I side with the 57 percent.
In the debate over campaign contribution limits, there are those who believe such monetary donations equate to political speech, and are thus protected under the First Amendment and those who don’t.
According to a 2009 Gallup poll, 57 percent of Americans believe that campaign-giving constitutes political speech.
I side with the majority of Americans for the simple fact that campaign contributions purchase political communication, a right that cannot be negated nor infringed upon.
Campaigns are all about getting the message out to the public. The more visible a candidate can be through signs, ads and commercials, the more likely he or she is to be successful.
Contributions to these campaigns are an expression of free speech because they are a way for a voter to help their preferred candidate pay for the visibility they need to win. It’s a clear-cut statement of support.
In the U.S. Supreme Court case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, Shaun McCutcheon, a Colorado businessman, is seeking to lift federal political contribution limits.
If the Supreme Court sides with McCutcheon, biennial federal contribution limits would likely be lifted, allowing individuals to contribute any amount of money to federal candidates and committees.
In the arguments made before the Supreme Court, the interpretation of the First Amendment and its application for federal contribution limits played a central role.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summarized one of the major arguments against McCutcheon, saying, “These limits promote expression … democratic participation, because what they require the candidate to do is … try to raise money more broadly in the electorate … then the little people will count some, and you won’t have the super-affluent as the speakers that will control the elections.”
Encouraging candidates to court the “little people” instead of relying on the affluent for the lion’s share of political contributions may sound like a reasonable argument in support of contribution limits.
However, like many other arguments which were made before the court, it is subsumed by a broader reality: As soon as free speech is defined as anything else, it ceases to be free.
There are two key points to remember in any discussion of the First Amendment and how it should be applied in numerous situations of individual expression.
First, the right to free speech is a negative right embedded in the Constitution.
This means that, by the very nature of the right, the government is obligated to not infringe or abridge that right. Negative rights exist in the Constitution to protect our freedoms from the actions of others.
Our right to free speech implies a negative duty on the government, such that all branches of the government are not to interfere in our expressions of speech whether political, religious or otherwise.
Second, the rights of rich and poor are the same. The ability of the wealthy to exercise their rights should not be limited by the financial constraints of the middle class.
Constitutional rights do not exist with the caveat that everyone should have the equal ability to exercise them.
“Constitutional rights do not exist with the caveat that everyone should have the equal ability to exercise them.”
For example, some people can afford to exercise their Second Amendment right in the purchase of a firearm and others cannot.
Financial disparity notwithstanding, there is no limit on the amount of guns an individual can own or the amount of money he can spend purchasing them, nor should there be.
Such a limit would be antithetical to the principles our country was founded on, the principles of individual liberty and freedom.
It is for the same reason that there should be no limit on the amount of money an individual can spend exercising their right to free speech.
If someone can afford a megaphone for their speech, there can be no law against them using it in a non-disruptive manner.
The right to free speech exists outside of and separate from the government. This distinction is fundamental to the freedoms we enjoy in the United States because our rights are not derived from the government and the government is not the final arbiter. We are.
If we are truly free to choose our leaders, then we must be free to express our political opinions.
Free speech is tantamount to a free society.
Marcel Weiland is a senior political science major.