Soapbox

Another View: Rules on campaign cash limit speech

Cornell Woolridge of Windsor Mill, Md., participates in a demonstration outside the Supreme Court in October 2013 as the court heard arguments in a campaign finance case.
Cornell Woolridge of Windsor Mill, Md., participates in a demonstration outside the Supreme Court in October 2013 as the court heard arguments in a campaign finance case. Associated Press file

Judges and journalists alike often assume that elected officials are natural experts on the laws that govern their campaigns. However, if the views expressed by Rep. Jerry McNerney (“Put elections back in the hands of voters,” Viewpoints, March 2) are any indication, members of Congress are either quite confused about campaign finance laws or, worse, wish to exploit them for political benefit.

McNerney writes that super PACs “are able to funnel money into races without disclosing who is creating a particular advertisement or supporting a certain candidate.” This is false. By law, super PACs are required to report the names and addresses of supporters and how they spend their money, and these reports are made public online.

His mischaracterization of super PACs doesn’t stop there. He wants to “completely eliminate PACs, super PACs, independent expenditures and dark money, thereby giving the power back to the people.” In reality, doing so would accomplish precisely the opposite.

Prior to super PACs and the Citizens United decision, individuals could already spend unlimited amounts trying to influence your vote. How do everyday citizens respond? By working together and pooling their resources. In other words, by joining political parties, or forming and supporting political action committees.

Without these organizations, politicians need only answer to media moguls, celebrities and the personally wealthy. McNerney would no doubt claim that he is against money in politics, not against freedom of speech, but he tips his hand. His complaints about “unflattering images of candidates,” “personal attacks” and ads that say “little or nothing about relevant policy issues” are not about money. They are about speech.

Unfortunately for incumbent politicians, the First Amendment is quite clear that “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech.” Politicians can’t admit their goal is to stop you from criticizing them; that would be unconstitutional and unpopular. Instead, they attack the ability to fund such criticism.

It’s time to stop assuming that politicians speak as benevolent experts on campaign finance. Some are ignorant of the law, while others use their expertise to undermine political opponents. Letting Congress add more red tape to the political process will not end corruption, it will only further estrange citizens from their elected representatives.

Luke Wachob is a fellow at the Center for Competitive Politics, a nonprofit based in Alexandria, Va., that advocates deregulated political speech.

  Comments