Supreme Court: Money is free speech, provided you have money to start with

The Supreme Court today struck down a federal law that limits the aggregate amount an individual can give to candidates, political parties and polical action committees (PACs) in one election cycle.

That amount was $123,200, and included a separate cap on giving to candidates of $48,600 per cycle.

Thanks to the McCutcheon v. FEC ruling, those limits are now gone.

Many are comparing today’s ruling to the infamous, and disastrous, Citizens United decision of 2010.

What the court left in place was the $2,600 per candidate limit that any one individual can give any particular candidate during an election cycle.

The court ruled 5-4, with all the court’s conservatives backing the striking down of the campaign finance limits.  Clarence Thomas, of course, was upset with the court’s decision. Even though he supported it, he thinks all limits should be done away with.

Justice Roberts, for the court, concluded that the aggregate limits “intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise ‘the most fundamental First Amendment activities.’ ”

Supreme Court via Shutterstock

Supreme Court via Shutterstock

The argument that “money is free speech” reminds me of when the religious right tells gay people that they don’t need marriage equality because they can already get married in every state of the union.

But that’s not true, you think, gays can only get married in a (growing) handful of states – right?

The answer is simple, the religious right says: Just marry someone of the opposite sex!

The same “wishes were horses” argument applies to McCutcheon.  “Every American” has the right to influence the political process with never-ending gobs of money.  Provided that you ignore the fact that most Americans don’t have never-ending gobs of money, so they won’t ever be able to “speak” in politics at all.

Part of the reason we protect freedom of speech in this country is because we all have the ability to speak.  The whole “fight bad speech with good speech” argument presumes that we can all speak in the first place.

And while that’s true of vocal speech, and physical speech (marching in a protest), it’s not true of economic speech.

Not everyone can afford to give money to a political candidate.  And most couldn’t afford to give the old, now extinct, $123,000 limit in one election cycle – or a lifetime.

There is quite literally no way that you can fight economic speech with more speech if you don’t have the economic ability to speak in the first place.  And most people don’t.

Most of us are quite literally gagged when it comes to pitting our economic speech against the speech of the rich, and the corporate, in the political realm. They have the money, the speech, and we don’t.

They can get married, and we can’t.


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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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