Last year the Supreme Court decided that the McCain/Feingold Campaign Finance Law was unconstitutional because it violated a portion of the first amendment to the constitution: the right to free speech. A few days ago Target used its “right to free speech to give one politician millions of dollars.
I freely admit I am not a legal scholar and am not and never will be a candidate for the Supreme Court, thank God. Neither am I rich. All of which disturbs me when we talk about campaign contributions and free speech.
It has seemed to me for some years now that those who have money or control media corporations have a larger amount of freedom when it comes to speech. This doesn’t mean I can’t and don’t have my say. Just ask anyone in Philadelphia Presbytery. But if freedom of speech is measured in part by the ability to have large groups of people hear what I have to say I’m not even in the running.
There are two ways money buys more free speech for some than for others. The first is simply buying stock. If you have enough money or enough money and friends who have money you can make sure that everyone hears your perspective. Rupert Murdoch gets his opinions, through the voices of others, heard around the world by owning Fox Network and a bunch of newspapers. Others argue, and I think with some justification that what used to be the mainline TV news stations had and have a decidedly more liberal bent. But perspective is beside the point. Money equals the ability to get your views and perspectives heard by more people, that is if you put your money into media: newspapers, radio stations, TV networks and now news slots on the internet. Who decides which stories are important enough to put on my Yahoo page?
So buy a lot of stock and you can decide what is really news. But buy a candidate and you get to help make decisions that shape laws. Campaign finance laws sought to limit the amount any individual, union or corporation could give to a particular candidate. Of course there were ways around this. You didn’t have to give to the candidate all you had to do was form a political action committee. After all George W. Bush didn’t pay for all those ads about John Kerry and his career in swift boats in Vietnam. Did someone lie about his bravery over there? Ya got me. But we can all be very sure that he road in small boats along with other brave men who fought in a dangerous place. Meanwhile what no one managed to say loud enough, Bush was busy playing with National Guard fighter jets.
But now you or your organization can give all you want to a particular candidate. You can in effect buy the candidate. Anyone who thinks that large campaign contributions don’t affect the candidate who received them has forgotten how easy it is to corrupt humans.
So the second way to get lots of free speech is to buy a candidate. Then you don’t actually have to say anything to the whole world. You just remind the politician who got her there and who will make sure she wins again if she does what you want.
So the Supreme Court says that free speech is up for sale. Wonderful. Thus is made a new American dream. Now you don’t have to grow up to be president. You only have to buy one of your very own.