Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson has penned an op-ed for The Washington Post in which he urges Republicans to support Senator Richard Durbin’s Fair Elections Now Act, which would provide government funds for politicians to run for office. At a time when the federal government’s debt is reaching unimaginable levels, Simpson wants both parties to support forcing Americans to subsidize the campaigns of the political class, including those that borrowed and spent that money in the first place.
Simpson, a co-chair of Americans for Campaign Reform, argues that a raft of benefits will result from forcing Americans to subsidize the campaigns of politicians that they don’t support or to which they are indifferent. These benefits are largely, if not entirely, illusory. More to the point, he argues that the First Amendment is served by using the force of law to compel Americans to subsidize political campaigns.
Although Republicans have traditionally been less enthusiastic about campaign finance reform than most Democrats, Simpson’s view of the First Amendment is indistinguishable from notable Democratic supporters of restrictions on speech, like Russ Feingold, Dick Durbin and Sherrod Brown. Simpson was one of the bipartisan collection of politicians who signed onto an amicus curiae brief in favor of Arizona’s matching funds scheme in the Arizona Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett/McComish v. Bennett case that argued that the government has almost unlimited powers in subsidizing preferred speakers in a campaign. He was a witness for the government in support of the McCain-Feingold law, the worst assault on the First Amendment since the Alien and Sedition Acts. In his op-ed, he states that Citizens United v. FEC established “a remarkable right of corporate personhood that I have yet to find in the Constitution,” when the decision actually recognized that, under our Constitution, the government cannot put people in jail for making a movie urging a vote against a political candidate. In other words, he is of one mind with those reformers who think “Congress shall make no law…abridging freedom of speech” means Congress can make lots of laws abridging freedom of speech.
It is not surprising that campaign finance reform attracts supporters from both parties. Besides protecting incumbents, many political opponents of unfettered political activity have a more personal reason for getting rid of privately financed campaigns. In his testimony in favor of the Fair Elections Now Act, Simpson stated: “I felt ugly, embarrassed [raising funds] . . . . If you talk to someone who likes to beg for money, you’re talking to a delusional man . . . . We were elected to legislate. We cannot legislate if we have to fund-raise day and night.” In other words, we need to limit speech and force Americans to fund political campaigns so that politicians do not have to sully themselves asking for money, thereby further insulating the political class from the public they are supposed to represent and serve. Of all the reasons reformers have put forth to justify their attacks on the First Amendment, however, “keeping elected officials from feeling embarrassed” is probably the absolute worst.