by Dr. Ron Paul, December 22, 2003
In a devastating blow to political speech, the Supreme Court recently upheld most of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill passed by Congress last year. The legislation will do nothing to curb special interest power or reduce corruption in Washington, but it will make it harder for average Americans to influence government. “Campaign finance reform” really means the bright-line standard of free speech has been replaced by a murky set of regulations and restrictions that will muzzle political dissent and protect incumbents. Justice Scalia correctly accuses the Court of supporting a law “That cuts to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect: the right to criticize the government…This is a sad day for freedom of speech.”
Two important points ignored by the Court should be made. First, although the new campaign rules clearly violate the First amendment, they should be struck down primarily because Congress has no authority under Article I of the Constitution to regulate campaigns at all. Article II authorizes only the regulation of elections, not campaigns, because our Founders knew Congress might pass campaign laws that protect incumbency. This is precisely what McCain-Feingold represents: blatant incumbent protection sold to the public as noble reform.
Second, freedom of the press applies equally to all Americans, not just the institutional, government-approved media. An unknown internet blogger, a political party, a candidate, and the New York Times should all enjoy the same right to political speech. Yet McCain-Feingold treats the mainstream press as some kind of sacred institution rather than the for-profit industry it is. Why should giant media companies be able to spend unlimited amounts of money to promote candidates and issues, while an organization you support cannot? The notion of creating a preferred class of media, with special First Amendment rights, is distinctly elitist and un-American.
Outrageously, the Court failed to strike down a provision of the campaign finance bill that virtually outlaws criticism of incumbent politicians for 60 days before an election—exactly the time when most voters learn about candidates and issues. The ban essentially prohibits any group from airing radio or television ads that cast politicians in a negative light during the critical final months of an election. The ban even carries the possibility of criminal penalties, meaning the Court has endorsed criminalizing political dissent! Incumbent politicians certainly will be the beneficiaries of the new ban, as they no longer have to suffer through ads that criticize their performance.
Wealthy people will always seek to influence politicians, because government unfortunately plays a very big role in determining who gets (and stays) rich in our country. Our federal government has become a taxing, spending, and regulating leviathan that virtually controls the economy. Having rejected the notion of limited, constitutional government, we can hardly be surprised when special interests use corrupting campaign money to influence the process! We need to get money out of government; only then will money not be important in politics. Big government and big campaign money go hand-in-hand.