Thursday, September 29, 2011

Politics Beyond the Beltway 9/29: Campaign Finance Reform vs. Free Speech (Citizens United vs. FEC)

We've been discussing the pros and cons of campaign finance, the use of hard and soft money and the problems related to the use of soft money contributions in campaigns. Prof wanted us to read Citizens United vs. FEC in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, the group who wanted to air a film in 2008 about Hillary Clinton within a certain number of days prior to the election. It was said to be a violation of the McCain-Feingold Act. This provision that covered this prohibited all for-profit and not-for-profit corporations and unions from broadcasting via cable or satellite communication an ad that mentioned a candidate within sixty days before a general election or thirty days before a primary.

As much as I hate these pathetic attacks on politicians during election season, I have to side with the Supreme Court on this one. Justice Kennedy stated,

"If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech."

We allow a lot of crap to pass as "free speech" in this country so the attempt to silence any group of Americans boggles my mind. I don't agree with the tactics used by political action committees, unions and other entities but if we silence them we could be doing ourselves great harm in the long run. I think they have the right to say what they want.  Can you imagine a time in this country where we would be banned from discussing political issues and candidates on radio, in newspapers or over the internet during a certain window prior to an election?

Like I said, I don't like what the unions and the PAC's are doing but I'm one of those who prefers to err on the side of caution when it comes to free speech, especially political speech. The First Amendment was designed to protect unpopular speech. Much political speech is actually unpopular.  As with everything, we have to take the bad with the good. I always say, it's not a perfect system, but it's the best one we have and works pretty damn well. It also beats the alternative.

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