For the moment, set aside the fact that the Senate’s campaign finance amendment to the U.S. Constitution has zero chance of passing — after all, it would have to pass the Senate and the House by supermajorities, and then be ratified by two-thirds of the states.
That inconvenient truth aside, the amendment itself is fatally flawed. It seeks to do exactly what the First Amendment prohibits: targeting political speech and outlawing it.
“The Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday began a long-shot bid at pushing a constitutional amendment that would limit deep-pocketed political campaign donors’ influence,” the Associated Press reports. “With plenty of politics but very limited prospects of actually changing the Constitution, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the free flow of ‘shady money’ into politics the biggest threat to democracy he’s seen.”
His target isn’t big money donors on the left, of course. Reid has been strangely silent about billionaire Tom Steyer’s pledge to give $50 million to candidates who promise to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. No, Reid’s targets always are on the right.
“Reid, of Nevada, has used his post as the Senate’s top lawmaker to aggressively criticize industrialist billionaires Charles and David Koch, who have funneled tens of millions from their personal fortune to a network of conservative organizations. Democrats have bristled at the Kochs’ spending,” the Associated Press noted.
But the proposed amendment would pervert the process, rather than level the playing field.
“Supporters of this amendment claim that restricting the amount of money that may be spent on political speech and activity is not the same as limiting speech, but as the Supreme Court has recognized, bans on spending are indeed bans on speech,” the Heritage Foundation said. “Limiting spending on political communication necessarily affects the quantity and quality of that speech. Rather than ‘level the playing field,’ this constitutional amendment would protect incumbents and violate a fundamental right of Americans.”
Political speech and political spending are inextricably linked — you can’t limit one without limiting the other.
“No one with any experience in public advocacy or the practical problems of running for office or managing a campaign could possibly claim that one can engage in political speech or political activity effectively without the funding required to support such efforts and distribute such communications,” the Foundation added.
It’s ironic that in the past, the left has been the principal defender of the freedom of speech.
“All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions,” wrote British socialist George Bernard Shaw, a patron saint of the left. “All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”
As mentioned above, the proposed amendment has zero chance of passing. Instead, it seems to be a rallying point for dispirited Democrats in what could be a tough election year.
Perhaps they’re preparing to blame “big money” for future political losses. If so, they should remember that in the most expensive presidential election in history, their guy won.