My colleague Bill Maurer, the lead attorney in IJ’s challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court in Arizona Free Enterprise Club PAC v. Bennett, was recently quoted in an editorial column in The Seattle Times discussing the case. The column’s author argues that campaign finance systems like Arizona’s—that seek to limit political spending by creating disincentives to speak—are unconstitutional, and that as long as large donors are disclosed, candidates should be able to raise as much money as they want from whomever they want. This kicked off a lively debate among readers, one of whom had the following criticism of disclosure-only systems:
The problem with just letting anyone spend what they want as long as it is disclosed is that even if people know who is spending it, it still influences them. People still eat fast food even though they know it is bad for them, and we know advertising has a big effect on that.
This shabby, paternalistic view of voters rests at the heart of policies that restrict what people can raise or spend on political speech, but it is rare to see it expressed so forthrightly. More often, proponents of campaign finance restrictions warn against big spenders “buying elections” by “drowning out” their competitors. But however it’s expressed, the sentiment is the same: Unless government controls the messages people hear, voters will elect the wrong people. Of course, those who hold this view never think that they could be so easily fooled. It’s only the other guys—who, coincidentally, hold different political beliefs—who are bamboozled by campaign ads.
Thankfully the Framers of the First Amendment didn’t share this dim view of the voting public. To the contrary, they recognized that nothing could be more destructive of liberty than to give our elected officials control over speech about elected officials.
Image source: programwitch