Tag Archives: Buckley v. Valeo

The Ethics of Freedom of Speech and Political Campaigns

In a republic,  it is important for one to voice their opinion, because we are the ones who elect officials to represent us. If you watch TV or listen to the radio during election season, the channels are flooded with political advertisements. On average in one day on one channel you will see 62 advertisements regarding the political election. “In some of these (swing) states, there’s literally going to be no available advertising space left on television,” said Kip Cassino, Executive Vice President at a market research company Borrell Associates. In the last election, each candidate spent over two billion dollars on the election, with about half of that being spent on commercials. Symbolic speech is one expressing their idea or emotion without words. In this case it is donating money towards campaigns versus using words.  Does money equal speech?  Should the government limit the amount of money an individual or corporation can donate to a political candidate?

As we dive deeper into the subject of political elections and commercials, it is important to understand both sides of the argument. An individual or corporation can donate to a political campaign or PAC to assist with the heavy costs. With the high costs of an election, it is important for individuals or corporations to voice their opinion. By donating money you are simply just supporting your preferred candidate. In the past presidential election, Hillary Clinton had $799.5 million donated to her campaign VS Donald Trump had $639.1 million. In the 2010 Citizens United decision, the court struck down the idea of limiting the money spent on political advertisements. They believe an individual can spend their money on advertisements if they so choose. On the other side during the during the 1981 case of Buckley VS Valeo case, one believed that they should limit the amount of money spent on a political campaign. As you can see in the statistics about the amount of money spent on campaigns, it does not determine the winner of the election. The republican candidate, Donald Trump, won with less money donated to his campaign. People are voicing their opinion with money that has no impact on the results. Money does not equal speech.

All in all, money is just simple donations to support your preferred candidate. The last presidential election proves the amount of money spent on a campaign does not voice who is going to win the election. Is money speech? The answer can be undecided, but next time you think about donating money towards a political campaign think about the impact it will have on the election and what your money is going towards. Do commercials really have an impact on your opinion?

Can elections work as auctions?

The ethical and legal lines of campaign financing have been danced around for decades.  The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, amended in 1974, was a major turning point in ending the monetary free-for-all that was public and private donations to political campaigns.  By creating the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which imposed contribution and spending limits, the Act provided a basis for distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable giving.  Only two years later, in Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the limitations on contributions to candidates for federal office while at the same time declaring a $1,000 limit on independent expenditures unconstitutional.  The Supreme Court revisited this issue many times, opening loopholes and creating more room for larger donations and Super PACs to take shape.  Recently, in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), wealthy businessman Shaun McCutcheon wanted to give a symbolic $1,776 to each of 28 Republican candidates for Congress in 2012.  Going back to Buckley v. Valeo, Watergate, and many other federal limitations established in this time, he could only donate to 16 of the 28 before the case was opened.  In a 5-4 decision, the Court struck down many caps and reopened the floodgates so that individuals were now allowed to donate as much as they pleased.  

In a government of the people, by the people, for the people, should financing caps be put in place or should an individual’s money be a critical tool of democracy?  Possibly the most crucial aspect of the First Amendment is the guaranteed freedom of speech, which protects the citizens right to express themselves any way they choose.  Money is a form of expression, most certainly in the United States.  Capitalism runs on freedom of expression of the customer, which furthers competition and eventually progress.  As put by Chief Justice John Roberts in explanation of the McCutcheon decision and how money plays a role in our elections, “There is no right more basic in our democracy, than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”  He also commented that the First Amendment freedom-of-speech guarantee includes the right to endorse political candidates, and that to “restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others” would be unconstitutional.  McCutcheon v. FEC was the closest decision that the Supreme Court could make, and the other side also leaves plenty to think about.  The four Supreme Court Justices voting for the FEC explained that campaign contribution limits have the sole purpose of cutting down quid pro quo corruption, where candidates receive cash from donors in an exchange for an under the rug “I’ll do this for you in office.”

Taken from the context within it was written, campaign donations should not have a cap.  So long as they come from actual people, supporting your personal prefered campaign ideology should come with no limit.