The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is perhaps the most clearly-written legal document I’ve ever seen. Here’s what it says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
I want you to note the emphasized part. Then read this story.
WASHINGTON — Federal election regulators refused to ease limits on political advertising Tuesday, blocking an effort to let interest groups run radio and television ads mentioning elected officials within weeks of an election.
The Federal Election Commission voted 3-3 on a proposal that would have allowed such ads as long as they addressed public policy issues and did not promote, support, oppose or attack a sitting member of Congress. Supporters of the change said they wanted to strike a balance between campaign ad restrictions and constitutional free speech guarantees.
The supporters of the change are wrong here. There is no “balancing” that needs to be done. This issue is a very simple one. The Supreme Court has recognized in case after case after case that speech extends not only to what comes out of your mouth or what you put in print but also to the money you decide to spend on speech as well. In other words, spending money for a newspaper advertisement is protected speech as surely as orating in a park, giving out handbills, or selling a porno magazine.
That, apparently, is not true when it comes to the speech most valued by the founding fathers – political speech. Congress passed a law in 2002 that specifically prohibited you from airing a political advertisement a certain amount of time before an election. Congress (aided by the Supreme Court) agreed that your speech should indeed be free, except if you decide to use the media to speak out against an incumbent politician at a time when the ad would be the most effective.
I mentioned that this abridgement was aided by the Supreme Court, and I should explain that. The Court ruled, in a split decision, that money used to buy political advertising was a corrputing influence on politics despite not finding a single example where that was true. The court assumed it was true even though the government, which argued to keep the law, could not provide a single example where it had ever been true. Don’t believe me? Read the decision for yourself.
There are a couple things in the article I linked that I think deserve some attention. First is the headline, which reads “FEC Won’t Ease Limits on Interest Groups”. Guess what? This law has nothing to do with “interest groups”. It has everything to do with you. The Post believes that it can rile you up by making you think that some folks out there want those nasty special interest groups to run roughshod all over the airwaves, and that’s simply not true. What the FEC did was to tell you that you have no right whatsoever to gather your friends, pool your money, and run an advertisement on local television for or against an issue or politician with which you disagree unless you do it in a way that they find palatable. What the FEC did was to tell you that the First Amendment does not actually apply to you because some politicians decided that their job security means more than a Constitutional right that you own.
Here’s a quote that sums up the law’s supporters pretty well.
Critics, including the congressional authors of the 2002 law, argued that clever ad writers could still use those limitations to promote or criticize a candidate for office.
“Creating a loophole for sham ‘issue ads’ designed to attack candidates is a clear violation of the current law,” said Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass. Meehan helped write the 2002 campaign finance law with Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis.
Of course, it would be a bad thing for clever citizens to take advantages of the rights granted to them over 200 years ago. Of course, the cleverness of the citizenry must be muzzled.
Here’s why it’s even more relevant today. One of the men who wrote the law that took away a critical part of your First Amendment rights will be running for President. He is likely to be the immediate Republican front-runner and part of what he will try to sell you will be his “straight-shooting” reputation.
His name is John McCain and he is no fan of your ability to speak or spend freely. In fact, he doesn’t think very highly of the First Amendment:
I work in Washington and I know that money corrupts. And I and a lot of other people were trying to stop that corruption. Obviously, from what we’ve been seeing lately, we didn’t complete the job. But I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I’d rather have the clean government.
The problem is that John McCain actually believes he has the choice. He honestly believes that the battle is between “quote First Amendment rights” and his idea of clean government. In that battle, he is crystal-clear about where he stands.
Having drawn that line, and having defended that line in court, the media, and through the FEC, John McCain has proven himself wholy unfit to be the President of the United States.
Category: Political Pontifications