Scott Tibbs

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Money IS speech.

"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." -- The First Amendment

The Shays-Meehan "campaign finance reform" passed the U.S. House of Representatives in the early hours of February 14th. For those who love free speech, this was not a happy Valentines Day, but it was a major gift for those who love government.

Apologists for the Shays-Meehan bill and McCain-Feingold, its companion in the Senate, have continually whined about how there is "too much money" in politics and how all that money is "corrupting" politicians. Never mind the repeated analyses that showed that, per capita, Americans spend far less on elections than they spend on things like potato chips. Therefore, they propose a ban on so-called "soft money", unlimited donations to political parties used for party-building activities or issue advertisements, or that parties give to their candidates.

But, while "reformers" deny it, the simple fact of the matter is that money IS speech. Every single method that candidates for elected office use to communicate with constituents requires money to use. A candidate or a political party cannot send direct mail, buy radio, television, or newspaper ads, buy hosting and a domain name for a Web page and have it developed, or set up a phone bank without money. Even going door to door requires money, because literature must be designed and printed out, and travel costs must be paid somehow. If Congress cuts off soft money, then Congress is limiting free speech.

Soft money can be an equalizer in an otherwise unbalanced campaign. An entrenched incumbent might be able to raise significantly more money than his challenger, but money from a political party would enable the challenger to make an otherwise difficult district winnable. It cannot be repeated enough that banning soft money benefits incumbents. Sitting members of the House and Senate use franking, constituent services, and pork-barrel spending to get votes, not including all the press coverage they get from their activities and votes in Washington. Of course, as George Will pointed out in a Valentine's Day column on, nobody is proposing ending pork barrel spending so taxpayers will not be billed for de facto campaign contributions to incumbents, even though that spending dwarfs spending on campaigns.

Leftists in Washington love to pontificate about how we "must" reduce the influence of so-called "special interests" and corporations, but they ignore something important in this effort. The First Amendment does not contain exceptions. It simply says that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech." It does not say "Congress shall make no law... unless the speech offends people, unless the speech is from a corporation, or unless that speech attacks a candidate for elected office." The Constitution simply prohibits Congress from passing any law abridging the freedom of speech.

But banning "soft money" is not the most egregious sin of the "CFR" crowd. Both Shays-Meehan and McCain-Feingold contain a provision to ban "issue advertisements" that mention a candidate's name within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary election. This provision would actually empower the federal government to regulate the content of political speech. Does anyone see a problem here? For example, the National Rifle Association would be prohibited from informing the voters about anti gun positions of a Congressman or Senator. (An amendment to shield advertisements about the Second Amendment from this provision was defeated.) If someone with property adjoining a busy interstate highway painted his barn with a message supporting a particular candidate, he would be breaking the law, even if he had no contact or communication with his favored candidate when he put up his sign.

And if there really is buying of votes going on in the halls of Congress, then those who sell their votes for campaign contributions can be prosecuted for breaking bribery laws. And even if there is no specific evidence of a money-for-votes agreement, rapid and full disclosure will let the people know if their elected representatives are being unduly influenced.

The American people do not need more government regulations on how candidates can communicate with them so voters can make an informed decision in November. The American people need government to leave them alone.