Since the Supreme Court dealt a blow to laws restricting money in politics in Citizens United v FEC and McCutcheon v FEC, it’s easy to spot a liberal conveying her displeasure by regurgitating a trite one-liner:
“Money isn’t speech.”
Well, take that Chief Justice Roberts – your court would certainly have decided otherwise, if only this piece of irrefutable insight were shared with it!
It would be easier to ignore such posturing, if a host of Democrats were not determined in undermining the First Amendment by rallying their base behind this slogan. Not kidding – forty-one Democrat Senators, including Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, proposed an amendment to the Constitution that will override the free speech protections afforded by the Bill of Rights!†
So, let me explain why the proposition “money isn’t speech,” even though superficially true, does not at all serve the purpose liberals want it to.
Of course, money isn’t speech, in a literal sense. But, that does not mean Congress can limit the money one can spend on furthering her speech while not affecting her right to free speech. Communicating speech may involve distributing pamphlets, books and movies; and writing articles on websites, all of which require money. Speech isn’t sui generis, in this sense. Money is an inextricable part of our lives and plays an important role in helping achieve our interests.
Consider this: money isn’t abortion, either. But you cannot expect liberals to stay mum if Congress were to propose passing laws limiting expenditure on abortion, can you? Would they not go up in arms about the supposed right to abortion being infringed? The plain truth is: it is impossible to limit expenditure on something and not affect the right to it!
Some counter that speech does not necessarily require money – one can, after all, simply choose to talk face-to-face with others. This rejoinder is misleading on multiple levels. First, you can only talk to so many people that way. Yes, you could recruit others to do the job, but guess what: they may ask to be paid! Or, you might find a group of people ready to volunteer for your cause, if there is one. That brings me to the crucial second point: even if there is a way that permits you to disseminate your ideas in a cost-free or less costly manner (in relation to the way you chose), the government has no business mandating that you use it.
It might not appear to be self-evident that this is the case: but, the alternative is to allow the government to regulate which channels of communication people can employ in various situations or limit the reach of your message, a clear affront to the First Amendment’s letter and spirit. The abortion analogy can come handy again: would liberals find it okay if the government decreed that a person must use a cheap healthcare facility, or limited the amount of money she could spend getting abortions? No!
The other common argument – that you can use “free” services like Twitter or YouTube similarly falls under minimal scrutiny. Leave aside, for a minute, the plain but overlooked fact that the continued operation of these services requires private funding: the government simply cannot be trusted with the power to tell which media are “acceptable.” If you want to launch your own website, write your own book, or create your own movie, you should be absolutely free to do so. The availability of “free” services, which by the way are and should be under no obligation to carry your views, is no excuse to restrict you.
The right to free speech is one of the most essential and cherished rights the citizenry has. Any proposal to diminish it under the pretense of “leveling the playing field” or “curtailing money in politics” is an outrage. As always, the solution lies in having more speech, not less.
† The Senate Joint Resolution 19 proposes an amendment to the Constitution that says “Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits on…the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.” A book or movie may endorse a candidate, and thus would be subject to being banned or its distribution curtailed by the government. The Citizens United case was literally about FEC trying to limit the distribution of a movie criticizing Hillary Clinton.