuit of influence? Are we protecting free speech or privileged access?
The logic fails. If money is a representation of free speech, how do we justify laws and regulations limiting the amount of money that can be contributed? Limitations currently exist on amounts, Federal contractors and foreign nationals. There are limitations on how you can make a contribution. There are yearly limitations, limitations based on election cycles, earmarked candidates, limitations based on the various potential targets of contributions. And, of course, loopholes that allow those with privilege and access to accumulate and spend vast amounts of money and thus apply vast amounts of “free speech”. (usgovinfo.about.com/od/thepoliticalsystem/a/contriblaws.htm)
If money, as an accepted vehicle for free speech, is the law; logic demands that any limitations on money/speech should be deemed unconstitutional limits on free speech. Do contribution limitations and administrative restrictions limit free speech? We have a clear conflict between concept and application.
Conversely, if limitations on contributions are, in fact, constitutional the precedent exists to expand those limitations well beyond existing boundaries!
The realities of money in the system defy ideologically driven solutions. The reality of a system so infused with money and the need to ask for money must, based on human nature and empirical evidence, devolve into periodic if not systemic corruption; it has and we all know it.
The technicalities of legal corruption aside; sufficient evidence exists to demonstrate that ‘corruption of intent’ permeates our system. Specific behaviors may not fall to the technicalities of illegality but they are criminal by any common sense definition and systemic impact. Do public corruption charges chasten politicians, inspire the unclean to see the ethical light or simply motivate them to be more clever and creative?
There are no true solutions for us as long as free speech and money are equated. There are no solutions as long as the amount of money in the system overwhelms the instinct for common sense. While yet another government intrusion is decidedly not welcome the larger issues and their catastrophically corrosive impact must be considered in their evolutionary context.
The baseline questions are simple; should we insist that ideas, experience, intellect, energy, commitment and direct engagement of the electorate replace money as the primary vehicle for free speech? Is it radical to insist that candidates for Federal office play on an even field? Is removing the inherent advantage of incumbency a path toward a more responsive Congress? Does an even playing field inhibit free speech or does it, in actuality, demand that actual direct speech occur to the point that accountability is achieved? Public financing of Federal elections, restrictions on lobbying and limitations on primary spending must be the foundation upon which a more responsive and accountable political system is built. Absent these reforms we are mired in a system that demands corruption to be the word of the day, every day on Capital Hill
There is a simple choice here; ideas, accountability, creativity and broad vision, or money?
Would the cost of publically funded campaigns to high? No, compared to the cost of undue influence, corruption, wasteful spending, bought votes in congress and party control of the legislative process. Which is more expensive public funding or decisions in favor of interest groups as opposed to average Americans? Simple questions answered by evidence prevail; what has Fannie and Freddy cost us, or bailouts without accountability or ‘green’ energy programs, earmarks and the inherent corruption that everyone points to and no one does anything about in a systematic fashion?
Does removing the need to raise funds clear the path to greater integrity in the legislative process? What does that save us? Does the absence of money free elected officials to do the “right thing” as opposed to the ideologically “correct thing”? Does it devolve party influence? It presents an essentially simple question; where do you want the accountability to reside, with voters or special interest money? It really is that simple!