Proponents of campaign finance regulation often defend the constitutionality of their proposals with the slogan “money isn’t speech.” But as scholars like Eugene Volokh have recognized, this facile argument is easily debunked by applying it to other constitutional rights:
Likewise, money isn’t education, and it isn’t lawyering. Yet a law that capped private school tuitions at $2000 (not just limited the amount of government-provided scholarships, but capped private spending by parents for tuition) would be a serious, likely unconstitutional, burden on the right to educate one’s child at a private school. Likewise, a law that barred wealthy defendants from spending more than $20,000 — or even $200,000 — for assistance of counsel would violate the Sixth Amendment. Even if for some reason you thought that these laws should be upheld, the response that “it is quite wrong to equate money and [education / lawyering]” would be an unsound response.
Moreover, this idea—that money is often a critical component to the meaningful exercise of rights—is hardly a modern insight. Our Founding Fathers were well aware of the connection between property and political advocacy. Indeed, this recognition is reflected in the closing words of the Declaration of Independence:
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
Here’s wishing everyone a safe and happy Independence Day.