In response to: The Case for More Money in Politics
I am in strong agreement with the Derek Muller’s opposition to Progressive ideas to reform laws relating to campaign speech. He is particularly eloquent on why the Framers believed that limiting government was the best route to eliminating political corruption—the opposite of the Progressive agenda, which seeks to expand the state. We can build on his insight by suggesting new kinds of limitations. For instance, Congress should create rules that impede not only all appropriation earmarks but also other kinds of special interest legislation. That kind of reform would go much further toward dispelling the appearance of corruption in campaign contributions…
One cannot fault Professor Derek Muller, whose work I admire and respect, for taking a hard libertarian line against campaign-finance regulation in his Liberty Forum essay. After all, that misguided approach is built into the prompt of the question posed by Law and Liberty’s editors: “Should a democracy through concerns about corruption in politics and equality…
Constitutions are more than struggles over meaning or changing social values as interpreted by judges. Constitutions are part of larger political struggles and reflect that conflicts and compromises in those larger fights. The conflicts of the New Deal ended with a compromise—one that promised an open political process in lieu of constitutional protections for the…
It was a privilege to participate in this month’s Liberty Law Forum. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to contribute the lead essay, “The Case for More Money in Politics,” and I am humbled at the thoughtful commentary provided by Professors Rick Hasen and John McGinnis, and by John Samples, all of whose opinions…
McCutcheon v. FEC reveals fundamental differences between the Roberts Court majority and the dissenters about the First Amendment’s protection of political speech. The justices in the majority asserted the traditional view that the First Amendment is an individual right. In contrast, Justice Breyer argues for the McCutcheon dissenters that the First Amendment is in part a “collective right,” and thus government interests in favor of campaign finance regulation are not “to be weighed against the constitutional right to political speech. Rather they are interests represented in the First Amendment itself.” The latter view makes it much easier to upheld government restrictions that are targeted at resources to support speech at election time.
To support his view of the First Amendment as embodying a “collective right,” Breyer appeals to Founding-era statements that describe how speech connects a legislator with the sentiments of his constituents. But the materials he cites undermine his claims. First, he purports to demonstrate that James Wilson believed that “the First Amendment would facilitate a ‘chain of communications between the people and those to whom they have committed the exercise of the powers of government,” by quoting a snippet from a lecture by Wilson on the Constitution.
But the quote from Wilson does not appear in a discussion of the First Amendment, as Justice Breyer states, but in a discussion of the novelty and virtue of representative government, as opposed to “monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical” forms of government.
This week the Supreme Court heard argument in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar. The case is the sixth campaign finance case heard by the Roberts Court but the first to focus on judicial elections. The Florida bar disciplined Ms. Williams-Yulee for sending a letter to solicit contributions for her campaign for election as a Florida trial judge. The bar found her solicitation to violate a rule of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct that barred personal solicitation of campaign contributions.
A central doctrinal question in the case is whether the Court will apply its overinclusiveness/under inclusiveness test to these regulations.
The Supreme Court’s analysis in McCutcheon v. FEC, its recent campaign finance decision, is even more important than its result. The holding of the case was to strike down so-called aggregate limits on donations to federal candidates. Under the invalidated law there was a ceiling on total contributions of $48, 600 for candidates running for federal office and $74,000 for other political committees. After McCutcheon, candidates are still limited to donating $2, 600 to a candidate but can give to as many candidates as they choose.
But it is the reasoning, not only the result, that is crucial to protecting our liberty, because it portends further deregulation of p0litical expression in elections. From the very first sentence, Chief Justice Roberts makes clear that general First Amendment principles are at stake in the case. Throughout the opinion he refers to cases that have nothing to do with campaign finance regulation but famously protect individual expression against the majority will, like Cohen v. Virginia, the case that protected the ability of a protestor calling for an anatomical impossibility to be performed on the nation’s selective service system. For the Chief Justice, those who want to express themselves are the new dissidents who must be protected from the wrath of legislators egged on by majority passion (and their own interest in protecting their incumbency). People who want to participate in campaigns to support a message or a candidate are not different in kind from those who speak in a vulgar manner or a burn a flag. His is a frontal challenge left-liberals’ support for the regulation of political campaigns, showing that they exercise only high double standards in standing up for free speech rights only when it suits their long-term objectives.
Appealing to ordinary First Amendment principles is essential to winning the debate over campaign finance, because advocates of regulation cannot succeed unless they forsake the neutral principles that are free expression’s best guarantees.
For the first two posts in this series, see here and here. My last post on originalism and McCutcheon will address whether Congress has the power to pass laws that restrict campaign contributions. This is a complicated area and one that I have not studied. So take what I say with some caution. There are at least two issues: regulations of campaign contributions as to congressional elections and as to presidential elections. (One might, of course, draw further distinctions, such as those relating to contributions to political parties or for primaries.) As to congressional elections, the Constitution allows Congress to regulate “the Times,…
Mike Ramsey writes that the opinions of the plurality and Justice Thomas in McCutcheon v. FEC do not employ an originalist methodology. Regarding Justice Thomas’s opinion, Mike writes:
The question is not whether, as a matter of some abstract principle, contributions are or are not speech. I doubt there is a single answer to that question, and I doubt even more strongly that we can reach agreement upon one. But in any event, that isn’t the question an originalist asks. The question is (or ought to be) whether “the freedom of speech” in the founding era included campaign contributions. (I’m not sure we can answer that question either, based on the historical record, but that is a separate problem). Whether the founding era’s view makes analytic sense to us (or to any individual Justice) should be irrelevant.
Mike is certainly correct that one needs historical evidence and originalist analysis about this matter. Unfortunately, there is relatively little written on the original meaning of the freedom of speech, with the principal exception in recent years of several pieces by Eugene Volokh. (I have toyed with writing on the subject, but have not done so as of yet.) It is difficult for the justices to write originalist opinions without such scholarship. Thus, they either rely on doctrine, as Chief Justice Roberts’s plurality opinion does, or argue for a change in doctrine, assuming the general doctrinal framework, as Thomas’s concurrence does.
How would one analyze the question from an originalist perspective? Let’s put aside for now whether there is an enumerated power to support the legislation, an issue I plan to discuss in a future post. Do the aggregate limitations at issue in McCutcheon abridge the freedom of speech?
Just once, it would make some professor’s constitutional day to read the lead paragraph of a news report on a Supreme Court decision and see high-level judicial reasoning (who thought what) rather than bottom-line ox-goring (who lost what) taken seriously. Wednesday, when the Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC was announced, was not that day.