By Paul Gorski
Three U.S. Supreme Court rulings essentially proclaim “Money is speech” when it comes to political campaign contributions, although that philosophy conflicts with how money is defined in the Constitution and is contrary to the premise of our balanced government with reasonable checks and balances.
I quote Brandon Reid, “Editorial: Amendment needed to save ‘government of the people’,” from the April 30 edition: “Jan. 3, 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Buckley v. Valeo that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. Jan. 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that, contrary to longstanding precedents, corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to promote or defeat candidates. And April 2, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that putting a limit on the amount of biennial financial contributions individuals can make to national party and federal candidate committees is unconstitutional. Prior to the ruling, the limit an individual could contribute every two years to a federal candidate was $123,200.”
The court, and others, have argued political contributions are speech, like flag-burning and protest marches. However, flag-burning and marches are regulated. You may burn one or two flags in the town square, but if you try to burn 20,000 flags, you will be stopped. You may organize a protest march, but if you scheduled five marches in the same day on the same street to protest the same issue, local officials will limit you to one event. The act of contributing to a campaign, not the amount, is the protected speech.
The Constitution defines our relationship with money: citizens are restricted from printing money and Congress is responsible for regulating interstate commerce. Congress may also tax us. If money were speech, we could challenge our taxes based on free-speech rights. Furthermore, if you believe money is speech, Congress has the power to define the value of money, so Congress may put a value on money contributed to political campaigns, which is exactly what Congress has done with campaign finance laws; laws the U.S. Supreme Court has overruled.
These court rulings have the net effect of “$1, one vote,” which threatens our voting system and balanced government. We are all about balance. Congress is divided between the Senate and House of Representatives, both with a check on the other. Each state has two senators, giving each state and its residents an equal voice in the U.S. Senate. Members of the House are allotted to each state based on population, but the number of representatives is fixed and the apportionments reviewed and re-balanced every 10 years. Congress recognized the potential for corruption of this system and acknowledged its responsibility to defend the value of your vote when passing campaign finance laws. Again, laws the U.S. Supreme Court has overruled.
The U.S. Supreme Court has once again misinterpreted the Constitution. Brandon Reid’s article, quoted earlier, calls for action. Our check, our balance, is to encourage our legislators to support a constitutional amendment that protects your voting rights and your rights to equal representation. I support that call to action, and encourage you to support such an amendment.
Paul Gorski (firstname.lastname@example.org) authors the “Meet John Doe” and “Tech-Friendly” columns seen in this newspaper and is a Cherry Valley Township resident.
From the May 7-13, 2014, issue