Those of us who grew up believing that our public servants in Washington were there to protect our fundamental freedoms have been forced to shift our thinking in recent years. Increasingly, we are faced with the need to protect our fundamental freedoms from our public servants.
The latest case in point involves U.S. Senate President Harry Reid of Nevada, who last week made the case for a constitutional amendment that, he says, would take money out of election campaigns. The problem is, it would do so by violating one of our most cherished rights – the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. This idea is a dead-skunk-in-the-road stinker, and it deserves to die a quick death.
to ask your U.S. Senators to reject S. J. Res. 19
, which would permit Congress to regulate political speech in the form of campaign contributions.
The amendment would reverse two important recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions – Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
, a 2010 ruling, and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission
, decided earlier this year. Both overrode provisions of laws that purportedly reformed the ways campaigns are financed in this nation, but actually enacted limits on constitutionally free speech. The decisions were emphatic blows for the First Amendment.
We're not sure why Reid and other free-speech opponents are choosing to limit others' rights to participate in our democracy. They claim to be concerned about the influence of corporate money in state and national elections, but in practice don't mind the money as long as they receive a lot of it. What they seek is to punish people who oppose them politically, for opposing them politically. We see that as insufficient reason to limit rights the Founding Fathers saw fit to establish in the 18th century.
We believe McCutcheon
, and Citizens United
before it, to be brilliantly stated flashes of common sense. If the Founders meant to protect anything with the freedom of speech clause in the First Amendment, they surely meant to protect political speech. That means that the means to execute that speech cannot be restricted, especially on the basis of petty jealousies like Reid routinely expresses against Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries (there is a third Koch brother who apparently isn't active in the family business. David Koch, five years younger than Charles, is the one you're more likely to have seen a picture of in news stories).
We are not oblivious to the potential for money to influence elections. But history is riddled with instances in which the better-financed campaign loses. We suspect that's because, as we learned in college, nothing kills a bad product more quickly than good advertising. Many a political candidate in the past generation has spent a significant amount of money creating awareness of their candidacy only to have the electorate, newly aware of the candidate, roundly rejecting him or her. We would suggest that the answer to concerns about the sources of money is to require disclosure of political contributions, not to restrict the contributions.
We're also mindful that this proposed constitutional amendment has virtually no chance of even going to the states for ratification. A proposed amendment requires two-thirds support of both houses of Congress, and it's not obvious that Reid has the influence to muster even a simple majority of the Senate, much less a two-thirds majority. And this is one case where the gridlock we've seen in Washington is a good thing; if the amendment should somehow clear the Senate, it may not even be taken up in the House of Representatives, where cooler heads will prevail over this sort of thing.
As Christians, we hold the First Amendment in the ultimate esteem because it guarantees our right to express our faith in public. A government that can restrict political speech can also take away your right to religious liberties! So we at CMC believe that standing up for all of the First Amendment's freedom is in our best interest, as well as the nation's.
It's helpful for our elected representatives to hear what their employers' wishes are on matters of constitutional rights. So we ask you to let them know that you don't approve of attempts to use the U.S. Constitution to settle political scores and restrict free-speech rights for their own benefit.