Freedom New Mexico
The freedom to influence and support political candidates by contributing money in election campaigns is under attack. Many, including the Freedom New Mexico, are bothered, and should be, by the disproportionate influence of big money in political campaigns. The problem spans the political spectrum. But the solution isn’t to infringe on constitutional rights.
The best solution is to reduce government involvement in our lives, which will reduce how much special interests and anyone else stand to gain from government pork and preferences. They, in turn, will reduce how much money they spend to advance their political ends.
But short of scaling back government’s size and scope, there are other legitimate ways to curb abuses over campaign contributions. Corporate stock holders can give boards of directors direction, then hold them accountable if the company supports objectionable candidates. Union campaign contributions can be restricted to coming from the dues of consenting members.
But prohibiting expenditures from these factions, or from any individual or group, conflicts with the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. This freedom has been invoked to justify nearly every form of expression, from vulgarities to absurdities. But political speech is the principle expression the founders had in mind to protect. Attempts to limit this foundational freedom inevitably result in injustices.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission overturned a provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. McCain-Feingold wrong-headedly sought to limit campaign spending by corporations, while granting exemptions for news media to, in effect, make contributions by publishing endorsements. There is little difference in a union or a company supporting candidates with advertisements and mailers and a newspaper essentially giving valuable free advertising to support candidates.
Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections, the Supreme Court ruled. The court said while corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast.
An initiative called the Stop Special Interest Money Now Act is being circulated in California to place on the ballot a prohibition against unions using payroll-deducted funds for political projects unless the members give specific approval. If that were the extent of it, we’d have little complaint.
But, as the Capitol Weekly recently reported, “the proposed initiative does go further, additionally preventing the unions and corporations themselves from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-controlled committees.”
That, we feel, is clearly an unconstitutional restriction. Interestingly, the initiative is backed by business and Republican groups. If this seems counter-intuitive, it’s probably because corporate interests have concluded such a restriction would harm their union opponents more than it would harm business interests.
That crass political calculation may be true. But freedoms should not be dealt away in the hope opponents will suffer more. If Americans want to reduce money’s influence in politics, they should reduce government’s role, not citizens’ freedoms. When government shrinks, so, too, will campaign contributions.