Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Chilling of Speech

In  Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett , the Supreme Court overturned a Arizona state programs that mitigated the cash advantage of wealthy individuals, who spent millions their own  dollars on their own political campaign, by providing the matching funds to their opponent. Basically - with the program in place - there became no point of spending millions of  your own dollars on your own campaign. Rich individuals would need to raise money from other people just like everybody else. It evened the playing field, somewhat. This ended when Supreme Court ruled that the program, along with any other additional restrictions under Davis v. Federal Election Commission, creates a "chilling effect" on free speech.

Money in politics has been a problem for a long, long time. Though corporate money is a relatively new phenomenon that has led to problems that the founding fathers could not even fathom. The scale of this achievement would be asking the founding fathers to include constitutional rules on airplanes and biotechnology, when they couldn't even imagine the existence of political parties.

Modern problems of campaign finance really began in the 1976 Supreme Court case, Buckley v. Valeo, where the court decided that money spent on politics was free speech; therefore limiting someone's ability to spend money on politics was limiting someone's first amendment constitutional rights thereof. Ever since then, the US has slowly descended to where we are today. McCain-Feingold tried to address the issue, but it was gutted by the Supreme Court using the same "money is free speech" logic; same logic for Citizens United as well.

Now here is my question. If not being able to spend millions of dollars is a "chilling of speech", why is the inability to do so not also a "chilling of speech" as well? If my voice gets drowned out by somebody else's money, then has my freedom of speech not been chilled? If it is proven that people do not run for office because they are not inherently wealthy, then is that a chilling of constitutional rights as well?

I may not be a constitutional scholar, but it seems like there is something awfully fishy with this logic.

Fun fact: The founding fathers never even thought DC would become a large population center. It was just an empty swamp that was conveniently located at the time. The lack of voting rights for this non-state district was a simple oversight that became constitutionally enshrined. Ooops.

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